The number of people who depend on emergency food handouts has nearly trebled in a year to 350,000 – more than the populations of cities such as Cardiff or Coventry.
Figures from the leading food bank charity, the Trussell Trust, show that 346,992 people have received at least three days of emergency food support since last April – up from 128,697 the previous year and from just 61,468 in 2010-11.
The charity operates 345 food banks and is opening distribution centres at a rate of three per week. Although it attributes some of the growth to the expansion of its own operations, the chief executive, Chris Mould, said users were "being sent to food banks with nowhere else to go".
"We are seeing people from all kinds of backgrounds turning to food banks: working people coming in on their lunch breaks, mums who are going hungry to feed children, people whose benefits have been delayed and people struggling to find enough work."
The trust's food banks provide three days' worth of food to people in need. To qualify, clients must be referred by a professional such as a social worker, doctor or Jobcentre Plus. Food banks are manned by an estimated 30,000 volunteers.