The food poverty scandal that shames Britain: Nearly 1m people rely on handouts to eat – and benefit reforms may be to blame

600 religious leaders from all denominations combine to condemn 163 per cent increase in food bank use in past year

SOCIAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT

The shocking scale of food poverty in Britain is exposed today by new figures showing record numbers of people are reliant on handouts because of punitive benefits sanctions.

More than 900,000 people were given emergency food in the past year, an increase of 163 per cent, according to figures from the Trussell Trust, the biggest food bank charity. The explosion in demand has coincided with an increase in those seeking help following a benefit sanction.

A coalition of anti-poverty charities, including the Trussell Trust, claims the figures show that the UK is breaching international law by violating the human right to food.

Separately, 600 church leaders from all major denominations, including 36 Anglican bishops, are writing to the Government today, calling for urgent action to address hunger among the poor.

The letter will say that Lent has been “a time of sorrowful reflection” on the huge rise of those using food banks. It marks the biggest Christian intervention on UK food poverty in modern times.

In its most hard-hitting report to date, the Trussell Trust said the Government’s use of sanctions was “increasingly harsh” and that half of those referred to food banks in 2013-14 were as a result of benefit delays or changes. Eight out of 10 of their food banks saw more cases relating to benefit sanctions over the past year. Tougher punishments for those on jobseeker’s allowance were introduced by the Coalition last October, raising the minimum sanction from one to four weeks. Benefits can now be stopped for up to three years.

In total, 913,138 people received three days’ emergency food from Trussell Trust food banks in 2013-14, compared with 346,992 in 2012-13


Static incomes, rising living costs, low pay, under-employment and other problems related to welfare reform also contributed to the increased demand, the charity said.

The Trussell Trust chairman, Chris Mould, said the figures were “ shocking in 21st century Britain”. He added: “Perhaps most worrying of all, this figure is just the tip of the iceberg of UK food poverty. It doesn’t include those helped by other emergency food providers, those living in towns where there is no food bank, people who are too ashamed to seek help or the large number of people who are only just coping by eating less and buying cheap food.”

The latest Trussell Trust figures show that demand has increased in well-established food banks, refuting Government claims that the opening of new food banks has fuelled demand. Food banks that have been open for three years or more saw  an average increase of 51 per cent in the numbers helped in the past year compared with 2012-13.

The shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Rachel Reeves, said: “ Food banks have become a shameful symbol of David Cameron’s Government’s failure to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. Ministers must take urgent action to fix the broken system in which benefit delays or changes have led to 50 per cent of all referrals to food banks.”

More than 20 charities including the Trussell Trust, the Child Poverty Action Group and Church Action on Poverty have signed a statement accusing the UK of violating the basic right to food.

"It is our opinion that the UK has violated the human right to food and breached international law.

"This state of affairs is both avoidable and unnecessary. We call on the Government to take immediate action to ensure that the no one in the UK is denied their most basic right to sufficient and adequate food,” their common statement says.

A public vigil will be held opposite Parliament at 6pm today by members of the End Hunger Fast campaign. Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi at Movement for Reform Judaism, will give the first public support of the Jewish community for it.

The Bishop of Oxford will be among those presenting a letter from religious leaders protesting against hunger to David Cameron’s constituency office in Witney.

Keith Hebden, spokesman for End Hunger Fast and Mansfield parish priest said: “With benefit changes, poverty wages and failing food markets leaving more than 900,000 needing food aid, Britain has become the hungry man of Europe.

“The Government ignores this call at its peril. I have never before seen religious leaders so united on an issue and I hope our collective words and prayers reach the ears of politicians who have the power to act.”

Leaders of the Methodist Church, Baptist Union of Great Britain and United Reformed Church said the figures should spark “shock and anger”. Methodist president the Rev Ruth Gee said: “Hunger should not and need not be a problem in a rich country like the UK – and yet clearly it is.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “We’re spending £94bn a year on working age benefits so that the welfare system provides a safety net to millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed so they can meet their basic needs.

“Even the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development say there are fewer people struggling with their food bills compared with a few years ago, benefit processing times are improving, and even the Trussell Trust’s own research recognises the effect their marketing activity has on the growth of their business. The employment rate is the highest it’s been for five years, and our reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families by promoting work and helping people to lift themselves out of poverty.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most