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Food bank demand soars in pandemic with 830,000 parcels given to children as ‘life is nothing but struggle’

‘I have days when I’ve not even wanted to be here anymore because I don’t feel I can face life now,’ one new food bank user says

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 27 April 2022 00:06 BST
Food bank use has increased 14 per cent on two years ago
Food bank use has increased 14 per cent on two years ago (PA)

Food bank use among families in Britain has soared above pre-pandemic levels over the last year, prompting urgent calls for ministers to bring welfare support in line with the rising cost of living.

Data released by the Trussell Trust, a UK-wide network of more than 1,400 food bank centres, shows that more than 2.1 million parcels were provided to people facing financial hardship across the country in the year to April 2022 – up 14 per cent on two years before.

This marks the first time food banks in the network have provided more than 2 million parcels outside of 2020-21, at the height of the pandemic.

More than 830,000 parcels were provided for children, representing a 15 per cent rise from the year to April 2020, when 720,000 were provided.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said the “explosion” in demand for food banks represented a “damning indictment” of “economic mismanagement” under the Conservatives.

Volunteers unpacking items at a food bank in Penicuik, Scotland (Getty)

Describing the “biggest drop in living standards in almost 70 years”, he said: “Food banks are a symptom of economic failure and ministers must now offer real help to working people, disabled people, families, and pensioners struggling to feed themselves.”

As inflation continues to increase and rising bills are putting pressure on families across the country, the Trussell Trust says it expects need for emergency food to rise further.

The data shows that the rate of increase has been rising, with the number of parcels distributed in July to September 2021 up 10 per cent on two years before, and the figure for January to February 2022 up 22 per cent on two years before.

Sarah*, who is a full-time carer for her husband, who has heart failure, told The Independent she had started using the local food bank last month because of the strain on household costs.

“The gas and electricity has gone up, the cost of living has gone up – but the benefit system doesn’t recognise that,” she said.

Food bank users are flocking to local churches to receive donations (Supplied)

“Last week our electricity meter ran out and I had to borrow money from a friend to top it up again. The meter isn’t stretching as far as it used to. We’re on a water meter as well. I used to love gardening, but I can’t even water the garden anymore because of the cost of the water.

“I don’t remember the last time I bought new clothes. Even the charity shops are expensive for me these days. We never go on holiday. We don’t have any luxuries. We just manage to live from day to day.”

The south London resident, who is in her late fifties and who worked full-time before her husband fell ill, said that while food banks were a “blessing” for her family, the food provided each week was still sometimes not enough.

“Life can be very sad now. It’s all worry, worry, worry – always thinking about what we are going to do next. If costs went up more, I can’t bear to think about how things will end up. I don’t know what else we could actually cut back on,” she said.

“I spend more time crying than I do laughing, because life is nothing else but a struggle. I have days when I’ve not even wanted to be here anymore because I don’t feel I can face life now.”

In October, the chancellor Rishi Sunak removed £20 a week from low-income families receiving universal credit like Sarah’s, and he rejected calls for benefits to be brought in line with the current rate of inflation in his spring statement.

Data published by the Office for National Statistics on Monday showed that almost nine out of 10 adults say they have seen a rise in their cost of living – compared to 62 per cent in November 2021.

Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, warned that the cost of living crisis risked becoming a “national emergency”.

“People are telling us they’re skipping meals so they can feed their children. That they are turning off essential appliances so they can afford internet access for their kids to do their homework,” she said.

Hundreds of thousands of food parcels have been distributed during the pandemic (Getty)

Ms Revie called on the government to “do the right thing” and bring benefits in line with the true cost of living, adding: “As an urgent first step benefits should be increased by at least 7 per cent, keeping pace with increases in the cost of living.

“In the longer term, we need the government to introduce a commitment in the benefits system to ensure that everyone has enough money in their pockets to be prevented from falling into destitution.

“By failing to make benefits payments realistic for the times we face, the government now risks turning the cost of living crisis into a national emergency.” 

Sabine Goodwin, coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network (Ifan), said the “deeply troubling” figures only told “part of the story”, as the food banks in Ifan’s network were seeing “huge increases” in demand.

“Food banks are reaching breaking point. The government must take immediate action to increase people’s incomes. The consequences of disregarding the scale of this crisis will be devastating as we see health inequalities spiral out of control,” she added.

A government spokesperson said: “We recognise the pressures on the cost of living and we are doing what we can to help, including spending £22bn across the next financial year to support people with energy bills and cut fuel duty.

“For the hardest hit, we’re putting an average of £1,000 more per year into the pockets of working families on universal credit, have also boosted the minimum wage by more than £1,000 a year for full-time workers and our household support fund is there to help with the cost of everyday essentials.”

*Names have been changed

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