Coronavirus in numbers

A million emergency food parcels given to children during Covid pandemic

‘Scandalous’ surge in reliance on emergency food packages prompts calls for ‘reset’ of social security system

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 22 April 2021 08:37
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Nearly 1 million emergency food parcels have been given to children during the pandemic, figures show, sparking concern that poorer families are “shouldering the burden” of the economic crisis caused by Covid-19.

Ministers are being urged to “reset” the social security system as new data reveals the UK’s largest independent food bank provider saw a 33 per cent surge in demand over the past year, with more than 2.5 million emergency food parcels distributed overall – a record high.

More than 980,000 of these went to children – the equivalent of almost two parcels every minute, according to the Trussell Trust. This marked an increase of 36 per cent on 2019-20 and the highest figure on record.

The findings will spark renewed concerns about surging poverty rates in Britain, with unemployment at a five-year high and many families reeling from the loss of income due to impact of Covid-19.

Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds described the numbers as “unacceptable in modern Britain”, adding: “The Conservatives expect struggling families to shoulder the burden for this Government’s failure to secure our economy.”

Separate data published last month revealed child poverty had hit a 12-year high the year before coronavirus started – and the new food bank figures suggest this will have hiked up even further during the pandemic.

The Trussell Trust warns that their figures will be the “tip of the iceberg”, with unprecedented numbers of people being helped by other food aid providers and community-based groups that started up to provide emergency food over the past year.

The number of people claiming universal credit – the UK’s main welfare benefit – has doubled since the start of the pandemic to 6 million.

Experts warn that working families face a “double threat” this winter to their living standards as unemployment peaks and the £20 uplift to universal credit – introduced as a temporary measure last April – is cut. Three-quarters of children in poverty live in working families.

Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said: “No one should face the indignity of needing emergency food. Yet our network of food banks has given out record numbers of food parcels as more and more people struggle without enough money for the essentials.”

Sabine Goodwin, coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network, said it was ministers’ responsibility to stop hunger from happening in the first place so that everyone is able to afford to buy food and other essentials.

She added: “Independent food banks are also continuing to see relentless need for help although combined Trussell Trust and independent food bank figures represent a fraction of the UK's food insecurity picture.

“Now more than ever, our social security system needs to be reset, local authority support schemes involving crisis grants prioritised and adequate wages and secure work ensured.”

A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting the lowest-paid families and have targeted support to those most in need by raising the living wage, spending hundreds of billions to safeguard jobs, boosting welfare support by billions, and introducing the £269m Covid Local Support Grant to help children and families stay well-fed.

“We know that getting into well-paid work is the best route out of poverty, and our multi-billion pound Plan for Jobs is helping people across the country re-join the workforce as restrictions are eased.”

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