In these straitened times, food banks are one of the few guaranteed growth industries. New figures released by the Trussell Trust today show that 346,992 people received a minimum of three days emergency food in 2012-13, nearly triple the number the previous year (128,697) and a fivefold increase since the coalition came to power.
The trust, which does not accept walk-ins (only referrals), is opening food banks at a rate of three a week and says between 400 and 650 more projects are needed to cope with expected demand, not least as a result of the cocktail of welfare cuts introduced this month, including the 1 per cent cap on benefit increases (an unprecedented real-terms cut), the 'bedroom tax' and the 10 per cent cut in council tax support. As the New Policy Institute's Adam Tinson recently reported on The Staggers, 2.6 million families are affected by at least one of the three absolute benefit cuts, and 440,000 are affected by more than one, with the latter set to lose an average of £16.90 a week.
Number of food bank users
Figures from the charity showed that 30 per cent using food banks over the last year were referred as a result of benefit delays and 15 per cent because of benefit cuts.
Here's the statement from Trussell Trust executive chairman Chris Mould:
"The sheer volume of people who are turning to food banks because they can't afford food is a wake-up call to the nation that we cannot ignore the hunger on our doorstep.
"Politicians across the political spectrum urgently need to recognise the real extent of UK food poverty and create fresh policies that better address its underlying causes. This is more important than ever as the impact of the biggest reforms to the welfare state since it began start to take effect.
"Since 1 April we have already seen increasing numbers of people in crisis being sent to food banks with nowhere else to go."
Those who had received emergency help, he said, included "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."
Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said:
"The UK is the seventh richest country in the world yet under David Cameron’s leadership, we are facing a cost of living crisis and growing epidemic of hidden hunger, with some people increasingly unable to meet their family’s basic needs.
"These shocking figures show the number of people receiving food parcels from the Trussell Trust almost trebling in a year. This incompetent Tory-led Government needs to wake up to the human cost of their failed economic policies and change course now."
When challenged on the growth of food banks by Ed Miliband at PMQs last year, David Cameron unwisely hailed their volunteers as part of "the big society", prompting Miliband to reply, in one of his best lines, "I never thought the big society was about feeding hungry children in Britain." It will be worth watching to see how Cameron responds when, as they surely will, Labour MPs put the figures to him today.