LONDON (AFP): More than a million children in the UK received food aid in the past 12 months, an increase of 300,000 from a year earlier, as the country battles a cost of living crisis, latest figures showed Wednesday.
Out of the nearly three million food parcels distributed in the year to the end of March 2023, more than 1.1 million went to children, according to the Trussell Trust charity which supports some 1,200 food banks nationwide.
The number of emergency packages going to children the previous year was over 800,000, it said. In 2017-18 the figure was less than 500,000.
The figures come as the UK — a G7 member and one of the world’s richest countries — grapples with the biggest surge in prices in decades with fuel, heating and food and housing costs all soaring.
Food banks have become a feature of life as increasing costs combined with wage stagnation have pushed many to seek help for the first time — even those in work.
“We are experiencing an unprecedented rise in the number of people coming to the food bank, particularly employed people who are no longer able to balance a low income against rising living costs,” said Brian Thomas, chief executive of South Tyneside food bank in northeast England.
“We’re also seeing a really high number of families needing support as people struggle to afford the essentials.”
– Under strain –
The cost-of-living crisis has seen sectors across the economy from doctors, nurses and teachers to dock workers and lawyers strike in the past year.
Thomas added that the situation had hit donations as more people struggled to meet basic costs for themselves.
“Food donation levels are not keeping up with the significant increase in need and this is putting us under a lot of strain, it’s a real pressure cooker situation for food banks,” he added.
Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said food banks were set up to provide short-term support to people in an emergency but had now become the norm for low-paid workers and people receiving welfare payments.
“They are not a lasting solution to hunger and poverty, and more than three quarters of the UK population agree with us that they should not need to exist,” she said.
The Trussell Trust is urging the Conservative government to increase welfare payments to a more realistic level so that they cover essential costs.
The current chairman of the Conservative party, Lee Anderson, has sparked outrage by saying that people struggling with rising prices should budget better and questioned whether food poverty was real.
According to the charity’s figures, more than 760,000 people used a food bank for the first time in the past 12 months — a 38 percent increase on the previous year.