This week, people across the food and poverty sector have been reacting to figures showing an alarming growth in the numbers of people needing emergency food aid. This blog highlights some of the key reactions.

The Trussell Trust (the largest provider of foodbanks and emergency food aid in the UK and a partner in End Hunger UK), have released their annual statistics showing a 13% increase in the use of their foodbanks between April 2017 and April 2018.

This represents the highest rise in foodbank use the Trussell Trust has seen since they began collecting data. And for the first time, the most common reason for needing food aid is simply low income. The rising cost of essentials is driving people to foodbanks because benefits aren’t high enough and low-paid jobs don’t enable people to afford the food they need.

The evidence also shows that the roll-out of Universal Credit is having a huge impact on the number of people using foodbanks.

Rachel Alcock, End Hunger Campaign Manager, said:

“This latest Trussell Trust report highlights the stark reality for so many in the UK. At a time when it’s most needed the social security system is failing vulnerable people – this too often means they simply cannot afford to eat. The End Hunger UK campaign advocates on behalf of many organisations who in turn represent many more food aid providers, from breakfast clubs for children, to independent food banks, to soup kitchens. We have heard time and time again that the roll-out of Universal Credit is forcing more people to use emergency food aid.

“The charity sector should not be picking up the pieces of a failing social security system. Payments should cover the basic costs of living, and the government must look again at the roll-out of Universal Credit and ensure our social security safety net is not pushing people into destitution. The End Hunger UK campaign has also been calling on government to measure levels of household food insecurity in the UK – this would mean that the extent to which people aren’t able to afford food could be properly understood.”

Emma Revie, Chief Executive of the Trussell Trust, said:

“As a nation we expect no one should be left hungry or destitute – illness, disability, family breakdown or the loss of a job could happen to any of us, and we owe it to each other to make sure sufficient financial support is in place when we need it most.

“It’s hard to break free from hunger if there isn’t enough money coming in to cover the rising cost of absolute essentials like food and housing. For too many people staying above water is a daily struggle. It’s completely unacceptable that anyone is forced to turn to a foodbank as a result.

“Universal Credit is the future of our benefits system. It’s vital we get it right,  and ensure levels of payment keep pace with the rising cost of essentials, particularly for groups of people we know are already more likely to need a foodbank – disabled people, people dealing with an illness, families with children and single parents.”

The Independent Food Aid Network pointed out that foodbanks only reach a few of the estimated 8.5 million people who food insecure in the UK, and said:

“This situation cannot continue, and IFAN support the Trussell Trust’s call for benefit levels to be uprated in line with inflation to ensure payments keep pace with the cost of living; for the current cap on the proportion of income at which advance payments of Universal Credit must be repaid to be lowered; and for an urgent inquiry into the administration of Universal Credit to tackle payment errors and delays.”

The Bishop of Gloucester, the Right Revd Rachel Treweek, said:

“The latest figures from the Trussell Trust confirm our worst fears, that foodbank use is rising sharply again. We also know current benefit levels are no longer sufficient to cover the cost of basic essentials like food, energy and housing. While we applaud the efforts of foodbank volunteers across the country, it is completely unacceptable that people should have to rely on charitable handouts in order to feed their families. The benefits freeze was intended to be a temporary response to austerity. This report shows that it is time to relax its grip on families and children who are locked in poverty, by ensuring that benefit levels are increased each year in line with rises in the cost of living.”

Dan Crossley, Chief Executive of the Food Ethics Council, said:

“These shocking figures are an indictment of UK governments – past and present. Households on low incomes need livelihoods not low wages. They need support, not stigma. They need a proper safety net from those in government, not charities desperately trying to fill the void. The government must take urgent action now to prevent more people falling into poverty and struggling to be able to afford to eat well.”

Paul Morrison of the Joint Public Issues Team (who represent several Christian churches) said:

“A benefit system that allows families to go hungry is a benefit system that is failing.

“The Government’s drive to reduce spending and to focus on work incentives means we have lost sight of the purpose of a welfare system – ensuring that families are fed. Cuts to Universal Credit have been justified as providing an incentive to work. It is now clear that reducing and delaying the incomes of some of the poorest families has significant consequences including hunger.

”The work of the Trussell Trust and the others providing emergency food aid is vital. Many churches are committed to hosting and supporting these projects, but it is a source of sadness and anger that emergency food is needed more and more.”

Ben Reynolds, Deputy CEO of Sustain, said:

“This report paints a bleak picture of the reality that many people face every day. The cost of living is increasing and our benefits system is not keeping up, leaving thousands unable to feed themselves and their families. It is simply not right that our system is failing to support those most vulnerable, such as families with children and disabled people, leaving them deprived of life’s most basic necessities in times of need. We agree with the Trussell Trust that we must take action ‘beyond the food bank.”

Susie Hayward of the Fare Share said:

“The Trussell Trust report clearly shows us that food poverty is not going away. As long as the need exists, charities like FareShare will respond by providing good nutritious food to our communities.

“A need for food doesn’t just come out of poverty. Many of the charities we support provide hot meals as part of a wide range of services they offer to help people get back on their feet when they are dealing with life changing issues like addiction, homelessness, loneliness and unemployment.

“We are also starting to work with The Trussell Trust this year to supply fresh fruit and vegetables for 400 Trussell Trust foodbanks through the Asda Fight Hunger Create Change programme.”