Food banks and food aid charities gave more than 20 million meals last year to people in the UK who could not afford to feed themselves - a 54 per cent increase on the previous 12 months, according to a report published today by Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty and The Trussell Trust.
Below the Breadline warns that there has been a rise in people turning to food banks in affluent areas. Cheltenham, Welwyn Garden City and North Lakes have seen numbers of users double and in some cases treble. The massive rise in meals handed out by food banks and food aid charities is a damning indictment of an increasingly unequal Britain where five families have the same wealth as the poorest 20 per cent of the population.
The report details how a perfect storm of changes to the social security system, benefit sanctions, low and stagnant wages, insecure and zero-hours contracts and rising food and energy prices are all contributing to the increasing numbers of meals handed out by food banks and other charities. Food prices have increased by 43.5 per cent in the past 8 years. During the same time the poorest 20 per cent have seen their disposable income fall by £936 a
People using food banks who are featured in the report spoke of the struggle to feed themselves and of deteriorating health. One woman described her situation as, "like living in the 1930s and through rationing", while another said "I wouldn't eat for a couple of days, just drink water". Research shows that over half a million children in the UK are living in families that are unable to provide a minimally acceptable diet.
Mark Goldring, Oxfam Chief Executive, said: "Food banks provide invaluable support for families on the breadline but the fact they are needed in 21st Century Britain is a stain on our national conscience. Why is the Government not looking into this?
"We truly are living through a tale of two Britains; while those at the top of the tree may be benefiting from the green shoots of economic recovery, life on the ground for the poorest is getting tougher.
"At a time when politicians tell us that the economy is recovering, poor people are struggling to cope with a perfect storm of stagnating wages, insecure work and rising food and fuel prices. The Government needs to do more to ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable aren't left behind by the economic recovery."
Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty said: "Protecting its people from going hungry is one of the most fundamental duties of Government. Most of us assume that when we fall on hard times, the social security safety net will kick in, and prevent us falling into destitution and hunger. We want all political parties to commit to re-instating the safety net principle as a core purpose of the social security system, and draw up proposals to ensure that no one in the UK should go hungry."
Chris Mould, Chairman of The Trussell Trust said: "Trussell Trust food banks alone gave three days' food to over 300,000 children last year. Below the Breadline reminds us that Trussell Trust figures are just the tip of the iceberg of UK food poverty, which is a national disgrace.
"The troubling reality is that there are also thousands more people struggling with food poverty who have no access to food aid, or are too ashamed to seek help, as well as a large number of people who are only just coping by eating less and buying cheap food.
"Trussell Trust food banks are seeing parents skipping meals to feed their children and significant repercussions of food poverty on physical and mental health. Unless there is determined policy action to ensure that the benefits of national economic recovery reach people on low-incomes we won't see life get better for the poorest anytime soon."
The report will feature on tonight's Dispatches, to be broadcast at 7.30pm on Channel 4. The documentary, Breadline Kids, will follow three families in their daily lives as they struggle to feed themselves.
In total, Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty estimate that the three main food aid providers - Trussell Trust, Fareshare and Food Cycle - gave out over 20m meals in 2013-4, up from around 13m, a year earlier. The Trussell Trust, the only robust source of statistics showing how many people actually visit food banks, reported in April that 913,138 people were given three days' emergency food between April 2013 and March 2014 - the equivalent of over 8 million meals.
Benefit sanctions is one of the major factors contributing to the increase in food bank usage. Since the new sanctions policy was implemented in October 2012, over 1 million sanctions have been applied.
A recent report by the Work and Pensions Select Committee recommended that "DWP take urgent steps to monitor the extent of financial hardship caused by benefit sanctions." (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmworpen/479/479.pdf; p.29)
Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty and The Trussell Trust are calling on the Government to urgently draw up an action plan to reverse the rising tide of food poverty and to collect evidence to understand the scale and cause of the increases in food bank usage. The organisations are also calling on all political parties to re-instate the safety net principle as a core purpose of the social security system.
For a copy of the report or to arrange an interview, please contact Jonaid Jilani on 01865 472 193 or 07810 181 514 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Holly (29) is a single mother with a four-year-old daughter. She was selling second-hand children's' clothes online and after some success began to sell from her own shop. Because the business is new she wasn't yet turning a profit but was able to get by because the rent on her council flat was covered by housing benefit, and their other bills were just about being met by their tax credits and child benefit. However, after a series of violent and drug-related incidents next door Holly asked the council to move her and her daughter.
"But the council refused to move us. My parents gave me their savings so I could put a deposit down on a private rented property near them but the rent doubled. I was getting into debt; we were barely getting by."
When Holly's daughter fell ill and was hospitalised, Holly was forced to shut up her shop to take care of her daughter. They fell behind on the rent and on many other bills.
"We came back from the hospital with no money and no food. I had to raid Phoebe's penny jar to buy milk. That's when I went in search of a food bank."
To avoid falling into the same situation again Holly now has a part time job alongside her business. But she says
"I don't want to be on benefits, I want to stand on my own two feet. But I'm on quite a good wage, definitely higher than minimum wage - clearing £120 after tax for two days a week - and even I couldn't work full time and pay my rent. We have to raise wages, lower rent, do something so that people can afford to live."
Tracy (24) lives in Ilford, Essex with her partner and baby daughter. Her partner is a teaching assistant; Tracy has been in and out of low-paid work since leaving school at 16. She also suffers from long-term depression and is currently on ESA (Employment Support Allowance).
Tracy and her baby daughter came to Tower Hamlets food bank after being referred by her daughter's social worker. Tracy's partner is only paid during term-time, but their benefits are paid at the same rate throughout the year. This means that during school holidays the couple receive just £6 in benefits, which is their total weekly income.
"Meat is so expensive these days. When I was growing up we'd only have fish fingers or something once or twice a week, and proper food the rest of the time, now it's the other way around. We only have proper meat once a month now."
"I'm disappointed I've had to use a food bank as you want to be able to survive on your own, but at least there are people out there who help, that is nice."
Patricia (46) lives in East London and used to work at the housing benefit office, until giving up her position a decade ago to care for her father who suffered from dementia. To top up her income she began working for one hour a day at a local school. When her father died in 2010 she lost her income support and carers allowance and had to reapply for benefits. Her hourly rate for her job is good at £12, but her low hours mean she clears under £200 a month. Whilst her council tax and rent are covered she was shocked to find out she wasn't entitled to any other
benefits to cope with day to day living costs.
"I have lost a lot of weight. My survival tactic is hot lemon and water and sugar because it breaks the wind down and stops the hunger pangs. Sometimes I feel so sick. When I get paid I can eat for the first two weeks. I cook from scratch a lot. I eat chicken and rice, spaghetti bolognese, I eat tins of sardines, frozen mixed veg and stuff, Iceland pizza. And then I'm out of money, then I go to my neighbour."
Oxfam works in the UK to improve the lives of people in poverty - including through funding food banks - and campaigns to persuade policy makers to do more to tackle the root causes of poverty in the UK. For more information visit www.oxfam.org.uk/breadline
Church Action on Poverty is a national ecumenical Christian social justice charity, committed to tackling poverty in the UK. We work in partnership with churches and with people in poverty themselves to find solutions to poverty, locally, nationally and globally. Further information can be found at www.churchpoverty.org.uk
The Trussell Trust is a Christian charity that runs a network of over 400 UK foodbanks. We partner with churches and communities to launch foodbanks across the UK that provide three days nutritionally-balanced emergency food and support to people in crisis. Over 90% food given out by Trussell Trust foodbanks is donated by the public. Every foodbank recipient is referred by a frontline care professional such as a doctor, social worker or schools liaison officer. Our foodbanks also help people to break out of crisis long-term by working with them to find ways to address the
underlying cause of the problem. The Trussell Trust's vision is to create a nation where no-one needs to go hungry. www.trusselltrust.org/foodbank-projects
Oxfam used data for 2012/13 and 2013/14 reported by Trussell Trust, FareShare and FoodCycle (the three main providers in the UK) to calculate the approximate number of meals delivered to people in food poverty in 2013/14 and percent increase over 2012/13. Please see below for individual citations:
Trussell Trust. (2014). Trussell Trust Statistics. Retrieved May, 2014 from: http://www.trusselltrust.org/stats
*Trussell Trust data on the number of people given three days emergency food and support in 2012/13 and 2013/14 (fiscal year 1st of April - 31st of March) in the UK.
FareShare. (2014). FareShare: About US. Retrieved May, 2014 from: http://www.fareshare.org.uk/about_us/
*Fare Share data on the number of meals that FareShare contributed towards in 2012/13 and 2013/14 (1st of April - 31st of March) in the UK.
FoodCycle. (2014). Food Cycle Fact Sheet. Retrieved May, 2014 from: http://foodcycle.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/FoodCycle-Fact-Sheet-March-2014.pdf
*Food Cycle data about the approximate number of meals served each month (England only).