While the idea of food parcels has echoes of Dickensian London or a famine-struck corner of the developing world, they are becoming more common in 21st Century Britain. The Trussell Trust charity, which operates dozens of foodbanks across the country, says it is serving Britain's "hidden hungry". It mainly helps people who are not receiving benefits they would normally be entitled to, but also sees many families who fall into financial difficulty after the main breadwinner loses work.
Chris Mould, executive director of the Trussell Trust, says one reason for people running out of food is because many have their benefits suspended while they are being re-assessed.
"The Department for Work and Pensions will say people's benefits are not stopped while a re-assessment is taking place. That is not true. Our foodbanks are increasingly helping people who are having their benefits stopped during reassessment.The DWP might say this only happens for three weeks or so, and what's the problem? But if you're living week to week then that's a long gap to cover when you're trying to feed yourself and a family."
Of the 41,000 people fed by foodbanks last year, he says 35-40% had problems with benefits. Last year's figures sees a sharp increase on the 26,000 people fed during the financial year 2008/09, and the charity has just opened its 71st UK foodbank, up from 44 last year. Some 378 tonnes of food were collected by the foodbank network in 2009/10. Some 60,000 people are predicted to be fed nationwide in 2010/11, with the Trust aiming to have 86 foodbanks open by end of March 2011.