More people are depending on food banks than ever before in Britain, new figures show.
“Ever-increasing” numbers of households – including pensioners, NHS staff and teachers – seek help amid the cost of living crisis.
Cost of living increases was given as the biggest problem, followed by inadequate wages and waiting times for initial universal credit payments. A third of independent food banks said benefit sanctions and deductions were a driving factor.
New research by the Independent Food Aid Network (Ifan), shared with the Observer, found that almost 90% of food banks surveyed reported increased demand in December 2022 and January 2023 compared with a year earlier.
Half of the 85 organisations running 154 food banks that responded said if demand rose further they would either have to cut support or turn people away.
The Trussell Trust, the UK’s biggest provider, between April and September alone distributed 1.3m emergency food parcels – a third more than the same period in 2021 and over 50% more than pre-pandemic.
Food banks are struggling to meet record demand from people who are in work – including NHS staff and teachers – the Ifan research found. More than 80% reported supporting a significant number of people for the first time, while many said demand was growing among pensioners and families with babies.
Sabine Goodwin, Ifan coordinator, said: “It’s very clear that people have been trying to muddle through the winter on credit and are now building up debts that will push people over the edge.” Accusing the government of “unsustainable and unethical” reliance on charitable food aid, she said that without a change of approach there will be “nowhere for people to turn”.
Many food banks are also reporting issues with burnout among staff and volunteers. Judith Vickers, from Lifeshare in Manchester, said: “Staff are reporting burnout, heavy caseloads, and a constant stream of new referrals. We are coping, but the level of demand is relentless. Volunteers often feel that we can’t do enough for people.”
Food inflation is at 16.7% and the cost of gas is nearly 130% higher than a year ago. The Office for Budget Responsibility forecast in November that households’ disposable income would fall by 4.3% in 2022-23, the largest drop since comparable records began in 1956.