UNISON condemns the soaring need for food banks in the UK as a ‘national disgrace’

The Trussell Trust distributed a record 1.6 million emergency food parcels in the past year, amid renewed calls for government to end the five-week wait for Universal Credit

The Trussell Trust today released figures showing that the past year was the busiest in the food bank charity’s 22-year history.

In the 12 months from April 2018 to March 2019, nearly 1.6 million three-day emergency food parcels were given to people in crisis in the UK ­– more than half a million of which went to children.

This is an 18.8% increase on the previous year.

And today’s figures are just the tip of the iceberg of the UK’s poverty crisis. The Trussell Trust network of 1,200 food bank centres across the UK accounts for approximately two-thirds of all emergency food banks – so there are hundreds more not touched on by the statistics.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis commented: “We live in the sixth richest country in the world, but hundreds of thousands of families and children are forced to rely on food parcels to survive.

“That’s a national disgrace that should shame us all.”

The Trussell Trust data suggests that the main reasons for people needing emergency food are benefits consistently not covering the cost of living, along with delays or changes to the benefits being paid.

Universal Credit is not the only benefit payment causing problems, but issues with moving onto the new system are a key driver of increasing need – almost half (49%) of benefits-related food bank referrals were linked to Universal Credit.

The charity believes that ending the five-week wait for a first Universal Credit payment should be the government’s first priority to ease the pressure on thousands of households.

“Our benefits system is supposed to protect us all from being swept into poverty,” said the trust’s chief executive Emma Revie. “Universal Credit should be part of the solution, but currently the five-week wait is leaving many without enough money to cover the basics.

“Ultimately, it’s unacceptable that anyone should have to use a food bank in the first place,” she added. “No charity can replace the dignity of having financial security.

“That’s why in the long-term we’re urging the government to ensure benefit payments reflect the true cost of living and that [employment] is secure, paying the real Living Wage, to help ensure we are all anchored from poverty.”

UNISON is supporting The Trussell Trust’s #5WeeksTooLong campaign calling for an end to the five weeks or more wait for Universal Credit.

Mr Prentis added: “No-one should be forced to rely on food banks – yet the government’s five-week wait for Universal Credit is making a bad situation worse.

“This is an utterly inhumane and indefensible approach that scars lives and communities alike.

“The government can take action now to end the five-week wait. But with the Institute for Fiscal Studies this week saying that two million people will lose out as a result of Universal Credit, they also need to think again – full stop – before any more damage is done.”

Read about UNISON’s campaign to Change Universal Credit