The Trussell Trust is the single largest distributor of emergency food parcels in the UK, providing around two-thirds of the food parcels handed out to people in crisis. Recently, they released their latest damning statistics, highlighting the scale of food poverty in the United Kingdom.
Between April 2018 and March 2019, a record 1.6 million emergency food parcels were given to those in need. That’s a 19% increase on the previous year, with more than half a million of these food parcels going to children.
Since 2010 the number of emergency food parcels distributed by Trussell Trust food banks has risen from just over 40,000 to well over one and a half million – an increase of 3,900% in just 9 years.
The top three reasons for food bank referrals in the Trussell Trust network are ‘Low Income’, ‘Benefit Delays’ and ‘Benefit Changes’. This shows a concerning trend, where both work and welfare are not providing enough for people to survive off. When you add to this the built-in waiting period for Universal Credit – a minimum of 5 weeks – you see a system that is actively exacerbating the problem, rather than providing the safety net it is supposed to.
Volunteering at a Trussell Trust food bank was one of the most rewarding, eye-opening, and disheartening experiences I have ever had. While these statistics are shocking enough, it is not until you really meet the people who have been forced into poverty that you begin to understand. While the charity does a wonderful job to make people feel welcome, it still can’t completely remove the shame and embarrassment that many clients feel when they come for help. Food banks are an unwanted last resort for most people, so it is overwhelming to realise that over a million people in the UK have been forced to this breaking point.
It is in this situation you can truly grasp the harm and hurt caused by a decade of cuts to services, low-wages, insecure jobs, out-of-reach housing, and austerity policies.
Emma Revie, Trussell Trust CEO writes:
“It’s unacceptable that anyone should have to use a food bank in the first place. 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 work is secure, paying the real Living Wage, to help ensure we are all anchored from poverty.”
Britain is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and the fact that hundreds of thousands of people are forced to turn to charity to feed themselves is absolutely shameful. The most marginalised people in the UK have been impoverished and made more vulnerable, while the very wealthiest have seen their incomes continue to grow under austerity. Women and disabled people have been disproportionately hurt by austerity policies, child poverty continues to rise, and work fails to pay as we see in-work poverty reaching an all-time high.
“Economic stagnation, the rising cost of living, cuts to social security and public services, falling incomes, and rising unemployment have combined to create a deeply damaging situation in which millions are struggling to make ends meet.” – Oxfam
We know it doesn’t have to be like this. The exponential rise in poverty and homelessness we see has only happened in the last decade, and reverses the trend of the decade before it. By calling out this injustice when we see it, and by bringing attention to the policies and politicians that are causing this damage, there is hope that we can build the political will to actually do something to address this suffering.
While we should all be calling for meaningful, structural and political change, please also consider donating food, sanitary items or money to your local food bank. You can find out online what products they are short of, and your donations go straight to improving the lives of those in need. https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-involved/ways-to-give/donate-food/
Please also consider supporting The Trussell’s Trust’s #5WeeksTooLong campaign, calling for an end to the 5+ week wait for Universal Credit.
In this time of political uncertainty, with frequent elections, I urge you to support and vote for candidates that oppose the five-week waiting time for Universal Credit, that have a track record in opposing austerity politics, and that will work to champion the voices of the most marginalised in our society.
By Hannah Wright, CW18 Trainee at Guide Dogs