Britain’s food bank use soaring amid coronavirus crisis, charities warn
Food banks usage has soared
Labour has backed charity demands to do more to help people on lower incomes as new figures showed the use of food banks is soaring during the coronavirus pandemic.
A coalition of charities have urged ministers to ensure hard-pressed families have enough money to buy essentials during the coronavirus lockdown as they warned food banks could not continue to "pick up the pieces".
New figures released on Friday by The Trussell Trust show that demand for emergency supplies has risen by over 80% in the first two weeks of March compared to the same period last year, including a 122% rise in parcels going to children.
Over 1.8m people have applied for Universal Credit in recent weeks with ministers pledging further financial support for the scheme and for those receiving housing benefit.
But the group, made up of The Trussell Trust, Child Poverty Action Group, Turn2us and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said while the new measures were welcome they were "unlikely to offer a strong enough lifeline" to those on the lowest incomes.
Instead, they called for a benefit boost to help with the cost of raising children, urging ministers to lift the benefit cap and two-child policy and ensuring councils have adequate funding to provide crisis support for families.
Emma Revie, Chief Executive of the Trussell Trust, said: "The last few weeks have shown we must come together to protect each other against the unexpected. Like a tidal wave gathering pace, an economic crisis is sweeping towards us – but we don’t all have lifeboats.
"It’s not right that this has meant some of us don't have enough money for essentials and are being pushed to food banks. Now is the time to build on the foundations our government has laid. We need emergency measures to ensure people can makes ends meet during this crisis.
"We have the power to come together as a country and make sure support is there to stop any of us being swept into poverty during this emergency."
The figures were seized on by Labour, who said they were evidence of a "crisis of poverty" hitting low income families.
Labour's Shadow Secretary for Food Luke Pollard said: "There is more than enough food in our supply chains to make sure that everyone has enough to eat. This is now not a crisis of food supply, it's a crisis of poverty. People simply do not have enough money to buy the food they need.
"The Government urgently needs to expand which shops are able to accept free school meal vouchers to include those supermarkets most present in our poorest communities. Many people only have access to their local convenience store or a more discount supermarket."
The Labour frontbencher added: "It's vital that these shops are included in the Free School Meals voucher scheme, so our most vulnerable children can get the food they need."
The charities’ findings came after ministers confirmed that people claiming Universal Credit will not have any rent arrears taken from their payments for a month.
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said this week: “We have received an unprecedented number of new benefit claims and have streamlined our operations to make sure people get the support they need during this time.
“As part of this, we have temporarily paused third-party deductions from [Universal Credit] – these will recommence on 10 May.
“We are in the process of explaining the changes to claimants via their online journal and to third parties, including housing providers who collect arrears via this method.”