As a cross-party group of MPs blames benefit delays for a huge rise in the use of food banks, Channel 4 News visits one south London food bank to speak to people there.
Wandsworth food bank has fed more than 1,800 people since April 2014, up 30 per cent from last year.
The food bank is just one of more than 400 operated by the Trussell Trust across the UK. Everyone who comes to the food bank is referred by a professional such as a social worker, teacher or local GP.
Sarah Chapman, who set up the Wandsworth food bank in 2013, told Channel 4 News: “The food part of a budget is always the part that will be squeezed. It’s the most flexible part of the budget.
“One family, they were referred to us by the children’s school. Their dad had been stopped in a shop the weekend before for shoplifting. But because all he’d shoplifted was a couple of jacket potatoes and a tin of beans, they let him because they could see this was a staple.”
The biggest reason for referral to Wandsworth food bank was benefit delays and benefit changes, accounting for 44 per cent of users. Twenty three per cent of referrals were because of low income.
One grandmother from south London, who did not want to be named, spoke to Channel 4 News about how she came to use the food bank. She was abused and held a knife point by her husband before she fled her home to go and live with her daughter.
Since July, she’s been moving between social housing and sleeping on her daughter’s sofa and considers herself homeless. She was referred to the food bank by a women in crisis charity.
She told Channel 4 News: “I’m going through a hard time and even this morning before I came here I felt so down to be honest, I needed somebody to talk to.
“Coming here there’s a difference. They’ve encouraged me along the way so I’m feeling better about myself, but I’m homeless. I’m sleeping on a settee which is not comfortable, I’ve got no privacy.
“I’m feeling really down. I didn’t realise this would happen to me in this country. The need is there. Domestic violence, age, sickness. There should be some form of help for me.
“I don’t know what’s happening. Something’s gone wrong somewhere. All I want is my own shelter.”
Trussell Trust guidelines say that households should be given three days’ worth of food per crisis, but often food banks have little choice but to support families for longer. A crisis can be anything from losing a job to domestic violence to benefit delays.
Chris Mould, chairman of the Trussell Trust told Channel 4 News: “In 2013/14 we provided emergency support for almost 1 million people.
“We know that if they don’t get help from us or another provider they would be forced to look elsewhere. That might be that they commit a crime, shoplift, they might lose their homes because they find it too difficult to pay the rent.”
The all-party parliamentary inquiry into hunger in the UK found that, since the establishment of the Trussell Trust network in 2004, numbers of emergency food assistance providers have grown to at least 1,500, including 800 food banks – around half of them operated by the trust.
The report said it was “clear that demand for emergency food assistance is increasing, and sometimes increasing dramatically”.
Minister for Civil Society Rob Wilson said that government departments would “be reflecting carefully on each of the recommendations made in the report” and would “engage” with its authors as they takes their proposals forward.
Prime Minister David Cameron said: “We will study the report and see what we can bring forward.
“But it comes at a time when the economy is growing and we are lifting people into work and out of poverty.”