U.K. Food-Bank Users Return What Needs Cooking as Bills Rise

The number of users of food banks in the U.K. tripled in the past year, with some of them abandoning cooking because of increasing energy prices, an anti-poverty charity said.

The Trussell Trust, which supports food banks that provide three days’ emergency supplies to people in need, said today 355,985 people had been helped between May and September this year, compared with 113,570 in the same period last year. It wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron requesting an inquiry.

“The level of food poverty in the U.K. is not acceptable. It’s scandalous and it is causing deep distress to thousands of people,” Trussell Trust Executive Chairman Chris Mould said in an e-mailed statement. “The time has come for an official and in-depth inquiry into the causes of food poverty and the consequent rise in the usage of food banks.”

Food prices have risen by 12.6 percent more than inflation over the past six years, outstripping wages, and higher energy prices are likely to see more people forced to choose between eating and heating this winter, the charity said. Food-bank clients are giving back food items that need cooking because they can’t afford to turn on the electricity, the trust said.

There are twice as many food banks as last year, accounting for some of the increase in demand, the trust said, though “well-established” food banks are also reporting that they’re helping more people.

Welfare Overhaul

An overhaul of the welfare system has led more people to seek help, the trust said, with 117,442 people referred to food banks by agencies including the health service, social workers and police because of delays in welfare payments compared with 35,597 last year.

Cameron’s spokesman, Jean-Christophe Gray, said the increase had been driven by the government axing restrictions on officials referring people to food banks and reflected a British tradition of charitable help for the poor. Use of the facilities increased 10 times under the Labour government that left office in 2010, he added.

“It’s this government that has lifted the block on job centers being able to point people in the direction of the type of additional assistance that food banks provide,” Gray told reporters in London. “The U.K. has a proud tradition of voluntary and charitable organisations providing additional support alongside the welfare system.”

The previous government stopped job centers, where job seekers register for unemployment benefit and seek work, issuing vouchers for food banks because they said other help was available and they could not provide consistent support as they were unevenly distributed around the country.

Food-bank use increased from 2,814 people in 2005-2006 to 40,898 in 2009-2010, when Labour lost power, the Trussell Trust said. Food banks supported by the charity were used by 346,992 people in 2012-2013.

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