Foodbank Use Reaches 1 Million as U.K. Parties Spar Over Poverty

The number of Britons receiving emergency food handouts has grown for a 10th year, according to a report that threatens to reignite the election debate over who is benefiting from the economic recovery.

More than 1 million people in the past 12 months used foodbanks provided by The Trussell Trust, which runs about half the centers in the U.K., the charity said on Wednesday. The figure, which counts those who have received at least three days’ emergency food, is up from 900,000 a year earlier and 41,000 before Prime Minister David Cameron took office in 2010.

With the May 7 general election in the balance, the report was seized on by the Labour opposition. Labour leader Ed Miliband has argued the growing use of foodbanks -- attributable to increased provision as well as higher demand -- reflects the decline in living standards for all but the wealthiest under Cameron’s Conservative-led coalition.

“The shocking rise in the number of people relying on Trussell Trust food banks since 2010 shows the Tory plan is failing,” said Rachel Reeves, who speaks on work and pensions matters for Labour.

Cameron’s first major interview of the general election campaign began with a question on foodbank usage broadcast live on television.

“The previous government didn’t allow job centers to advertise the existence of foodbanks -- they thought it would be bad PR,” Cameron told Channel 4 interviewer Jeremy Paxman.

‘Wrong Decision’

“I thought that was a wrong decision, a poor decision, so we allowed them to point people in the direction of foodbanks if they needed them,” he said. Job center referrals only account for 3 percent of food bank usage, the Trussell Trust said.

The Conservative campaign has focused on what it sees as the party’s greatest electoral asset, a growing economy, and what the Scottish National Party might demand from a future Labour government reliant on its support. Polls shows the two main parties are tied at about 35 percent, neither of them on course to win the parliamentary majority needed to govern alone.

Foodbank use started increasing since 2005 and accelerated after the recession started in 2008. Benefit delays and changes were cited by 44 percent as the reason for coming, with low-income referrals accounting for 22 percent.

Labour pledged a five-point plan last month to reduce the numbers using foodbanks, including measures to raise wages and “ensure that the social security system treats people fairly.”

There are probably more than 800 foodbanks in the U.K., a December 2014 parliamentary report estimated.

The Trussell Trust’s network increased to 445 centers last year. “Despite signs of economic recovery, the numbers of people turning to foodbanks continues to grow,” the charity said in a statement.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.