Charity Trussell Trust which supplies centers in Staffordshire and the Black Country claims one in six people on Universal Credit in the UK visited a food bank at least once in the past four months. It said others were living in cold conditions unable to afford power or heating.
Trust bosses have now written to the Government to request higher benefit levels in line with the rate of inflation as a bare minimum to help householders cope with rising food and fuel prices. The move has the backing of community operators.
Black Country Foodbank chief executive Jen Coleman said: “We are seeing our services being pushed to the limit as people are facing so many reasons to turn to food banks, cuts in benefits, energy prices and the cost of living without a raise in wages makes life really tough.
“We have seen a lot more of the older generation who are saying that they are ‘struggling to makes ends meet’. People just need more money, whether that comes in benefit increases, wage increases and or cash grants.
“Things aren’t going to get better, we are concerned about how sustainable our model is especially as donations have decreased due to the cost of food. We hope that action will be taken soon before food aid charities buckle under the weight.”
A YouGov poll of people claiming Universal Credit shows two in five or 40 per cent have been forced into debt this winter just to eat and pay bills.
Walsall North Foodbank stated: “We are seeing an increase in people and the reason is the rise in fuel prices and the cost of living along with Universal Credit and it’s difficulties which are having an impact on people.
“We are starting to see people who are telling us they have to choose between eating and paying utility bills. One lady said ‘I had to pay my gas bill’ and that would have been considerably higher than it used to be.”
The Trussell Trust said inflation was expected to reach at least seven per cent next month while benefit levels was expected to rise by just 3.1 per cent or £ 2 a week, less than half of the sum needed to skirt the shortfall.
Universal Credit was cut by £ 20 a week in November 2021 and a five-year freeze placed on benefit rates meaning payments were now worth 11 per cent less than a decade ago.
Trust chief executive Emma Revie is also calling on the public to write to MPs about the crisis.
“Right now, the cost of living is forcing hundreds of thousands of families across the country into a downward spiral of debt just to get by.
“People are telling us they’re going days with minimal food, are having to endure the cold to save money and are being forced to turn to food banks with devastating effects on people’s mental health. Social security should be protecting people from debt and food banks – not pushing them towards it.
“This isn’t right. We know the situation is only set to get worse and we cannot wait any longer, “Ms Revie said
“Longer term, it is vital we strengthen our social security system so it protects us all from harm and invest in local crisis support so no one needs to use a food bank to get by,” she added.