The use of food banks in the U.K. is on course to reach the highest level on record in the current financial year.
The number of visits to food banks run by the Trussell Trust rose to 519,342 in the six months through September from 506,369 a year earlier, the charity said on Tuesday. More than a third of the three-day emergency food packs went to children.
The main reasons cited were delays to welfare payments, benefit changes and low income. The trust, which was established 12 years ago, said it is calling for a direct telephone line between local job centers and food banks to help deal with the crisis.
“A hot line would be a low-cost solution that allows food bank managers and volunteers to support those in serious crises more quickly and efficiently, reducing stress and negative impact on the mental wellbeing of people referred to the food bank,” it said in a statement accompanying the latest figures.
Virtually unheard of during the economic boom that ended in 2008, food banks opened at a rapid rate during the years of fiscal austerity that followed, with Trussell Trust members handing out 1.1 million packs in the 12 months through March. They may again come under the spotlight as the sharp fall in the pound since the Brexit vote pushes up the cost of food, fuel and clothing.
While there are hundreds of independent operators, the Trussell Trust, with a network of more than 420 centers, is seen as a gauge of national trends. It said people require two food bank referrals in a year on average, suggesting there were 260,000 “unique users” of its food banks between April and September.
“A key priority for the government must be to knuckle down on processing people’s benefit claims as quickly and accurately as possible,” opposition Labour lawmaker Frank Field, chairman of the House of Commons All-Party Group on Hunger, said in a statement. “A dedicated benefits hot line for charities working with the poor needs to form a key part of the government’s response.”
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