Cost-of-living crisis: Britain risks 'sleepwalking into food banks becoming part of the welfare state'

Kyle McCormick at a Trussell Trust foodbank in Blawarthill Parish Church, Glasgow, as anti-poverty charities are calling on the Scottish Government and employers to do more to help families avoid crisis in a new report on foodbank use.
Garry Lemon, director of policy, external affairs and research at the Trussell Trust, has warned the UK risks "sleepwalking" into food banks becoming part of the welfare state. (PA Images)

Britain risks "sleepwalking into food banks being part of the welfare state" as the cost-of-living crisis worsens, a leading charity has said.

Garry Lemon, director of policy, external affairs and research at the Trussell Trust, told Yahoo News UK the worst is yet to come, and that he is "really scared" about the deteriorating situation.

“It makes no sense to me that we as a society are allowing so many people to fall to this level,” he said, warning that fundamental change is needed to avoid extreme poverty being "institutionalised".

The Trussell Trust has seen a huge increase in use of its food banks in the past decade.

An estimated 2.5m food parcels were collected from Trussell Trust centres in 2020/21. In 2008/09 the figure was less than 26,000.

Read more: Universal Credit: Single mum ‘told to go to the nearest food bank for help' after £20 cut

Between 1 April 2021 and 30 September 2021, the charity distributed 5,100 emergency food parcels a day – an uptick the charity says was triggered by the pandemic.

"We need to see [systemic change] so that we don't end up sleepwalking into food banks being a part of our welfare state, because that just isn't right," Lemon said.

He added: "I see things going in the wrong direction at the moment.

"I can only see more people ending up needing food banks, and food banks in our network aren't going to stand by and allow people in their communities to starve.

"We will do our part in the communities that food banks are rooted, and we'll do our part in the halls of Westminster and then the devolved governments - but, ultimately, we need systemic, strategic, long-term political solutions from the top."

Lemon joins a growing number of experts calling for the government to increase support for the poorest.

Read more: 'I sold clothes and jewellery to pay my energy bills - there's nothing left to sell'

With rising inflation, planned tax increases, and soaring energy bills, the cost of living crisis risks pushing more families into food poverty.

The cost of living in the UK is rising fast. (Yahoo News UK/ONS)

"So we had [the] £20 uplift Universal Credit [that was] taken away, which was an absolute lifeline for families," he said.

"We’re now looking at benefits being upgraded only 3.1%. When we think that inflation could be as high as 7.5% - that is another real terms cut in people’s incomes."

Lemon also said other policies like the two-child benefit cap, which he described as "arbitrary", are contributing to the growing number of food bank users.

Trussell Trust data shows the North East is the region most reliant on food banks, with 1,609 parcels handed out for per 100,000 people between April and September 2021, compared to 958 per 100,000 in Yorkshire and the Humber.

food banks
The North East is the region with the highest proportion of people relying on food banks. (Yahoo News UK/Trussell Trust)

Data from the Food Foundation released last week revealed 1m adults in the UK skipped a day's food last month because they could not afford to eat. Almost one in ten households reported food insecurity over the past month.

Like Lemon, the Food Foundation cite lack of sufficient government support - including the cut to the Universal Credit uplift - as driving factors.

Read more: Rishi Sunak’s £200 energy ‘discount’ branded ‘shoddily designed buy now, pay later loan scheme’

Elsewhere, experts have urged the government to ramp up support to low income households, warning 2022 could be "the year of the squeeze" - with the Institute for Fiscal Studies warning this year could be worse than the 2008/09 financial crisis for millions of Brits.

"This is something that we all need to come together and find consensus on be honest about and fix long term, cross government strategic action," said Lemon.

"Because people are suffering, and more people are going to suffer."

Watch: Tesco chairman says worst of rising food prices ‘yet to come’