UK food bank charity reports record take-up amid cost of living crisis

<span>Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA</span>
Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

Record numbers of food parcels were given out by the Trussell Trust in the past 12 months, as the UK cost of living crisis helped drive more than 750,000 people to food banks for the first time.

The charity’s network distributed nearly 3m food parcels in 2022-23, its highest ever total and a year-on-year increase of 37%. More than a million children were living in households receiving the trust’s food parcels.

One in five people using a Trussell food bank over the period were in work, the charity said, reflecting the difficulties many low-income households have in affording everyday essentials amid soaring energy bills and food prices.

Trussell’s chief executive, Emma Revie, said the demand for food parcels last year was higher than it had been during the first year of the Covid pandemic, “which we had all assumed was a once-in-a-lifetime level of need”.

The number of Trussell Trust food parcels distributed had grown by 120% over the past five years, Revie said. In 2017-18 it gave out 1.4m parcels, at the time a record. The figure increased in four of the following five years before hitting its current peak.

The scale of demand has forced the trust to “think through the logistics” of charity food distribution. Levels of food donations – traditionally from individuals and local charity food drives – have failed to keep pace, and Trussell had to spend £7.5m last year – £4.5m more than in the previous year – replenishing food bank stocks.


Food bank use soared across all regions of the UK, with the biggest annual increase in food parcel distribution – 54% – seen in the north-east of England. No region or nation of the UK saw less than a 28% rise in food parcel numbers given out.

“We are experiencing an unprecedented rise in the number of people coming to the food bank, particularly employed people who are no longer able to balance a low income against rising living costs,” said Brian Thomas, the chief executive of Trussell’s South Tyneside food bank.

Until relatively recently, the bulk of people using food banks were in effect destitute, but static incomes and rising prices have changed that profile. People in low-paid and insecure jobs, typically in retail, social care, hospitality and warehousing, are increasingly reliant on charity food, food banks say.

The Trussell figures, taken from its 1,646 outlets, are a reliable general indicator of worsening trends in levels of UK hunger and poverty, although the trust is clear they are only “part of the picture” of people struggling to afford food.

The trust does not operate in about a quarter of UK local authority areas, and thousands of food banks and food aid charities exist outside its network. Food banks as a whole do not capture the full extent of hunger, with government figures suggesting just 14% of people in severe food insecurity visit food banks.

Although the government has made one-off cost-of-living payments to help low-income households, Trussell said its data suggested they did not make a lasting difference. Food bank use fell slightly in the weeks following these payments in August and December, then quickly rose once more.

Sabine Goodwin, a coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network, said that although its members had also seen an unprecedented rise in food bank use, this would only “temporarily alleviate poverty”. She called for food bank users to be given cash or food vouchers rather than food parcels, and for welfare benefits to be increased.

Earlier this year, the Trussell Trust called for a change in the law to ensure that the value of welfare benefits meet the real costs of food, energy and everyday basics. Its research with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimated core benefit levels were at least £140 a month less than basic living costs.

A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to eradicating poverty and we recognise the pressures of the rising cost of living which is why we have uprated benefits by 10.1% as well as making an unprecedented increase to the national living wage this month. This is on top of changes already made to universal credit which mean claimants can keep more of their hard-earned money – a boost worth £1,000 a year on average.”