More than 3 million food bank parcels given out across UK in record-high year

The number of emergency food parcels handed out across the UK in a single year has reached its highest level, at more than three million.

The Trussell Trust food bank network said the figures had risen for packages for both adults and children and the total is now almost double that of five years ago.

There were 3,121,404 parcels distributed by food banks in its network up to the end of March, made up of 1,977,308 for adults and 1,144,096 for children.

The charity said first-time users – of which there were 655,000 in that 12-month period – were down slightly on last year but up 40% from five years ago.

Parcels going to households that had someone of pension age living there were up by more than a quarter (27%) to 179,000, the organisation said, noting that older people, especially renters, were “finding themselves unable to afford essentials and facing hunger and severe hardship”.

A food bank in Leeds said it had seen the rise in families needing food support increase by a third and an “alarming” 27% rise for pensioners.

Wendy Doyle, operations manager at Leeds South and East Foodbank said: “Our volunteers are telling us that they are dealing with pensioners who can’t afford to put food on the table due to having to pay higher energy costs and that is the choice they are having to make.”

Val McKie, who has previously needed the support of food banks, told how she found herself “overwhelmed with shame” when she came to be in need of such help.

The former management consultant who lives in the North West, said: “After the tragic death of my husband of only four years, the loss of my steady income through my contractor closing down and finally my landlord selling my home, I was left couch surfing and destitute.

“More importantly I was overwhelmed with shame at the situation I was in. I struggled for years before I found the courage and strength to ask for help, these feelings are shared by so many people who need the support of food banks.”

She described the rising need for food banks as “a stain on our society” and something that affects everyone “either directly or indirectly”.

She added: “We need to come together to end the need for food banks in the UK and create a society where everyone can flourish.”

The Trussell Trust has called on political parties to commit, ahead of a general election, to tackling the problem, urging them to back a “supportive social security system” and better support for parents, carers and people with disabilities who can face increased living costs.

Emma Revie, its chief executive, said: “It’s 2024 and we’re facing historically high levels of food bank need. As a society, we cannot allow this to continue. We must not let food banks become the new norm.

“As we approach the next UK General Election, we urgently need all political leaders to set out how they will build a future where no one needs a food bank to survive.

Voters want to see a change and we need cross-government action at all levels to deliver it. We know what’s pushing people to food banks, so we know what needs to change.”

Separately, the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) said the amount of money donated to food bank charities has increased by half year-on-year, with their research estimating the public gave almost £1 billion last year.

The CAF said people donated £973 million to food banks in 2023, up from £635 million during the previous year.

While the number of donors choosing to support food banks has remained consistent year-on-year, people have been giving more, it said, with the average donation to food banks increasing by £10, from £22 in 2022 to £32 last year.

CAF said food banks received similar levels of support from all age groups and across all regions of the country.

Neil Heslop, CAF chief executive, said: “Even when times are tough, it’s heart-warming to see how people respond generously to support charities around the UK providing for more and more families.

“For those who can’t afford to give more, volunteering your time or donating goods is also a crucial way to help charities.”

Social change organisation, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), repeated campaigners’ longstanding call for the introduction of a so-called essentials guarantee which would ensure everyone has a protected minimum amount of support to afford the essentials.

Iain Porter, JRF senior policy adviser, said: “This is not what an economy returning to full health looks like. The latest record-breaking emergency food parcel figures show the painful economic reality facing families with the least.”

He said the issue is one that “no political party can ignore in this election year”.

The Government said its cost-of-living support package had prevented 1.3 million people falling into poverty in 2022-23 and reiterated that it had uprated benefits, raised the state pension and was “raising the National Living Wage, cutting taxes and driving down inflation while investing billions through our Back to Work Plan”.