Food bank use could be highest in 12 years, say Trussell Trust
A record number of food parcels will be handed out across the UK this financial year, a major food bank charity said.
The Salisbury-based Trussell Trust said it had issued 500,000 in the past six months and was on course for the highest number in its 12-year history.
It blamed benefit changes, which it said "accounted for 44% of referrals".
The Department of Work and Pensions said food bank use was complex and it was "misleading to link to any one issue".
David McAuley, from the Trussell Trust, said: "To stop UK hunger we must make sure the welfare system works fairly and compassionately, stopping people getting to a point where they have no money to eat.
He said the charity had "anecdotal evidence" suggesting food bank managers and volunteers spent a significant amount of time on hold to Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) phone lines on behalf of people in crisis.
Mr McAuley said: "It feels like we could be seeing a new era at the DWP with a consultation on work capability assessments and willingness to engage in dialogue with charities working on the front line.
"A telephone hotline could build on this and go a long way to improving food banks' ability to help get people out of a crisis faster."
A DWP spokesman said the "the vast majority of benefits are processed on time".
He said: "But for those who need extra support, we provide a strong safety net through the welfare system, including hardship payments, benefit advances and budgeting loans."
But Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams said Labour would scrap the "punitive sanctions regime" of the current government and said it was "clear that delays in benefit payments and changes to eligibility are a major cause behind this increase".
"Even more staggering in the run up to Christmas is almost 200,000 children will be relying on a food parcel to get a decent meal," she said.
Between April and September 2016, Trussell Trust food banks across the UK issued 519,342 three-day emergency food packs, compared with 506,369 during the same period last year.