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Huge increase in food bank parcels handed out in Kent

The number of emergency supplies handed out by food banks in the county has risen sharply over the last year, figures from a leading charity show.

The Trussell Trust, which supports a nationwide network of food banks said a record number of packages were handed out nationally over the last 12 months.

It believes benefits, which are insufficient to cover living costs and payment delays for universal credit, are among the key contributing factors - a claim denied by the government.

A volunteer checks supplies at a Trussell Trust foodbank storage unit
A volunteer checks supplies at a Trussell Trust foodbank storage unit

Between April 2018 and March 2019, the charity handed out 22,526 emergency three-day food packages at food banks in Kent – 38% of them to children.

The total was a 15% increase on the previous year, when 19,553 were distributed.

Across the South East, nearly 150,000 emergency food supplies were handed out last year – a 21% increase on the previous 12 months.

The Trussell Trust said, across the UK, almost half of food bank referrals made due to a delay in benefits being paid were linked to Universal Credit.

The controversial new system combines previous benefit payments, with the scheme fully rolled out in Kent by November of last year. However, it is paid in arrears which can mean a lengthy wait for the first payment to arrive.

But the trust said the government should end the five-week wait for a first Universal Credit payment to help reduce reliance on food banks.

Volunteers unload supplies at a Trussell Trust foodbank
Volunteers unload supplies at a Trussell Trust foodbank

In total, the charity distributed more than 1.5 million food packages in 2018-19 across 1,200 sites in the UK – 19% more than the year before, and a 73% increase on five years previously.

More than half a million packages last year were for children.

The Trussell Trust’s chief executive Emma Revie said: “What we are seeing year upon year is more and more people struggling to eat because they simply cannot afford food. This is not right.

“Our benefits system is supposed to protect us all from being swept into poverty. Universal Credit should be part of the solution but currently the five-week wait is leaving many without enough money to cover the basics.

“As a priority, we’re urging the government to end the wait for Universal Credit to ease the pressure on thousands of households.

The Trussell Trust chief executive Emma Revie
The Trussell Trust chief executive Emma Revie

“Ultimately, it’s unacceptable that anyone should have to use a food bank in the first place.

“No charity can replace the dignity of having financial security. That’s why, in the long term, we’re urging the government to ensure benefit payments reflect the true cost of living and work is secure, paying the real living wage, to help ensure we are all anchored from poverty.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “It is not true to say that people need to wait five weeks for their first payment. Universal Credit is available to claimants on day one.

“It also cannot be claimed that Universal Credit is driving the overall use of food banks or that benefit changes and delays are driving growth.

“The trust’s own analysis shows a substantial fall in the share of parcels being issued due to benefit payment delays.

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