Leicester has seen one of the sharpest rises in food bank usage in the East Midlands in the last year. It comes as thousands struggle to make ends meet amid what one charity has warned could be a “national emergency”.
A staggering 10,661 emergency food parcels were distributed across the city alone, in the year to March, according to the Trussell Trust charity, which supports a wide network of food banks across the UK. A further 26,833 were handed out across Leicestershire.
Leicester had the third-highest number of parcels handed out in the East Midlands in the year to March, compared with all the other local authorities. The number distributed in the city rose by 15 per cent from 9,288 in 2020-21 to 10,661 last year – the sharpest increase of any local area with available data.
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The Trussell Trust has warned that things are only expected to get worse as some parents are already skipping meals so they can afford to feed their children. One of them is a nurse from Leicester who said she was being pushed towards her breaking point.
Rebeccah, who did not disclose her surname, featured in a BBC Panorama special about the cost of living crisis earlier this month. The NHS employee based in the city said she was forced to rely on food donations and at one point, found herself with just £7 to last more than a week.
That is the disturbing reality more households are facing in Leicester now as the cost of food and fuel has increased. Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said: “People are telling us they’re skipping meals so they can feed their children. That they are turning off essential appliances so they can afford internet access for their kids to do their homework.
“How can this be right in a society like ours? And yet food banks in our network tell us this is only set to get worse as their communities are pushed deeper into financial hardship. No one’s income should fall so dangerously low that they cannot afford to stay fed, warm and dry.”
The charity is calling on the government to take action to strengthen the country’s social security system. Of the 37,494 emergency food parcels that the charity handed out across the city and county in 2021-22, 13,640 were provided for children. The emergency food parcels provide food for one person for around three days.
That number was down slightly from a total of 39,027 the previous year – the financial year to March 2021 – during the height of the pandemic but was nearly double the 19,783 recorded in 2019-20. But the Trussell Trust data is only part of the picture.
There are thousands of other independent food aid groups and food banks that are not in the Trussell Trust network. That means the number of food parcels being handed out could be far greater than we know from the data provided.
Emma Revie added: “We are calling on the UK Government to bring benefits in line with the true cost of living. As an urgent first step, benefits should be increased by at least 7%, keeping pace with increases in the cost of living.
“In the longer term, we need the Government to introduce a commitment in the benefits system to ensure that everyone has enough money in their pockets to be prevented from falling into destitution. By failing to make benefits payments realistic for the times we face, the Government now risks turning the cost of living crisis into a national emergency.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said the Government recognised the cost of living pressures faced by families, and said it was spending £22 billion across the next financial year to support people with energy bills and cut fuel duty. He added: “For the hardest hit, we’re putting an average of £1,000 more per year into the pockets of working families on Universal Credit, have also boosted the minimum wage by more than £1,000 a year for full-time workers and our Household Support Fund is there to help with the cost of everyday essentials.”
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