Kerry McCarthy MP visited a 'pop-up' food bank outside the Houses of Parliament, to draw attention to growing poverty and the reliance on food parcels in the UK. Reliance on food support is rocketing. The number of people supported by food banks has grown from 2,800 in 2005-06 to over 128,000 in 2011-12, while Britain's largest network of food banks, the Trussell Trust, predicts that they will need to support in excess of 260,000 people over the next year.
Kerry McCarthy visited the Unite food bank on the day the Department for the Environment announced that it was going to examine why there has been a surge in the demand for food support.
People turn to food banks in times of desperation - usually because of an unexpected bill, or the miscalculation of welfare cuts, but more and more because of shrinking wages and rising living costs.
There are over 70 food banks, hostels, and other outlets across Bristol that supply food to people who are struggling to make ends meet. The Trussell Trust, the country's largest organiser of food banks, estimates that 13,719 adults and 7,269 children in the South West received emergency food between April and September last year.
Oxfam has found that 1 in every 16 people have been forced to skip meal so their family can eat – in Bristol this represents 26,500 in the city having to go hungry because of financial hardship.
Kerry McCarthy MP is warning that further benefit cuts, due to impact from April 2013 on people both in and out of work, will force ever greater numbers to rely on emergency food support.
The pop-up food bank appeared as the Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill is being debated by the House of Lords. This Bill seeks to place a real terms cut on all benefits, by capping annual rises to a below inflation 1 per cent. Some 60 per cent of those households affected by this cap will be in work.
The influential Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that as many as seven million working households will be hit by the uprating cap, by an average of £165 per year. These factors are set to significantly increase food and fuel poverty, leaving growing numbers of people reliant on food banks.
Speaking at the event Kerry McCarthy MP said: "The work carried out by food banks in Bristol and throughout the UK, which give vital supplies to people both in and out of work is invaluable. They provide a lifeline to people in dire need and help prevent families that are leaving the below breadline going to be hungry.
"However, it is appalling that this level of support is needed in 21st century Britain and at the same time this government is set to give huge tax breaks to millionaires from April.
"Growing poverty is now a real issue in Bristol and the rest of the country, so where is the sense in the government making ordinary people more poor and scared for their futures, which is what their cuts hatchet does. People need a government that is on their side during this terrible recession, not a government for the super rich."
Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary, added: "It is shameful that that under Cameron's watch the world's seventh richest nation has become so reliant on food banks.
"The Prime Minister snuck in to a food bank in his own constituency, perhaps because he is ashamed that over 260,000 people are expected to use food banks this year, as a result of his shambolic handling of the economy and brutal welfare cuts.
"That is why we are calling on the government to put an urgent hold on the welfare cuts, due to kick in from April. It is grossly unfair and will hit the most vulnerable the hardest, particularly - children, people with disabilities and lone parents."