By James Davey
LONDON (Reuters) – One in seven people in the United Kingdom faced hunger last year because they did not have enough money, according to a report published on Wednesday by food bank charity the Trussell Trust.
It said this equates to 11.3 million people, more than double the population of Scotland, and blamed a dysfunctional social security system, as well as a cost of living crisis that is showing little sign of easing.
Britain is the world’s sixth-biggest economy but its citizens have been pressured for more than a year by high inflation which has outstripped pay growth for almost all workers.
Government forecasters estimate UK households are in the midst of the biggest two-year squeeze in living standards since comparable records started in the 1950s.
The Trussell Trust’s network of 1,300 food bank centres across the UK provided a record 3 million food parcels in the year to March, up 37% and more than double the amount provided five years ago.
“This consistent upward trajectory exposes that it is weaknesses in the social security system that are driving food bank need, rather than just the pandemic or cost of living crisis,” it said.
The charity said that 7% of the UK population was supported by charitable food support, including food banks, yet 71% of people facing hunger had not yet accessed any form of charitable food support.
It also noted that one in five people forced to turn to food banks in its network are in a working household and called on the UK government to ensure the benefits system covers essential costs.
“We know people are struggling, which is why we’re providing record financial support worth an average 3,300 pounds ($4,206) per household,” said a spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions in response to the report.
The government has also raised benefits and the state pension in line with inflation, increased the minimum wage and supported families with food, energy and other essential costs, said the spokesperson.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s key economic pledge to halve overall inflation in 2023 before a probable 2024 election has been undermined by persistently high food inflation, outpacing the broader inflation rate across the whole economy and adding strain to household budgets already stretched by higher taxes and mortgage rates.
Food and drink inflation was running at 18.3% in May according to the most recent official data, and 14.6% in June according to the most recent industry data.
On Tuesday, British supermarket executives rejected allegations they were profiteering at the expense of consumers through the cost of living crisis.
Soaring food prices have contributed to the biggest squeeze on living standards in Britain since records began in the 1950s, and prompted questions about who is responsible. Trade unions and politicians have accused the supermarkets of “greedflation”, saying they’ve been too slow in passing on lower producer prices to consumers.
($1 = 0.7846 pounds)
(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Aurora Ellis)
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