The charity which runs hundreds of foodbanks is expecting December to be its busiest month ever.
The Trussell Trust said its network of over 400 foodbanks provided almost 160,000 three-day emergency food supplies in December last year, a 49% increase for the monthly average for the 2017/18 financial year.
The figure was 10% up on December 2016, said the Trust, adding that use of foodbanks has been increasing this year.
The inability of benefits to cover essential living costs, and issues with payments, remain the most common reasons for people being referred to a foodbank, said the Trust.
The five week wait for a first Universal Credit payment had made matters worse, said the charity.
The Trust’s chief executive Emma Revie said: “Christmas is supposed to be a time for joy but what we’re seeing is the festive period becoming increasingly stressful for more and more people across the country.
“Our benefits system is supposed to protect us all from being swept into poverty, but what we’re seeing is people struggling to heat homes and put food on the table because they simply cannot afford the basics any more and that just isn’t right.
“In the short-term we’re urging the public to donate generously during the first part of December and into the new year, as unfortunately the need for foodbanks is not going to end after Christmas.
“Ultimately, it’s unacceptable that anyone should have to use a foodbank in the first place.
“We do not want to be here in the long term, continuing to pick up the pieces.
“That’s why we’re urging the Government to ensure benefits payments reflect the cost of living and reduce the waiting time for Universal Credit to help ensure we are all anchored from poverty.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “The reasons for people using foodbanks are complex, and it would be wrong to link a rise to any one cause.
“No one should have to face hardship with Universal Credit and we have made 100% advances available from day one.
“For families that need extra support we are spending £90 billion a year on working-age welfare, and we recently announced a £39 million partnership with Citizens Advice to support vulnerable people to make and manage their Universal Credit claim.”