Leeds food bank use soars, new figures reveal

Karen Burgon (centre) with fellow volunteers.
Karen Burgon (centre) with fellow volunteers.

Hunger is rising in Leeds as those suffering a “short-term crisis” are increasingly turning to food banks in the city, new figures reveal.

The Trussell Trust today released its end-of-year statistics, showing that 1,860 more three-day emergency food supplies were handed out to those in need across the city during 2016/17 than in the previous year.

Overall, volunteers for the trust gave 15,771 packages – including 6,115 specifically to feed children – to families over the last year at the Leeds South and East and Leeds North and West services.

Across Yorkshire and the Humber, more than 69,200 packages were given to people by the trust’s services during the past year – around 24,500 to children – as national figures hit 1,182,954.

Karen Burgon, project director for Leeds North and West Foodbank, which has seven distribution centres, said: “The people who are just managing on a day-to-day basis, if they have some form of crisis that pushes them over in getting support.”

But she revealed that there is “certainly still a lot of embarrassment” about using food banks, adding: “Quite often the children don’t even know that their parents are coming.

“They [parents] will be trying to get back before their children come back from school.”

Ms Burgon said that around 58 per cent of those that use the Leeds North and West Foodbank do so because of delays in their benefits – some of which are due to sanctions.

The Government is still rolling out Universal Credit, which aims to simplify benefits into one type of payment. But for those claiming it, the first payment can take around five to six weeks to arrive.

Ms Burgon said: “Sometimes we have people crying because they’re so upset, and crying with relief really.”

Adrian Curtis, the trust’s food bank network director, said that people are facing a “short-term crisis” between choosing to pay their bills or put food on the table.

“We do see people who come into food banks who are in work struggling on low pay or insecure forms of payment where their salary fluctuates,” he said.

The figures are measure of volume rather the number of people using services and on average people needed two food bank referrals in the last year.

A DWP spokesman said: “The reasons for food bank use are complex, so it’s misleading to link them to any one issue. Employment is the best route out of poverty, and there are now record numbers of people in work.

"Under Universal Credit people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the old system.

“Universal Credit is designed to mirror the world of work and give people control over their own finances.

“The majority of UC claimants are confident in managing their money and we work closely with local authorities to support those who need extra help.”

There are 490,000 people on Universal Credit in the UK.