LONDON (AP) — Demand for emergency food aid has spiked this year in Britain, a leading charity said Wednesday, suggesting low-income households' living standards are still sliding despite the end of the recession.
The Trussell Trust, a Christian charity that operates food banks throughout the country, said in a report that just under 356,000 people received three days of non-perishable food between April and September — about 10,000 more than their entire 2012-2013 financial year.
Chris Mould, the Trussell Trust's executive chairman, appealed to the government to launch an inquiry into the causes of hunger in the U.K. With winter approaching, the worst may be yet to come.
"This is disturbing," he said. "It's not going away. It's getting worse."
WORRIES AHEAD OF WINTER
Mould said that increasing numbers of people in Britain are living on incomes that are insufficient to cover the rising costs of food, gas and electricity, fuel, transport and other basic necessities. Disposable incomes have fallen, when adjusted for inflation, since the global financial crisis erupted in 2007-2008. But the cost of necessities has risen — gas and electricity costs are up 30 percent in real terms since 2007.
The trust says many people this winter will choose between "eating and heating."
"People at food banks have started giving back food items that need cooking because they can't afford to turn on the electricity," the trust said in a statement.
The British Red Cross announced last week it would have 30,000 volunteers help in a massive food drive at the end of November. The Red Cross hasn't been involved in food distribution on a wide scale in Britain since World War II.
IMPACT OF AUSTERITY
The stress on the poor has increased since Britain's coalition government, elected in 2010, imposed tough spending cuts and tax increases intended to reduce the budget deficit. That government has cut welfare payments, forced many low-income residents to pay local government tax for the first time, and imposed a new fee for public housing tenants with spare bedrooms.
Treasury chief George Osborne has acknowledged that the austerity has proven to be hard on the country — and that recovery is taking "longer than anyone hoped." But the government insists the pain is a short-term necessity for the country's long-term economic well-being — and that there is no evidence that welfare reforms are causing people to go hungry.
Among those struggling is Tim Day, 30, a graphic designer who is between jobs and visited one of the trust's distribution centers at the United Reformed Church in Bromley on Tuesday. Between temporary work contracts, Day was grateful for a three-day supply of food including orange juice, vegetables, and porridge. But he's always worried about making ends meet.
"It's stressful," he said, describing the constant ups and downs that come without the certainty of a full-time job.
The numbers show a steady increase in the numbers of people needing help to eat. When the trust's network started in 2000, it served 600 people at one site. By 2008, as the global financial crisis was erupting, that number had climbed to nearly 26,000 at 60 sites.
The trust keeps opening new centers and now has about 400 that operate in conjunction with churches and charitable institutions.
Britain's government said in a statement that it isn't surprising that numbers of users would increase as the number of food banks increase.
But the trust says the increase is not linked to people learning about their services and signing up for free food. Recipients are referred by social service workers, and other professionals who issue vouchers meant to help people get through an emergency. No one is allowed to just drop in.