Red Cross warning on poverty

British Red CrossHard-up families could be forced to turn to the British Red Cross for help this winter for the first time in nearly 70 years, as thousands face crippling cuts to their household budgets.

The British Red Cross said it is about to launch a campaign in supermarket foyers asking shoppers to donate food which is then distributed to the most needy through the charity FareShare.

The hike in basic food prices and soaring utility bills has put a further squeeze on UK families, with more than five million people living in deep poverty.

Nearly 500,000 people in the UK needed support from food banks last year, according to figures from the Trussel Trust.

Juliet Mountford, head of UK service development, said the Red Cross agreed to assist FareShare on the basis of "strong evidence of an increased need for support on food poverty issues".

"For British Red Cross it's a toe in the water. It's the first step in considering whether we ought to be doing more on today's food poverty challenge."

Last month a report shed light on the chronic throw-away culture affecting the food industry, where up to two-fifths of a crop of fruit or vegetables can be wasted because it is ''ugly''.

Produce grown in the UK that does not meet retailer standards on size or shape or is blemished is often used for animal feed or simply ploughed back into the ground even though it is edible, with as much as 40% of a crop rejected.

The report, commissioned by the UK's global food security programme, also showed that the average household throws away more than 5kg (11lb) of food per week, and nearly two-thirds of that is avoidable.

The waste costs £480 a year per household on average, and £680 per family. Households throw away a fifth of the food they buy, wasting it for reasons ranging from cooking and preparing too much to not using it before it goes off, the study showed.

Consumption and initial production are the areas where the majority of food is wasted in the UK, the study said.

The British Red Cross dates back to the 1870s, forming out of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement that began in Switzerland less than a decade earlier.

The British National Society for Aid to the Sick and Wounded in War, as it was then known, sought to give aid and relief to both warring armies during the Franco-Prussian War and in subsequent wars and campaigns during the 19th century under the protection of the red cross emblem.

By 1905 it was reconstituted as British Red Cross and granted its first royal charter in 1908 by Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, who became its president.