A leading food bank charity has warned of a "national emergency" amid the escalating cost-of-living crisis after they distributed 2 million food parcels in a year for the second time ever.
On Wednesday, new figures from one of the UK's largest food bank networks, the Trussell Trust, revealed that food bank usage in the last year was at its highest recorded level outside of the COVID lockdown.
It comes as millions of Brits feel the pinch as rising taxes, soaring energy bills, and sharp increases in inflation hit household finances.
The Trussell Trust provided more than 2.1 million parcels from 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022, a figure that has soared by more than a million compared to five years ago.
Some 830,000 parcels were provided for children in 2021/22 - a 15% increase on 2019/20.
While the number of parcels distributed has fallen from 2.5m during the height of the COVID pandemic, the Trussell Trust warned that the number of people requiring help has accelerated rapidly in the last six months following cuts to Universal Credit in October.
Numbers have soared in the last five years, with every region seeing a significant increase since 2016/17. In London, the number of emergency parcels distributed per year has more than doubled in this time.
The figures reveal there are are significant regional disparities in food bank usage.
Wales saw the highest number of food bank parcels per capita handed out in in 2021/2022.
Some 4,140 parcels were handed out per 100,000 people, followed by the East of England at 3,572 per 100,000, then the West Midlands at 3,483 per 100,000.
The East Midlands reported the lowest distribution of food parcels at 2,608 per 100,000.
The Trussell Trust has accused the government of choosing not to protect people "already struggling to make ends meet", warning that one in three people on Universal Credit are already skipping meals.
“People are telling us they’re skipping meals so they can feed their children. That they are turning off essential appliances so they can afford internet access for their kids to do their homework," said Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust.
“How can this be right in a society like ours? And yet food banks in our network tell us this is only set to get worse as their communities are pushed deeper into financial hardship."
Revie said the Trussell Trust is calling on the government "to do the right thing" and bring benefits in line "with the true cost of living" as a start.
"As an urgent first step benefits should be increased by at least 7%, keeping pace with increases in the cost of living," said Revie.
"In the longer term, we need the government to introduce a commitment in the benefits system to ensure that everyone has enough money in their pockets to be prevented from falling into destitution.
“By failing to make benefits payments realistic for the times we face, the government now risks turning the cost of living crisis into a national emergency.”
Labour have criticised the government over the new figures, describing food banks as representative of "12 years of Tory economic mismanagement".
“Surging inflation alongside Boris Johnson's punishing tax rises, Universal Credits cuts, and the biggest real terms reduction in the state pension for 50 years, is contributing to the biggest drop in living standards in almost 70 years," Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, said.
“Food banks are a symptom of economic failure and ministers must now offer real help to working people, disabled people, families, and pensioners struggling to feed themselves.
"As a start, ministers should back Labour’s call for an emergency budget to offer real solutions to the cost of living crisis."
In February Garry Lemon, director of policy, external affairs and research at the Trussell Trust, told Yahoo News UK the country is "sleepwalking into food banks being part of the welfare state".
"I see things going in the wrong direction at the moment," he said.
"I can only see more people ending up needing food banks, and food banks in our network aren't going to stand by and allow people in their communities to starve."
A government spokesperson said: “We recognise the pressures on the cost of living and we are doing what we can to help, including spending £22 billion across the next financial year to support people with energy bills and cut fuel duty.
“For the hardest hit, we’re putting an average of £1,000 more per year into the pockets of working families on Universal Credit, have also boosted the minimum wage by more than £1,000 a year for full-time workers and our Household Support Fund is there to help with the cost of everyday essentials.”
Watch: Cost of living crisis: School staffing crisis 'imminent' as teachers turn to food banks