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Underlying causes of food poverty rise are complex

It is certainly true that food poverty is getting more acute and that the government is doing very little about it.

It is also true that the chaos of the benefit system as it undergoes reform is sending people to food banks to "tied them over" the delays in payment they are experiencing.

But the underlying issues causing the rise in food poverty are more complex than the Left Right ping-pong about the recession and austerity suggests.

Many families have become increasingly reliant on food banks as the cost of living has soared. Credit: Julien Behal/PA Wire/

Other factors are playing their part as well: For a family in the UK, food expenditure is not a fixed cost whilst housing costs are.

In Britain, compared to other European countries, housing costs are disproportionately higher and economists argue that this in particular, is fuelling the UK's food poverty crisis.

The soaring costs of energy are also a factor. So if there are sudden unseen costs like a car or boiler breakdown, it is the food bank that can save the day.

The rise in numbers may also be happening because visiting food banks has now become a socially acceptable solution, whereas before it was a source of shame. What we are seeing is the long term hidden hungry becoming visible.

I have spent several days observing the comings and goings in food banks and talking to those who run them and visit them.

It is clear many are driven there by changes and delays to the benefit system.

That people need help to feed themselves in the UK today is an uncomfortable truth. Credit: PA Wire

The end to the emergency loan, for example, which enabled a family to, for example, furnish a new flat, had sent one man to the food bank to tied him over so that he could feed his family whilst he saved for curtains.

I also spoke to one mother who had come to a food bank because the loss of maternity grants meant she had to save for a pushchair.

These are difficult times as the state withdraws support previously there and food banks are helping families make very tough choices in tough times.

That people need help to feed themselves in the UK today is an uncomfortable truth, and its a truth that for such a rich country is shameful - but it isn't just about money and benefit reform.

The soaring costs of energy are also a factor. Credit: PA Wire

Some in the charity sector point out privately that one reason for this may also be that these tough times are following a time of plenty, and that families are facing an unprecedented challenge of economic readjustment.

They argue - albeit patronisingly - that some families lack the ability to budget carefully or cook carefully - as they have never needed to, or observed anyone who has had to.

Dual working households and the rise of fast food are also playing into this, time poverty fuelling food poverty.

There is also a debate about food deserts. Vast areas of Britain where nothing but processed food and takeaways are available to anyone trying to find fresh food - without a car.

The TUC said the number of people using foodbanks were "shocking"

There is a tension between the Government and Trussle behind the scenes.

The Government sees food banks as a welcome adjunct to the welfare state and part of the Big Society, arguing that old style communities always helped neighbours in tough times and that this is nothing new - just better organised.

Trussel, a Christian organisation, argues their chain of food banks should not become part of a permanent solution to a rising and complex issue which is making modern life for some very, very hard.

Some people need to make tough economic choices. Credit: PA Wire

I have spent several days in food banks talking to the workers and to the clients. I am full of admiration for Trussel volunteers who provide support, conversation and care for those who visit as well as food. I am full of sympathy too for those who they help.

But I have never seen anyone visit who is "starving".

But I have seen plenty of stressed and unhappy people - some in dire need of help; people who are making very tough choices in tough economic conditions.