Britain on the breadline as thousands face food poverty

Two new food banks are opening in Britain every week as people struggle to make ends

The impact of Britain'seconomic downturn is forcing tens of thousands of ordinary families to queue upfor food handouts.

One charity said todaythe number of people going to foodbanks has doubled in the last year.

Our Social AffairsEditor Penny Marshall has been to one in Coventry, which is among the fastestgrowing in the country:

Not many families say grace anymore, few even eat together. But as the church intervenes to guarantee thousands of families don’t go hungry, perhaps a few are whispering it under their breath.

The news that two new food banks are opening in Britain every week as people struggle to make ends meet should make each and every one of us pause and think.

In one of the world’s wealthiest nations, it proves that more and more people are asking for help to feed themselves and their children, and that’s shocking.

It also proves that more and more volunteers are giving their time and money to help them - and that’s heartening.

But is the exponential growth of food banks evidence of a new type of food poverty? Proof that the poorest in our country are going hungry?

The Trussell Trust, a Christian charity which runs the vast majority of the food banks, thinks so. They now help more than 120,000 people by giving them food, and a more than a third of them are children.

They believe half a million people could need their assistance in three years as the recession and the benefit changes hit, and hunger bites.

'More and more people on low incomes are finding it impossible to make it to the end of the week,” says Chris Mould, chief executive of the Trussell Trust. “Across the UK the Trussell Trust food bank network is facing dramatic increases in demand for help as front line care professionals refer more of their clients to us,' he said.

Today’s figures reveal that the Trussel Trust now operates more than 200 food banks nationwide, 100 of which were launched in the last year alone.

Unemployment, benefit delays and the rising cost of fuel and food are all cited as reasons more and more people are asking for help. More students are also using the banks, according to the Trussel Trust, since the government scrapped the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) paid to low income students seeking higher education. Trussel anticipates the recent Budget changes and benefit reforms could intensify the need.

It isn’t only Trussel who are reporting an increase in need. A recent survey found that Social Care charities were seeing a 20 percent increase in people asking for food.

Kervin Julien, an anti poverty campaigner in Coventry for the charity Anesis has seen a significant increase in the numbers of families coming forward asking for help and swallowing their pride.“There is a crisis,“ he told me. “People hide their poverty but behind their front doors it’s there. People are hungry."

This week ITV News has been in Coventry, watching Anesis deliver food to the poor and visiting the nation’s fastest growing food bank where more than 7,000 people go to get food.

There are 35,000 children living in poverty in Coventry and Warwickshire, some living in families on benefits, but even more living with parents who work but whose income is no longer enough to lift them out of poverty.

I spoke to many of them. Few were willing to appear on camera. Shame prevented them from talking openly about their need. Most denied they were hungry, but admitted they were frightened of becoming so.

It clearly hurt these families to be seen to take handouts:

The Trussell Trust helps more than 120,000 people in the UK by giving them food

First there was Louise the divorcee, who used to own a house, work as a prison officer and eat well. Now unemployed, she often eats peanut butter sandwiches for a week so her two boys, aged five and nine can eat better food. “I make sure the boys aren’t hungry,” she insists, the good mother that she is. Neither her lights not her heating were on in her cramped terraced house. I didn’t need to ask why.

Then there was Steve, the unemployed father of three and a home owner. “We were both working when we bought this house,” he told me. “Now neither my wife nor myself are and we are struggling. But we have a roof over our heads and – with help – enough to feed the three kids – just. So hungry no – worried yes.”

And finally grandmother Diane, making pies in her kitchen with the food given to her by charity – so it “lasted” for her large family. “We are grateful for the food. But we are fine,” she said with pride but I wasnt convinced.

Her granddaughter, Rachel is four, and so hadn’t learnt how to hide the truth quite as well as her grandmother and the other adults I’d met. “I love Wednesdays because that’s when the food comes....” she told me candidly.

And when the food arrived and was unpacked in her grandmother’s kitchen, I watched Millie’s eyes light up as she spotted her favourite treat – too costly for the family to ever buy: grapes. And as the little girl ate them, slowly one at a time, thanking her grandmother all the while as she did so, I realised something

We might not yet be a nation that is hungry, but we are starting to be grateful for what we eat. Food poverty is here and it means we are no longer a nation where food is taken for granted.