The writer is director of policy, research and impact at the Trussell Trust, a charity that supports food banks and campaigns to end their need across the UK.

If you were to imagine a cost of living crisis inflicting the most damage on those least able to bear it, it would look a lot like the current economic situation in the UK.

Because? First, because the current crisis has been driven mainly by sharp increases in food and energy prices, costs that account for a much larger proportion of the budgets of low-income people than of the wealthiest. Recently, the Office for National Statistics found that inflation for low-income households was 10.1 percent, while for high-income households it was only 8.7 percent.

The real-life impacts of this imbalance are especially devastating because prices have risen the most in spending areas where cutting back causes real hardship: people can’t afford to eat, sit in the cold and dark, and are afraid to light the washing-machine. or oven. The latest inflation figures for this week showed that food inflation remains high, even as other cost pressures begin to ease. There are particularly striking increases in the cost of staple foods, which are the building blocks of affordable meals: milk is up 33 percent, potatoes and bread 28 percent, eggs 37 percent.

At the Trussell Trust’s research with people on universal credit, a father described his daily struggles to keep his family fed and clean. They told the charity: The children are fed, but my husband and I rarely do. I have not paid my water bill, but at the end of the month I will have to stop paying another bill as food prices are rising rapidly.” The family worried about running out of gas and electricity, which were on key meters: “So that’s it until Monday, even with no lights on and technology on minimum. I’m hand washing everything outside in buckets to save money.”

The damage this current crisis is inflicting is exacerbated because it comes on the heels of the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on people already struggling. workers in poverty bore the brunt of Covid-related job losses and falling revenue. During the pandemic, high-income people tended to maintain their salaries and even accumulate savings, while low-income people were forced to borrow more to cover costs which increased as his income fell.

The vulnerability of these people first to the pandemic and then to the cost of living crisis was further increased due to the long-term trend of increasing levels of extreme poverty. Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that between 2017 and 2019, homelessness in the UK increased by 54 per cent.

In the midst of all this, support is stretching past the breaking point. Last August, NHS chiefs wrote to the chancellor warning that the cost-of-living crisis was about to become an NHS crisis, due to the impact of poverty on people’s health. This additional pressure on an already overburdened health service has likely increased further over the last year.

A shocking culmination of all this was the revelation that food banks in the Trussell Trust network had provided nearly 3 million packs last year, with one million of these for children. This was a 37 per cent increase in the number of emergency packs distributed the previous year, reflecting a record level of need seen in all parts of the UK. But our numbers (backed up by other research on extreme poverty and hardship) show that this is not a sudden emergency: it is the latest chapter in a longer-term crisis, the need for which has more than doubled in the last five years.

Food bank volunteers and staff have met every challenge and met every need. They will continue to do that, but they are tired. Many are tired to the bone. A food bank leader described it as a pressure cooker situation. Another, reflecting on the “peaks and valleys of demand” in the monthly data, said of this year: “Unfortunately, we have reached a new level that we never wanted to reach.”

Every day it becomes clearer to all of us that food banks and charitable support are not the solution. Food inflation is forecast to fall, following reductions in the cost of inputs such as energy and raw materials, but that will not end this crisis. Millions of people will continue to be unable to pay for essentials, trapped in dire situations, until we offer real and sustainable solutions, starting with reform universal credit.

It seems incredible that the level of this benefit is not established with reference to the actual essentials of life, but that is the situation. The result is that the current rate has fallen significantly below the costs of food, clothing, and basic household items such as cleaning supplies. We have calculated that a single adult needs £120 a week to cover these costs, but the universal credit provides only £85.

Charities simply cannot address the root causes of this unacceptable hardship on their own – we can never do enough to turn back the tide of hunger.

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