(AP) A leading British food bank has reported a threefold increase in people seeking its help in feeding themselves and their families since government welfare reforms were introduced in April.
Figures released Thursday by The Trussell Trust show that 150,000 people sought a three-day emergency food supply between April 1 and June 30 compared to the nearly 50,000 that sought help at the same time last year.
"We are calling on the government to listen to what's happening on the ground, to realize that when the welfare system breaks down, it means families go hungry," the trust's executive chairman Chris Mould said in a statement.
The figures highlight concern about the Conservative-led coalition government's program of sharp cuts in government spending implemented to bring down the deficit and debt that resulted from the bank bailouts and the 2008 financial crisis.
The release of the figures comes just days after welfare minister Lord David Freud sparked a heated exchange in the UK Parliament when he suggested that there was no evidence that the use of food banks was "supply-led or demand-led."
Lord William McKenzie of Luton shot back, arguing that cuts to local authority budgets and a "harsher benefit sanctions regimes" would result in an increase in food bank use.
The trust, which operates 374 food banks across the UK, stressed that the rise is not linked to people learning about their services and simply trying to get a free meal. No drop-ins are allowed. Recipients are referred by social service workers and other front-line professionals who issue vouchers.
The trust said that flatlining incomes, rising living costs and lack of work is putting more pressure on families and squeezing them to the breaking point. Many people also find themselves trapped and unable to claim because local services are still confused by the government's new welfare rules.
"This is not about politics, it's about recognizing that we're living in a difficult economic climate where more people in poverty are struggling to cope and that we need to work together to find solutions so that the poorest and most vulnerable don't go hungry," Mould said.