Half a million rely on food banks

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With the welfare state struggling to cope with widespread poverty in the recession, more and more Britons are lining up for handouts from food banks. That's the grim picture of 21st-century Britain, with more than half a million people reliant on food banks for basic sustenance.

A report from food bank charity the Trussell Trust called Walking the Breadline points out that soaring unemployment, combined with constantly rising food prices and changing benefits entitlements, have created a situation where more people than ever require food handouts.

One of the main reasons people turn to food banks is a change to their benefits. With delayed or reduced payments, reassessment of sickness benefit and denial of crisis loans, people on benefits find a food bank is their only option.

The shocking reality is that hundreds of thousands of people in the UK are turning to food aid," Mark Goldring, Oxfam's chief executive told The Guardian. "Cuts to social safety nets have gone too far, leading to destitution, hardship and hunger on a large scale. It is unacceptable that this is happening in the seventh wealthiest nation on the planet."

In effect food banks have become the most visible symptom of the Prime Minister's much-vaunted Big Society, although he never quite pitched the idea as charity replacing the welfare state, as that might not have been entirely palatable to some sections of the electorate.

Energy secretary Ed Davey, whom the government seems to believe is a more reliable spokesman than the minister responsible, Iain Duncan-Smith, said it was "completely wrong to suggest there is some sort of statistical link between the benefit reforms we're making and the provision of food banks". The report contradicted him. "There is clear evidence that the benefit sanctions regime has gone too far and is leading to destitution, hardship and hunger on a large scale," it concludes.

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