FOOD banks in Cumbria are reporting that more people than ever are signing up as poverty and destitution worsens across the UK.

Research from the Rowntree Trust showed that 1million children across the country experienced destitution in the last year – which means a person’s most basic needs are not being met, like staying dry, warm, clean, and fed.

Destitution increased across the country by 88 per cent in the number of children experiencing it since 2019.

Carlisle ranked 178th in the country, out of 360 areas in England, Scotland and Wales.

Allerdale ranked 239th, Copeland 229th, and Eden 321st, showing that while destitution is on the rise in Cumbria, the county remains broadly above other more badly affected areas like the northeast and Manchester – according to the data.

Paul Kissack, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: "A million children experienced destitution last year – a number that has almost doubled since 2019. 

"Across our country, we are leaving families freezing in their homes or lacking basic necessities like food and clothing. 

"Such severe hardship should have no place in the UK today – and the British public will not stand for destitution on this scale. 

"The Government is not helpless to act, it is choosing not to. 

"Turning the tide on destitution is an urgent moral mission, which speaks to our basic humanity as a country, and we need political leadership for that mission. 

"That is why we are calling for clear proposals from all political parties to address this challenge with the urgency it demands."

Some of the county’s biggest food banks, however, have reported regular increases in the number of people signing up since the cost-of-living crisis dug its claws into Britain’s people.

Fiona Kerr, the manager of the North Lakes Food Bank in Cockermouth, said that in the year 2022/23, the food bank saw a 37 per cent increase in food vouchers being issued, but said there is usually an uptick in winter months.

This is having consequences, as Fiona explained: “We are having to buy more food.

“Food donations have continued throughout Covid and the cost-of-living crisis, but we are definitely buying more food and using our volunteers in different ways.”

She explained that volunteers are being sent out to buy food that is running out more quickly – something she said a lot of food banks have never had to do, and other volunteers are being equipped with more knowledge about how to deal with energy bill debt to help vulnerable people.

“In the last few years, it’s become the new norm.

“Something we’re seeing is that the number one reason people are in crisis is low income, as well as benefit delays.

“Many have a job but it’s not covering their costs anymore.

“It’s reaching more people from all walks of life, which is terrifying,” she added.

Children are more vulnerable than ever in Cumbria in terms of food bank use, which she is witnessing.

One of North Lakes’ side operations is supplying provisions for schoolchildren who are going hungry, providing them with free lunches and food vouchers to families to use at supermarkets.

“This week, we’ve had an increase of families we’ve fed, and a six per cent increase in children joining.”

They’re expecting another dramatic increase this winter, but said they’re getting ready for it.

“We’ve had a bountiful harvest period and a big uplift in food donations recently, and we’re also going to have to buy more food on a weekly basis,” Fiona said, concluding that they work harder continuously so they never have to think about not having enough food for everyone in need.

Elsewhere in the county, Hazel Hanley chairs the Alston Food Bank, a small operation for an isolated town that is still not clear of any danger regarding food poverty.

“We saw a big increase last winter in the number of clients coming to us.

“We’re a very small food bank but our population doesn’t have access to anywhere else, so we’re essential,” she said.

On who is signing up, she said: “Our clients are people in work, people on benefits, and for most people it is mainly fuel poverty that is an issue because it’s hard to heat homes in the winter.

“It has jumped enormously; it was about eight households to 48 in the last year.

“We get both ends of the spectrum, families with small children, young families, older people and people with long term disabilities, but some of it is hidden.

“There are people who are putting off paying the next energy bill to buy food.

“Most of our clients will come once or twice, some people come more often but they’ve got multiple issues that mean they do not have an adequate income, and a lot of these people are doing three or four jobs within the household, so it just indicates the dire state that people are living in.

“We’re so small that we don’t keep a stock of food, we go and do a shop every time someone calls us.”

They’re being kept afloat by regular donations and recently received a grant from the Cumbria Community Foundation.

“Just this week, we became one of two charities being supported by the Co-op Community Fund, so every time someone spends a pound in the Co-op, we get a penny, and they guaranteed that they would give us £1,000 by this time next year.

“Because we have only just got charity status in September, we are going to be doing a fundraising campaign because we are now able to get Gift Aid,” Hazel concluded.

Nationally speaking, approximately 2.99million people used a food bank in 2022/23, an increase when compared with the previous year.

Between 2008/09, the number of foodbank users increased every year, from just under 26,000 to more than 2.56million, according to data published on Statistica.

Fiona Kerr urged people to download the Bank the Food app which shows people which food banks around them need donations, and what donations they are looking for.

The devastating reality is that the haunt of poverty and destitution grows bleaker every month as costs rise and purses lighten, and it’s starting to affect more people who, this time last year, would have likely never worried about having to use a food bank.

In the meantime, food banks are readying themselves for a harsh winter ahead, and hope to continue feeding families who are going without.