UK charity: 'Shocking' rise in emergency food need

LONDON (AP) — A leading British charity said Wednesday the number of three-day emergency food supplies it delivered rose to "shocking" levels in the past year as families struggle to cope with low incomes, rising living costs and cuts in the welfare system.

The Trussell Trust, a Christian organization that operates food banks across Britain, said 913,000 people received emergency help in the 12 months ending March 31, compared with roughly 347,000 in the previous 12-month period.

Though the figures include people who seek emergency aid more than once, the trust has counted in the same way since it began work in 2000, which it said validates a year-to year comparison. Critics, particularly those in the Conservative-led government, also note that the trust has vastly increased the number of food banks it operates, a fact which also has led to an increase in recipients.

But the trust argues that these factors alone do not explain the tripling of usage. Recipients are referred by social service workers — they aren't allowed to just drop in. Need must be apparent and immediate to receive help.

The trust argues that, if anything, the numbers do not show the whole picture — that it may in fact be worse than the statistics indicate. "Most worrying of all this figure is just the tip of the iceberg of UK food poverty," said the trust's chairman, Chris Mould in a statement. "It doesn't include those helped by other emergency food providers, those living in towns where there is no food bank, people who are too ashamed to seek help or the large number of people who are only just coping by eating less and buying cheap food."

Aid groups and church leaders say the stress on the poor has increased since Britain's coalition government, elected in 2010, imposed tough spending cuts and tax increases to reduce the debt.

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