DEMAND for emergency food parcels has more than doubled at Highbridge Foodbank in the last year as use of the facilities in the UK continues to rise.

Figures from the Trussell Trust have revealed the Highbridge outlet provided 1,378 three day emergency food parcels between April 1 2016 and March 31 2017, compared to 644 parcels in 2015/16.

The Trussell Trust, an antipoverty charity that runs a network of more than 420 foodbanks across the UK - including Highbridge - published a report this year which revealed that foodbanks in areas of full Universal Credit rollout to single people, couples and families, had seen a 16.85 per cent average increase in referrals for emergency food, more than double the national average of 6.64 per cent.

Wayne Sadlier, from Highbridge Foodbank, said: “The introduction of Universal Credit last May has had a significant impact on the level of need for Highbridge Area Foodbank over the past year.

“Local people unable to afford food due to an issue with Universal Credit are struggling with the six week wait for a first payment and because the system is online it is particularly difficult for people without internet access or computer skills.

“Everyone who comes to the foodbank is referred with a foodbank voucher by a local agency or professional who assesses them, so we know people genuinely need our help.

“The foodbank is only able to continue providing emergency food and support to local people in crisis because of the invaluable support of the community.

“Thank you so much to everyone who has given their time as a volunteer or donated vital funds or food, in the last year the people of Highbridge and Burnham have showed such generosity and we are very grateful for your continued support.”

The charity said benefit delays and changes remain the biggest cause of referral to a foodbank, accounting for 43 per cent of all referrals across the UK.

A spokesman for The Trussell Trust said: “We have had issues with people referred to the foodbank who are struggling to cope with the job search requirements of Universal Credit, which seem in some cases to be even more stringent than under Jobseekers Allowance.

“This is particularly challenging for people with mental health conditions, who are struggling to navigate the system and receiving sanctions.”

Figures from the charity also showed the effect of a six-week waiting period for Universal Credit payments can be serious and lead to foodbank referrals, debt, mental health issues, rent arrears and even eviction.

David McAuley, chief executive of The Trussell Trust, said: “We need to ensure that people on low incomes or in insecure work have enough to live on.

“The introduction of a national living wage is a great start, but more can be done for those in low paid work and unable to work.

“Nearly 1.2 million three-day food supplies given out by our foodbanks  every year is 1.2 million too many.

“Reducing UK hunger will require a collective effort from the voluntary sector, Government, DWP, businesses and the public and The Trussell Trust is keen to work with all these groups to find solutions that stop so many people needing foodbanks in future."