Many are reaching breaking point as families struggle through the cost-of-living crisis, according to the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN).
The group of more than 550 independent food banks has called on the Prime Minister and Chancellor to act urgently to combat “rapidly rising levels of poverty, destitution and hunger”.
In a letter to Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak they said: “We are writing to urge you to take immediate action to reduce the rapidly rising levels of poverty, destitution and hunger in our communities.
“We are deeply concerned about the scale of suffering that we are already witnessing as well as our capacity to prevent people from going hungry in the weeks and months to come.
“An emergency supply of food cannot resolve someone’s financial crisis and will only act as a temporary sticking plaster.
“Measures must be urgently introduced to decisively increase people’s incomes through the social security system, emergency cash first support and wage increases combined with job security.”
The network said people are struggling as the price of food, energy and other essentials rise, while those on benefits are seeing a real-terms cut as inflation outstrips payments.
It said exhausted and overstretched food bank teams “could well be unable to continue to pick up the pieces” as they face “such relentless demand”.
The letter continues: “What’s more, people who used to donate to food banks are now needing to access help themselves.
“Our members are struggling to find the resources to provide adequate food parcels as the scale of demand and food and energy price increases impact on the services they run.”
The Trussell Trust said it is “deeply concerned” about the real-terms cut in benefits and the Government must stop the cost-of-living crisis “turning into a national emergency”.
Chief executive Emma Revie said: “By failing to make benefits realistic for the times we face and bring these in line with inflation, the Government now risks pushing hundreds of thousands more people through the doors of food banks over the coming months, and beyond. This is not right.
“For people most at risk from soaring living costs – who cannot work or work longer hours due to disability, caring responsibilities or mental health issues – there is very little protection ahead and many will now be pushed beyond breaking point.”
A Government spokesman said: “We recognize the pressures people are facing with the cost of living, which is why we’re providing support worth £22 billion across the next financial year and, as was approved by Parliament, benefits are being uprated by the usual measure, September’s inflation figure.
“Our package of support includes putting an average of £1,000 more per year into the pockets of working families via changes to Universal Credit, cutting fuel duty and helping households with their energy bills.
“We have also increased the minimum wage by more than £1,000 a year for full-time workers and are raising National Insurance thresholds so people keep more of what they earn.”