The cost of living crisis has plunged millions of families into food poverty for the first time, according to shocking new figures from the UK’s biggest redistribution charity.

A survey of 9,500 charities receiving food from FareShare, which gets surplus from supermarkets and suppliers, found 90% had seen a rise in demand for their services, with almost 30% seeing it double.

Meanwhile, more than 70% of charities attributed the surge in need to people accessing their support for the first time,and 51% said that included full-time workers.

The survey found first-time users of the services were more likely families with children, rather than the long-term unemployed, older people or those on no or low income.

With the rate of food inflation soaring to 14.5%, according to the ONS, which says the cost of budget food has risen even faster (17%), FareShare said people struggling with the cost of food was the main reason for 82% of organisations seeing an increase in demand.

The flood of millions of new mouths to feed comes amid a worrying fall in surplus food going to charities like FareShare.

The Grocer revealed earlier this year that the crippling impact of the supply chain crisis had seen a fall of 200 tonnes a month in donations.

More than 90% of charities responding to the survey said they were worried about securing sufficient food volumes, with a similar proportion expecting demand to grow in the run-up to Christmas.

A spokesman from one charity in Epsom, Surrey, said: “We have seen a large increase in demand and are now seeing people who work full-time who cannot afford to live. These people have never looked for help before.”

A spokesman for Newington Community Association, in London, said: “The demand is going to be so huge that as a charity we would not be able to meet the need and it is putting extra strain on an already tired team.” 

FareShare, which redistributed just under 54,000 tonnes of food – or the equivalent of nearly 130 million meals – between April 2021 and March 2022, said it would now re-double its efforts to convince the government, under new PM Rishi Sunak, to provide a £25m fund, which it said would allow it to redistribute a further 100 million meals to vulnerable families by covering the cost of suppliers’ transport for surplus food.

The Grocer’s Waste Not Want Not campaign helped secure £15m from the then Defra secretary of state Michael Gove to fund the transportation of food that was readily available from suppliers, but which was cost prohibitive to transport versus alternative disposal, and which was as a result thrown away. 

However, these funds were later rescinded, despite evidence showing that the funds had secured food donations for charities to the tune of at least £150m. 

FareShare CEO Lindsay Boswell said: “The cost of living crisis is driving millions into food insecurity, at a time when food prices are rising, and demand for our surplus food has skyrocketed.

“What we are hearing from the charities we support is that this situation will only worsen and they are worried they may not be able to meet the extra demand.

“Like us, they are clearly worried that they may not be able to meet the extra demand caused by the cost of living crisis, much of it coming from young families and people in work – people who have never had to use these services before.

“We are urging the government, and the new prime minister, to recommit to funding surplus food redistribution in the UK, and help get 100 million meals to people who need them.”