FOOD banks in southern Oxfordshire have told of how demand for emergency provisions is rising at an alarming rate.

Facilities in Abingdon, Wantage and Wallingford say need has risen by at least 20 per cent in the past year, compared with the previous 12 months.

Each of those food banks, and Didcot's, singled out Universal Credit as one of the main factors behind the increasing need.

Wantage MP Ed Vaizey declined to comment on rising demand or Universal Credit's impact.

Oxford East and Abingdon MP Layla Moran said: "We were one of the earliest areas in the country to have Universal Credit rolled out and I think there is a strong correlation there.

"The other part of it is that there hasn't been real wage rises and the cost of living is going up, particularly accommodation.

"I think a combination of those two things are at play."

Ms Moran continued: "The way Universal Credit has affected some families has been catastrophic. I'm sorry to say it really doesn't surprise me: some families who have contacted me are in thousands of pounds of arrears.

"I'm not sure people realise how much poverty there is in our area."

In Wallingford, the food bank has handed out 25 per cent more parcels – topping 2,000 – than the same period a year earlier, in the twelve months from December 2017. When it first opened seven years ago, it handed out 400 packages.

Jean Burt, who helps run the facility – which is desperately looking for a new venue with more storage space – said: "Mainly it is Universal Credit. The benefit just stops and people are not given anything for six weeks or so."

Elaine Day, the co-ordinator of Wantage and Grove Food Bank, echoed that position, adding: "Its the same old story: benefits (problems)... Universal Credit has an impact with quite a few people.

"But its not only that, people struggle with debt."

Mrs Day continued: "I think its around the country. We are only a small town but that reflects what happens everywhere else."

That facility handed out 276 parcels in the last 12 months, a 20 per cent increase on last year, which in turn was up 30 per cent on the previous year. It also handed out 55 per cent more Christmas hampers this year.

Abingdon's data is six months older, but the newest available statistics suggest a 23 per cent increase in the number of people using food banks in the area. Joint co-ordinator Sarah Fry said some of their users were having trouble with Universal Credit.

Didcot Food Bank manager Andrew Snell also said he had also seen anecdotal evidence of the new welfare scheme – which is intended to simplify the benefits system – hitting users.

However, increasing demand in southern Oxfordshire appears to have been less apparent in Didcot, where Mr Snell said demand actually dropped significantly in the first six months of 2018. He said it returned to similar levels to 2017 in the latter half of this year.

While it does not account for the fall in demand, it is thought that a new community larder in Didcot may have taken some strain away from the food bank.

The membership scheme by South Oxfordshire Food and Education Alliance provides larder users with cheap groceries each week and CEO Richard Kennell says he believes some of the members previously used the food bank in Didcot.

He estimates that the charity is supporting some 350 – 400 people, suggesting demand for such services is indeed rising in the town.

Elsewhere, Wallingford recently opened a new community fridge.

All of the facilities praised community generosity and thanked local people for their donations.

The Herald attempted to contact Faringdon Food Bank.

Wallingford Food Bank has been given eight months to find a new venue because of repairs in the Rec Rooms at the Bull Croft.

READ AGAIN: Wallingford Food Bank given eight months to find new venue

Mr and Mrs Burt say that ideally they would like a brick facility, with toilets and a lot of storage. They are currently struggling to store large quantities of food in their house. Anyone wishing to help is asked to email