A record near-1.6 million emergency supplies have been handed out by food banks to those struggling to make ends meet in the past year, with a third going to children, figures reveal.
Charity the Trussell Trust said the number of three-day emergency supplies given out to those facing life on the bread line across the UK had "soared" by 73 per cent in the past five years.
It cites the main reasons for people turning to a food bank were benefits not covering the cost of living, or delays in payment of benefits.
Almost half of food bank referrals made due to a delay in benefits being paid in UK were linked to Universal Credit, according to the charity.
The number of food parcels handed out at the trust's 1,200 sites totalled 1,583,668 in the year to March, a near-20 per cent increase on the previous 12 months, and understood to be the most since the charity first opened its doors 20 years ago.
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The trust's chief executive, Emma Revie, said: "What we are seeing year upon year is more and more people struggling to eat because they simply cannot afford food. This is not right.
"We know this situation can be fixed - that's why we're campaigning to create a future where no-one needs a food bank.
"Our benefits system is supposed to protect us all from being swept into poverty. Universal Credit should be part of the solution but currently the five-week wait is leaving many without enough money to cover the basics.
"As a priority, we're urging the Government to end the wait for Universal Credit to ease the pressure on thousands of households.
"Ultimately, it's unacceptable that anyone should have to use a food bank in the first place.
"No charity can replace the dignity of having financial security. That's why, in the long term, we're urging the Government to ensure benefit payments reflect the true cost of living and work is secure, paying the real living wage, to help ensure we are all anchored from poverty."
Campbell Robb, chief executive of the York-based independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “It is just wrong that in our society a growing number of people, including children, are going hungry because of our consistent failure to get to grips with poverty.
"When the use of food banks reaches a record high we are beyond the language of warning signs and wake up calls. Unless we take bold action to solve poverty we risk undermining what we stand for as a country.
“None of us want to live in a country where a child’s health, education and future prospects are restricted because their family is locked in poverty. But this is far too often the reality across the UK. If we are to build a compassionate and just society we must work together to act on the concerns of families struggling to make ends meet.
“Low pay, insecure work, high cost of living, especially housing, and an ineffective social security system are holding people back from a decent life. At a time when we are deciding the future of our country we must redesign the systems that lock so many people in poverty.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "It is not true to say that people need to wait five weeks for their first payment. Universal Credit is available to claimants on day one.
"It also cannot be claimed that Universal Credit is driving the overall use of food banks or that benefit changes and delays are driving growth.
"The Trust's own analysis shows a substantial fall in the share of parcels being issued due to benefit payment delays.
"The best route out of poverty is to help people into sustainable employment which, with record employment, we are doing.
"For those who need a safety net we have invested £10 billion into Universal Credit since 2016 alone, confirmed the benefits freeze will end next year and made changes to make Universal Credit fairer for women and families."
Shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood said: "The sharp rise in food bank use over the last year is shocking, and the need for emergency food parcels in one of the richest countries of the world is shameful. Nobody in our society should be forced to turn to food banks to survive.
"Despite ministers' attempts to explain away food bank use, the Trussell Trust is very clear that cuts to social security and the five-week wait for Universal Credit payments are key reasons for the rise."