The Trussell Trust is calling for measures to stop people being "swept into poverty" during the Covid-19 crisis as it recorded its "busiest ever" period across its food banks nationwide.

A report by the charity, which has a distribution centre in Salisbury, reveals an 81 per cent increase for emergency food parcels from food banks in its network during the last two weeks of March 2020, compared to the same period in 2019, including 122 per cent more parcels going to children, compared to the same period last year.

The charity, which is based in Salisbury, says the data shows people struggling with the amount of income they were receiving from working or benefits as the main reason for the increase in need.

Independent Food Aid Network UK (IFAN) has also reported a record level of need with an average 59 per cent increase from February to March 2020 - 17 times higher than this time last year.

Food banks are working to continue providing emergency food safely to people who cannot afford to buy the essentials but warn they cannot continue to pick up the pieces.

A coalition of charities, including the Trussell Trust, IFAN, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), Children’s Society, Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), StepChange and Turn2us is now urging the government to strengthen measures it has already put in place to help protect many people from being swept into destitution as more than 1.8 million people apply for Universal Credit in recent weeks.

The coalition recognised the government for measures being introduced including the Coronavirus Jobs Retention scheme and additional investment in Universal Credit and the Local Housing Allowance.

But it has warned these changes are unlikely to offer a strong enough lifeline to people in light of the new economic crisis faced. It is calling on the government to provide a Coronavirus Emergency Income Support Scheme that supports individuals and families who are already facing or at serious risk of financial hardship. It also calls on the government to work with charities in the anti-poverty sector to develop this scheme.

The chief executive of the Trussell Trust, Emma Revie, said: “The last few weeks have shown we must come together to protect each other against the unexpected. Like a tidal wave gathering pace, an economic crisis is sweeping towards us – but we don’t all have lifeboats. It’s not right that this has meant some of us don’t have enough money for essentials and are being pushed to food banks. Now is the time to build on the foundations our government has laid. We need emergency measures to ensure people can makes ends meet during this crisis. We have the power to come together as a country and make sure support is there to stop any of us being swept into poverty during this emergency.”

The coalition of charities is proposing this temporary package to include measures such as increasing benefits that go to families to help with the costs of raising children; extending the suspension of benefit deductions to cover advance payments; lifting the benefit cap and two-child policy; ensuring local authorities in England can provide effective crisis support to individuals and families

Coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network Sabine Goodwin added: “Independent food bank teams in our network are also seeing steep rises in need for emergency food parcels as the consequences of COVID-19 take hold. They are doing all they can to support people unable to afford to buy food for themselves. But the escalating food insecurity crisis is avoidable. The solution is not in trying to distribute more food parcels but in providing sufficient income to the huge numbers of people impacted by this crisis and the poverty that preceded it.”