A WINCHESTER charity providing emergency food has warned the service is no longer the preserve of those ‘on the margins’ of society.

Jean Hart, chairman of Winchester Basics Bank, made the comments ahead of a visit by Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett, and South East MEP, Keith Taylor. Mr Taylor has recently published a report on the rise in demand for food banks.

Winchester Basics bank saw a jump in demand of 20 per cent last year when compared with 2012, and volunteers there fed a total of 2,936 clients, including 1,067 children, providing 14,330 days of food.

In just one month last summer, the number of families approaching the bank double from 59 families, compared to 29 in 2012.

Ms Hart said: "We have never been more needed.

“Our clients are not just those on the margins of society, but increasingly those in the mainstream, including struggling families facing greater difficulties in the current climate.”

Mr Taylor visited Winchester Basics Bank on Friday (Jan 24).

“The Winchester Basics Bank is a lifeline to those in need but, at the same time, a stain on the government’s record on poverty.

“Food banks are a booming industry across Britain and Winchester is no exception to that.

“People have seen their wages stagnate, their benefits cut and their cost of living soar. The government must get a handle on things by increasing the minimum wage to a living wage and ensuring people have access to adequate social security,” he said.

The figures for Winchester are part of a nationwide trend and Mr Taylor’s report shows an increase in demand across the South East of 60 per cent from April to November last year, compared to the previous year.

The report also says that 33 per cent of users who turn to food banks in the South East, report doing so because of a delay to their benefits.

Cllr Chris Pines said: “The benefits system is almost finding excuses to deny people benefits on time. Things like, you’re five minutes late for an interview – tough, that’s it for this week. Or you didn’t fill out the paperwork properly. It’s almost any excuse not to pay.

“It’s small amounts of money anyway, so without that to pay for food, what do they do? Steal something? We’re almost pushing them into a situation where they have got to do something illegal.”

Natalie Bennett, Green Party leader, said: "We had news this week that food banks are increasingly having to prepare parcels of food that don't require cooking, as their users can't afford to cook or have had electricity and gas cut off.

"This is a further sign of the level of desperation in our society. We have to say: enough, stop the demonisation of benefit recipients and reverse the government's swingeing cuts.”