Benefits should be paid faster and a living wage introduced in an effort to eliminate hunger in the UK by 2020, says a report by a cross-party group of MPs and church leaders.
They also recommend that more leftover food is donated to food banks and call for an end to what they say are rip-off phone and energy charges that penalise poorer households.
On Sunday, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said that hunger “stalks large parts” of the country, with a surge in the number of families relying on food banks.
Mr Welby revealed how he had been left more shocked by the plight of Britain’s hunger-stricken poor than suffering in parts of Africa.
The Feeding Britain report found that since the establishment of the Trussell Trust network in 2004 numbers of emergency food assistance providers have grown to at least 1,500, including 800 food banks – around half of them operated by the Trust.
Citing evidence that its 420 food banks alone provided help to 913,138 people in 2013/14 – up from 128,697 in 2011/12 – the report said it was “clear that demand for emergency food assistance is increasing, and sometimes increasing dramatically”.
The inquiry team said that their “anger knows no bounds” at the destruction – sometimes with state subsidies – of 4.3 million tonnes of edible food deemed “surplus” by the UK food industry each year, just 2% of which is diverted to charities to feed the hungry.
Many people turn to food banks to avoid hunger during “unimaginable” waits for benefit claims to be processed, while others are forced to ask for help after being left without an income for weeks or months because of benefit sanctions, said the report.
And the support networks of family and community which would once have stepped in to provide help for those facing hunger appear to have “diminished”, leaving individuals “isolated and exposed” at times of financial crisis.
The inquiry’s co-chair, Anglican Bishop of Truro Tim Thornton, said: “We heard stories and gained first-hand experience that led us to the conclusion that the rise in the use of food banks does indicate a deeper problem in our society – the ‘glue’ that used to be there is no longer there in many instances.”
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “This report is a serious contribution to an important debate, with many good ideas, and recognising that the reasons behind demands for emergency food assistance are complex and frequently overlapping.
“As a country we have enough food to go around, and we agree that it is wrong that anyone should go hungry at the same time as surplus food is going to waste.”