Government cuts to welfare are forcing hungry families into the arms of food banks, charity workers have said.

Workers at food banks in Kingston have now “fed the 5,000” since opening in December 2011.

More than 30 tonnes of emergency food rations has been given to about 50 people a week.

Kingston organiser Paul Pickhaver said welfare reform was driving people into hunger but the Government denies the claim.

Mr Pickhaver, a church leader and former Christian People’s Alliance political candidate, said: “We have seen an increase. We know from what people tell us some of it is from welfare reform changes.

“We have people ring the food bank number saying, ‘Where do I get a voucher? I’m not on benefits, I’m in work.

“It is the state of the economy really, because prices are rising and families are feeling squeezed.”

Kate Bell, from the Child Poverty Action Group, said: “It should not be the case that families have to rely on food banks.”

Food bank volunteer Chris Steer predicted further problems when universal credit is introduced and people are paid a lump welfare sum.

Carol Harvey, family support co-ordinator at Kingston Car-er’s Network, said she first contacted the food bank after working with the parent of a young carer whose disability benefits were slashed.

She said: “She was unable to afford to buy food for herself and her teenage son.

“Prior to the food bank being set up there was really nowhere to send people for food.”

More than 100 organisations in Kingston provide food bank vouchers, including the office of Kingston and Surbiton MP and Liberal Democrat cabinet minister Edward Davey, who was unavailable for comment.

Council leader Councillor Liz Green said delays in receiving benefits can hit people hard.

She said: “To stop fraud they are doing more checks when you first sign on. It is a balancing act and one I am not sure the Government is getting right at the moment.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “The benefits system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed and there is no evidence that welfare reforms are linked to increased use of food banks.”

Kingston Labour Party chairman Laurie South said: “What kind of society is it where we have to have people begging from food banks?”

‘We’re living on the breadline’

Former vintage clothes model Deborah Roberts, 55, from Kingston, was referred to the food bank by the Citizens’ Advice Bureau after being hit by the bedroom tax, which is a cut to housing benefit to people with “spare” rooms.

She and husband Colin, 50, of Fleetwood Road, were left without enough money to feed their cats, she said, though neighbours stepped in to help.

Mrs Roberts said: “Being a disabled woman I need a separate bed from my husband’s bed to get a good night’s sleep.

"My benefit was cut. They say that disabled people have got to go to work. I can’t walk 10 yards without pain.

"They just don’t seem to understand that we’re living on the breadline.”

Food bank volunteers were “wonderful”, Mrs Robert said.

She added: "They even made me a cup of tea."