Desperate families are arriving at Britain's food banks hungry after going days without eating.

Staff at a Plymouth food bank say families without a penny to their name are going days without sustenance before reaching out for help.

The vital lifeline has warned of a rise in the number of people on Universal Credit left starving because of the dreaded six-week wait for pay for new claimants.

Food bank staff say some of those they help lack the ability to budget between payday and break down in tears and eat the second they get their hands on a donated food parcel, reports Plymouth Live.

Food bank staff say people are struggling to afford for their families 

More than third of all food voucher recipients last year in Plymouth were kids from hard-up homes in places like  Stonehouse and  Devonport.

Some parents have spiralled into credit repayment hell after promising their children the moon over Christmas.

Others are in work but don't pay enough to eat - they can only pay the household bills and nothing more.

Voices for the Stonehouse hub have shared just a snippet of the harrowing stories they hear in the hope of raising awareness of their cause and the city's ever-growing plight.

Selfless Maria Mills runs the pantry where hoards of boxes are done up for people who are literally broke.

She was busy boxing up food for a traveller family - made up of 18 adults and children - in the hope it'll sort them out for a short while.

Food banks offer support to struggling families

Broken Britain - 'People are falling down the cracks of Universal Credit'

Maria, who has an MBE for her incredible services to the people of Plymouth, believes the cause is picking up the pieces of broken society. And it's undoubtedly a shocking state of affairs in 2020.

"People don't know how to budget, how to cook, there are people falling down the cracks of Universal Credit, which takes six weeks to sort," Maria, 62, lamented.

"There's the expectation of children, around Christmas, who don't know what to do now.

"These people have bought their kids an Xbox, things like that. They're buying stuff they can't afford."

She fears modern life has made things this way and our ability to look out for each other is lost.

"I'm a Swilly girl and back then we used to call Thursday lingering day, because the money got paid on a Friday and by Thursday would have ran out.

"So the local neighbours would go through their cupboards and everyone on the street would have the same meal. You knew what you were eating would be the same as what your neighbour was having.

The volunteers say they see poverty on a daily basis

"We've lost that sense of community."

Food bank advisors highlighted some on benefits claim their food voucher but tragically refuse to act until feelings of hunger prove too much.

"Some, particularly the more elderly, keep their food voucher for up to two days, they won't want to come in," one volunteer said.

"As soon as you give them their stuff, they break down in tears."

Yet Plymouth Food bank, which has been committed to fighting poverty for 15 years, remains determined to make a difference.

The Plymouth Methodist Central Hall-funded movement feeds hundreds of hungry mouths every week.

Wednesdays are the busiest day, when up to 70 people come in for a bundle of vital groceries and a free cuppa.

The doors open at 1.30pm but some were seen queuing outside an hour before when Plymouth Live came to visit and shine a light on the service, which last year saw 8,500 people, 33 per cent of whom were children under 16.

Man left in tatters after landlord left him homeless saved by selfless foodbank

Not only that, it issues life advice, tips on how to budget and save, helps put clothes on backs and get people integrated in society again.

The organisation, associated with The Trussell Trust, has 73 volunteers on its books and a few paid-for individuals helping to run the ship.

Maria told of one sad case where a graduate who had finally landed his 'dream job' was suddenly left homeless.

That's until she leaned on a valuable contact who turned around his fortunes that very same day.

"One chap came in last week and looked like he was going to cry," Maria explained.

"He'd come up from Cornwall, and had got a job in hydraulics. He'd been to university, got his dream job, spoke to his landlord, paid his deposit but told him he didn't get paid until the end of February so wouldn't be able to pay his rent until then.

"But then, about two days later, the landlord said, I've found someone else who can pay the rent, so you are out.

"And he said to me, 'I don't know what I can do now, because I can't do my job if I can't sleep. It's too dangerous."

So kindhearted Maria gave him his food parcel before ringing up a trusted landlord - who came down right away to meet the guy in dire straits. And a deal was done that same day to move into one of his digs.

People going days without eating

'We're all three pay cheques away from needing a food bank'

But it's not always that easy. Some come with huge emotional baggage and feel devastated about having to rely on handouts.

But staff are quick to point out that we're all only a few steps away from the brink.

Plymouth Food bank warehouse manager Ryan Kendall is the man who keeps the stocks shelved in a concrete 'vault'.

The shelves are loaded up full of tinned fish, juices, puddings, sauces, tea, coffee, you name it. And it's all been generously donated by the public, organisations, anyone with a kind heart and a desire to help others.

Everything's meticulously organised according to what's needed and the circumstances.

"We're all three pay cheques away from having to use a food bank," Ryam, 24, of Honicknowle, Plymouth, said.

"It doesn't take much these days. If you lose your job, within three months you will struggle to pay your bills.

"You could be someone who has been in work for 30 years, then of all of the sudden you're left without a job with nowhere to turn."