The majority of YMCAs in England now have to send young people to food banks in order for them to be able to eat, new figures have revealed.

Last year, the YMCA referred around 5,000 vulnerable young people to food banks across the country.

YMCA West London, which operates in Harrow, Ealing, Northolt, Greenford, Hayes, Uxbridge and Hanwell, has said the 600 young people it supports are increasingly dependent on outside sources to provide basic food.

Research conducted by YMCA England, titled Food for Thought, suggests this is being driven by failings within the welfare system.

It found that 79 per cent of YMCAs referring young people to foodbanks said they had to do so as a direct result of delays in receiving benefit payments and punitive sanctions.

Denise Hatton, chief executive of YMCA England said: "The Government cannot continue to put its head in the sand with regard to the problems which are driving more and more young people each year to depend on food parcels.

"The welfare system was set up to protect and provide a safety net for those individuals in their time of need and so that no-one would be left without money to be able to afford food. However our evidence shows it is currently failing in this role." 

One young YMCA member, Leeon, was just 16 when he became homeless. His sister could no longer support him and he spent weeks sofa surfing.

Leeon had no income, savings or family support and relied on food handouts from his local church and money borrowed from friends to cover other living costs, putting him in debt.

"It was really depressing going to the foodbank, but I had no choice. I had no money and if I didn’t go there, I would have starved," he said.

Mrs Hatton has called for urgent action to be taken in order to ensure young people are given the support they need to provide for themselves.

"It is unacceptable in this day and age, that anyone should have to rely on the kindness of strangers in order to eat," she said.