The number of people relying on emergency food banks in the West is doubling every year – as a new survey reveals even the 'squeezed middle' fear they will not be able to pay their mortgages at the end of January.
The new year will be a tough one financially for millions, warned housing charity Shelter yesterday, as new research from a YouGov poll revealed one in eight householders in the West will struggle to pay the bills at the end of this month, after a Christmas splurge.
Shelter are warning of an 'ostrich effect' of cash-strapped householders not even opening the bills, with as many as one in nine of us putting unopened bills straight in the bin to avoid dealing with it.
"We're now seeing a stream of cases of families who've been unable to cope with mounting rent or mortgage bills and feel at breaking point," said Liz Clare, a helpline adviser at Shelter.
"We all know how difficult it can be to face up to financial problems and we often hear from people who've been avoiding urgent post, but the reality is that not confronting it means things can spiral out of control.
"One caller to the helpline arrived home to her rented flat to find the locks had been changed.
"She hadn't realised that a court hearing had even taken place because she hadn't felt able to open her post after falling into arrears with her rent.
"We hear from people every day who are struggling, so you are not alone.
"Our message to anyone struggling to pay their rent or mortgage is that we're on your side. Come to us for help early on for the best chance of keeping your home," she added.
The new survey revealed that 43 per cent of households in the West are expecting to struggle to find the money to pay the mortgage or rent, as housing costs rise, and energy bills also outstrip any pay rises.
Campbell Robb, the chief executive of Shelter, said: "It's a worrying sign of the times that so many of us are starting the new year worried about how they'll pay their rent or mortgage in 2014.
"Unless they get help, some of the families struggling now could face the very real prospect of losing their home this year.
"Despite recent discussion of an economic recovery, we know that a combination of high housing costs, wage freezes, and rising food and energy bills has created a nightmare scenario for many families that's pushing them to breaking point," he added.
Increasing numbers of people across the region are having to turn to food banks to feed their families, with the emergency stations now springing up in some of the most apparently affluent areas of the region.
The Trussell Trust food bank in Gloucester's Great Western Road reported the numbers of people being referred to them had almost doubled from 2,861 in 2012 to more than 4,100 last year.
The numbers have increased despite the fact that since it opened originally in 2005, other food banks have been set up elsewhere in the county in Tewkesbury and the Forest of Dean.
Acting manager Lizzie Manley said the demand has been unreal, and although they have managed to stay on top of things thanks to generous donations, they are in dire need of volunteers and cash donations.
She said: "People have been fantastic with donations and our store is jammed full, which is fabulous.
"However, we need 12 volunteers to run the food bank and at the moment we are scraping by with just six a day."
Around 90 agencies in Gloucester have the responsibility of referring people in need to the food bank.
The food bank then gives out enough food for three meals a day for three days, per family member. People can only use the Foodbank three times in each six months so they don't become dependent on its services.
"We need people to help stock the food, help rotate it, and to help at our supermarket collection days," said Mrs Manley.
Even in the normally affluent Cotswolds, food banks are being set up – with a public meeting being held in Malmesbury in a fortnight to discuss setting one up in the Wiltshire town.