The number of emergency supplies handed out by food banks in Merseyside has risen over the last year, figures from a leading charity show.
The Trussell Trust said a record number of packages were handed out nationally, with benefits which are insufficient to cover living costs and payment delays for Universal Credit among the reasons given.
Between April 2018 and March 2019, the charity handed out 74,110 emergency three-day food packages at food banks in Merseyside – 37% of them to children.
The total was an 18% increase on the previous year, when 62,694 were distributed.
Across the North West, more than 222,000 emergency food supplies were handed out last year – a 13% increase on the previous 12 months.
The Trussell Trust said that, across the UK, almost half of food bank referrals made due to a delay in benefits being paid were linked to Universal Credit.
It said the Government should end the five-week wait for a first Universal Credit payment to help reduce reliance on food banks.
In total, the charity distributed more than 1.5 million food packages in 2018-19 across 1,200 sites in the UK – 19% more than the year before, and a 73% increase on five years previously.
More than half a million packages last year were for children.
The Trussell Trust's chief executive, Emma Revie, said: "What we are seeing year upon year is more and more people struggling to eat because they simply cannot afford food. This is not right.
"Our benefits system is supposed to protect us all from being swept into poverty. Universal Credit should be part of the solution but currently the five-week wait is leaving many without enough money to cover the basics.
"As a priority, we're urging the Government to end the wait for Universal Credit to ease the pressure on thousands of households.
"Ultimately, it's unacceptable that anyone should have to use a food bank in the first place.
"No charity can replace the dignity of having financial security. That's why, in the long term, we're urging the Government to ensure benefit payments reflect the true cost of living and work is secure, paying the real living wage, to help ensure we are all anchored from poverty.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "It is not true to say that people need to wait five weeks for their first payment. Universal Credit is available to claimants on day one.
"It also cannot be claimed that Universal Credit is driving the overall use of food banks or that benefit changes and delays are driving growth.
"The Trust's own analysis shows a substantial fall in the share of parcels being issued due to benefit payment delays.
"The best route out of poverty is to help people into sustainable employment which, with record employment, we are doing.”