A NEW study designed to reveal the true scale of foodbanks in operation may still be underestimating the number in Sussex.

The Independent Food Aid Network (Ifan) study says nationally there could be 50 per cent more foodbanks than previously recorded.

But those working on the front line say the true extent of the problem is far worse as more and more desperate families seek help.

A national project by the Independent Food Aid Network (Ifan) revealed there are 12 food banks in Sussex, though charity workers are certain there are more than that in Brighton and Hove alone.

Changes and disruption to the benefits system are blamed as the primary reason why “normal, everyday people” are having to rely on charity to feed themselves and their families.

Senior Conservatives have come under fire over the issue with Prime Minister Theresa May claiming the reasons nurses used them were “complex”, Home Secretary Amber Rudd expressing surprise that police officers used them and Dominic Raab, candidate for Esher, claiming food bank users were just suffering from a cash flow problem.

Brighton and Hove City Mission Food Bank was one of the earliest in the country, forming in around 2000, though the charity was handing out food parcels even before then.

It is the city’s busiest food bank with 663 individuals and families referred to it last year, including 108 families with children and 17 Syrian refugee families.

Mission director Julian Haddow said the Ifan list had missed off major food banks in and around the city including The Whitehawk Food bank and the CCK food bank in Shoreham while several more “food cupboards” had been established, including one at the University of Sussex for struggling students.

Mr Haddow said: “I think the way benefits are removed and reassessed means people are thrown into chaos far more easily.

“Even if they are restarted, people can have no cash flow for up to ten weeks.

“You will get everyday, normal people accessing foodbanks. Hopefully for a lot of them it is short term as they get through a blip.”

Also operating in the city is the Purple People Kitchen Food Bank in Portslade which launched in 2013.

Based at Portslade Town Hall, the food bank distributes to upto 160 people each week and demand is growing with a recent event seeing 17 new applicant made requests,

Hangleton and West Blatchington Food Bank launched in December 2014 after founders discovered many Hangleton residents were struggling to get to the Purple Kitchen Foodbank, which is based in Portslade.

There are also four foodbanks operating in and around Lewes.

Manager Debbie Twitchen said Landport Food Bank helped 13 families and some 17 individuals since launching in 2012.

She said clients included older people finding it increasingly difficult to get by on pension credit and working clients struggling with the benefit cap as well as changes to council tax relief, the bedroom tax and benefit sanctions.

She added: “Increasingly we seem to be seeing more people from rural areas who are finding it difficult to manage because of transport costs and the other issues mentioned above.”

John Lamb said Malling food bank in The Phoenix Centre in Lewes, supports around 55 people per week with a steady stream of new referrals.

Hed said: "There has been a rise in the number of people who visit our food bank because many agencies who refer people to us do not have the resources, owing to spending cuts, to support the out of work, disabled or elderly people who they once would have helped.

"At the same time there is a much greater willingness to contribute to food banks by the public and retailers which means we are better supplied and better organised than before."

Joe Wilkinson from Burgess Hill Foodbank said the project started in June 2013 and helps up to eight families per week. 

He said: "People simply became aware of how the cuts were hitting the poorest and most vulnerable members of the community, yes even in well-to-do Mid Sussex.

"And there is something visceral about being hungry that impels people to volunteer and to give."