DESPERATE families whose benefits have been cut or suspended have created a 400 per cent increase in demand for free furniture, household goods and clothes from a Cradley Heath charity in one year.

Christian charity Loaves 'n' Fishes has revealed huge the increase in the amount of penniless people needing support from its Blackheath and Cradley Heath bases.

Anna Hartland, who founded the charity nine years ago, blamed the Government's clampdown on benefits for the massive spike in demand.

She said: "Demand has gone up by 400 per cent in the last year and we are working as hard as we can to keep up - we are a successful charity only because of the poverty that surrounds us.

"The changes in benefits have caused this rise because we are seeing people who have had benefits cut, who relied on the social fund which has ended and who had welfare grants refused.

She added: "We also get lots of people who have had their benefits stopped for some silly reason like being late or filling out a form in wrong.

"It is sad to see the people who come in here who lost their job and then their benefits and they have nowhere else to go."

The charity received a £218,000 grant towards running costs from the National Lottery last year and regularly wins plaudits from politicians and other charities.

Mrs Hartland added: "We had to use the money to hire drivers and a secretary so we could keep up with demand, we still need donations more than ever because we are being used so much by people in need."

The Black Country Foodbank has also revealed demand for food has shot up in recent years and Cradley Heath and Old Hill Councillor John Tipper believes both charities are now vital to local families in need.

He said: "As a local councillor I've met quite a number of people who've been affected by changes to the benefits system or who've had their benefits arbitrarily docked.

"It's an issue that sums up the approach of the present government to those in society who don't share their privileged backgrounds but genuinely need a helping hand to live with dignity and security."

He added: "While I have nothing but admiration for the brilliant work done by Loaves 'n' Fishes, it's a national disgrace that in 21st century Britain people have to rely on charity for everyday essentials."

However, the Department of Work and Pensions refuted its reorganisation of the benefits system has caused widespread misery.

A spokesman said: "The benefits system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed, and there is no robust evidence that welfare reforms are linked to increased use of charities and food banks.

"Charities, like the Trussell Trust, agree increased awareness has helped to explain recent growth."

He added: “Our welfare reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities, with Universal Credit making three million households better off."