Chancellor George Osborne's decision to impose a real-terms cut on benefits will lead to a rise in homelessness, hunger and crime, the head of the UK's largest provider of food banks has warned.
Chris Mould, the executive chairman of the Trussell Trust, denounced the cash-saving move as "short-sighted" and said it would result in knock-on costs for other Government departments.
His warning came as the shopworkers' union Usdaw released figures suggesting that the 1% cap on benefit rises will cost families on low and middle incomes more than £1,000 over the next three years.
The Benefits Uprating Bill, published on Thursday, will implement the cap announced by Mr Osborne in his Autumn Statement, which effectively reduces the value of a range of welfare payments by holding increases below the current rate of inflation.
In his statement earlier this month, Mr Osborne said he wanted to be fair to those who "see their neighbour still asleep, living a life on benefits" when they set off for work.
But Usdaw's general secretary, John Hannett, said that the cap would also affect people in work who receive child benefit and tax credits. The union's calculations suggest that by 2015/16, a family with one child will have lost £784, those with two children £1,091 and families with three children £1,398, compared to what they would have received if the Government continued to uprate in line with inflation.
Mr Hannett said: "Working people on low and middle incomes have already borne a disproportionate cost from the Government's cuts. The freeze on Working Tax Credit and on Child Benefit has already substantially cut the incomes of working people at a time when the cost of basic necessities like food and fuel has been rising so sharply."
The Trussell Trust estimates that its chain of 250 food banks across the UK will feed 250,000 people this year - a 400% increase since 2010.
Mr Mould said: "People are going without meals, sometimes for several days, because they are making choices about what to prioritise with the money they do have. They have to choose whether to heat the house or feed themselves."
Urging Mr Osborne to visit one of his food banks, Mr Mould said he believed that Government ministers had "an inadequate level of empathy with the people that we deal with" and would "nuance their policy differently" if they had a deeper understanding of its impact.