The benefit sanctions regime has “gone too far”, leading “to destitution, hardship and hunger

Half a million people in Britain rely on food banks

By: Information Daily Staff Writer
Published: Thursday, May 30, 2013 – 11:46 GMT

Huge cuts to welfare reform have left more than half a million people in Britain reliant on foodbanks to feed themselves or their family, a shocking report by a group of charities has revealed.

Church Action Poverty and Oxfam, with the backing of the Trussell Trust, are calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the relationship between benefit delay, error or sanctions, welfare reform changes and the growth of Britain’s ‘hidden hungry.’

“The shocking reality is that hundreds of thousands of people in the UK are turning to food aid. Cuts to social safety-nets have gone too far, leading to destitution, hardship and hunger on a large scale. It is unacceptable that this is happening in the seventh wealthiest nation on the planet,” said Mark Goldring, Oxfam’s CEO.

Changes to the benefit system, unemployment, falling incomes and rising food and fuel prices are the principle reasons for the use of food banks, the report, Walking the Breadline, says.

The Trussel Trust, the biggest provider of food banks in the UK, last month reported that more than 350,000 people turned to their food banks for help in the last year, almost triple the number who received food aid in the previous year.

Today’s report warns that the true number of hungry people in Britain could be more than half a million, as the problem is not being monitored properly.

All referrals to food banks made by government agencies and Jobcentre Plus staff must be recorded in order to establish accurate statistics of food poverty in the UK, the report recommends.

It also urges the Department of Work and Pensions to monitor the roll-out of Universal Credit to ensure that there is no increase in food poverty, and publish regular data on the number and type of households who are deprived of their benefits by reason of delay, error or sanctions.

Universal Credit, which will be gradually rolled out over four years from October 2013, replaces all current benefits with a monthly online payment.

“The safety net that was there to protect people is being eroded to such an extent that we are seeing a rise in hunger. Food banks are not designed to, and should not, replace the ‘normal’ safety net provided by the state in the form of welfare support,” said Niall Cooper, Church Action on Poverty CEO and the report’s lead author.

Last month, Ed Davey, the energy secretary, said it was “completely wrong” to suggest that there was a statistical link between the government’s benefits reforms and the use of food banks.

Yet, the report argued that there is clear evidence that the benefit sanctions regime has “gone too far”, leading “to destitution, hardship and hunger on a large scale.”

It said: “There is a real risk that the benefit cuts and the introduction of Universal Credit (which will require internet access and make payments less frequent) will lead to even larger numbers being forced to turn to food banks.”

The growth in food aid demonstrates that the social safety net is failing in its basic duty to ensure families have access to a sufficient income to feed themselves, the report concluded.

The report added that it is “unacceptable” that whilst thousands are being forced to turn to food banks, wealthy individuals and corporations continue to avoid tax.

Mary Creagh MP, Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary said the government needs to “wake up to the human cost of their failed economic policies,” and urged it to change course.

“The UK is the seventh richest country in the world yet we face a growing epidemic of hidden hunger with people increasingly unable to meet their family’s basic needs,” she said.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said “The benefits system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed so no-one has to struggle to meet their basic needs, and the vast majority of benefits are processed on time every day.”

“We welcome the contribution voluntary organisations and foodbanks, including the Trussell Trust, play in supporting local communities, beyond the safety net provided by Government. That is why Jobcentre Plus – for the first time – is now referring people to their services.”

“Our welfare reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities, with the Universal Credit simplifying the complex myriad of benefits and making three million households better off.”