DWP responsible for half of UK hunger says study

Mon, 02/03/2015 - 14:05 -- nick

The reasons why so many people in the UK - the world's sixth largest economy - are facing the trauma of going hungry have been disputed since the coalition came to power.

The Tory-led government has consistently denied any link between its policies and food bank use, suggesting instead a range of reasons including that free food will always find takers (Lord Freud, minister for welfare reform, came up with that one, ignoring the fact that food banks only accept referrals from official sources and real poverty needs to be demonstrated first).

So a new study by West Cheshire food bank is notable because for the first time it recorded why every one of its users needed its help, and the results won't please the government.

Nearly half (47%) of people were referred because of benefit delays and sanctions, putting much of the responsibility for hunger at the door of the DWP.

This isn't accidental; Chancellor George Osborne introduced a one-week wait for a first claim of jobseeker's allowance, saying the newly-unemployed should be focused on looking for work rather than claiming benefits, a nasty piece of thinking that implies starving people makes them more desperate and therefore more likely to take any job.

Iain Duncan Smith has overseen a department that implements sanctions targets, hugely increasing their number while denying they exist.

The unemployed have suffered hugely as a result, and this is before we get on to the cuts, caps and bedroom taxes that have meant being out of work is a poverty-stricken existence.

Around one million people were forced to use the Trussell Trusts food banks last year, a number that has been rising hugely since 2010, and jobcentres have been referring people despite the government denying that they are now seen as part of the welfare system.

The West Cheshire study also showed that one-in-five of its users were in work; despite the assertions of Duncan Smith, finding a job is not always a route out of poverty, and those at the bottom are more likely to be in insecure and low-paid work.

His failing Universal Credit system will mean more stringent tests being applied to those working and receiving top-up benefits, meaning we can expect to see another big increase in food bank use when they start being sanctioned.

Those in work who condemn those without jobs should start looking over their shoulders; first they came for the unemployed, but soon they could be coming for you.

The failures of welfare to match the needs of the poorest workless and working people in the UK have fed the rise in food banks, and the need will continue as long as the coalition targets benefits for such swingeing cuts.