Food banks say use has doubled since benefit cuts

Thu, 11/07/2013 - 13:52 -- nick

Despite the government's insistence that benefit cuts have nothing to do with increased food bank need, the number using them has doubled since cuts came into force.

The Trussell Trust, the UK's biggest food bank provider, says it has seen a 200% increase in the number of referrals for help since the April changes, and that more than half of these were linked to benefits issues.

The major reasons for the rise were sanctions, benefit delays - which will be worsened by Chancellor George Osborne's recent announcement of longer waiting times for first claims - the bedroom tax, and cuts to council tax relief.

The Trussell Trust fed more than 150,000 people in the three months from April to June, and the numbers are increasing.

In the same three months last year only 50,000 needed support, a trebling of this poverty measure in only a year.

Lord Freud, the work and pensions minister, denied the existence of a "causal link" between benefit cuts and food bank use, an assertion contradicted by The Trussell Trust's executive chairman Chris Mould.

"The reality is that there is a clear link between benefit delays or changes and people turning to food banks, and that the situation has got worse in the last three months", he said.

Mould said his organisation had seen more people who had been sanctioned "for seemingly illogical reasons", or who had been hit by the bedroom tax but been unable to move to a smaller home.

He made a plea for a better understanding of the poverty created by coalition policies, saying:

"We are calling on the government to listen to what's happening on the ground, to realise that when the welfare system breaks down, it means families go hungry. Many of these issues are avoidable but they must be addressed urgently, before universal credit is rolled out in October."

Some charities are warning that demand is reaching crisis point, with one, Pecan in Peckham, South London, writing to its local jobcentre to protest that it could not keep up with the number being referred to it.

Pecan's executive director, Chris Price, believes that jobcentres are using food banks instead of providing hardship loans when a claimant hits trouble.

"We are not part of the welfare system. But we have the fear of becoming part of the welfare system," he said.

The parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee is to investigate the link between food bank use and benefit cuts, while the Department for Work and Pensions said it processed 90% of claims within 16 days and said sanctions were a last resort.

An internal DWP report leaked in May showed that some jobcentres were setting targets for sanctions, potentially leading to more claimants having benefits removed.

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