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Welfare reforms making food poverty worse – charities

More than 20 million meals were given out by food banks and food aid charities in the last year, a 54% increase on the previous 12 months, according to a new report.

The study by Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty and The Trussell Trust, ‘Below the Breadline’, suggests that a “storm of changes” to the social security system, benefit sanctions, low and stagnant wages, insecure and zero-hours contracts and rising food and energy prices are all contributing to the increasing numbers of meals handed out.

Earlier this year, a BBC Panorama investigation revealed that 140 local authorities spent nearly £3m in tackling food poverty in their communities over the last two years.

The new report, however, states that English councils have underspent their hardship budget this year because of strict application criteria. It suggests that despite some councils opposing the government changes to social security, the situation has been exacerbated by the application of strict conditions. Additionally, it states that some councils are not advertising the funds because they are concerned with getting too many applications and not having enough funds across the year.

The government now plans to scrap the £180m hardship fund altogether. But charities have warned that this will lead to a “postcode lottery” in terms of who gets financial assistance, and will further increase the number of families turning to food banks or becoming dependent on loan sharks or payday loans.

It has been suggested by the charities that to ensure that no one who is eligible for social security is left without money, the entitlement basis for crisis loans and short-term benefit advance for those waiting for social security payments should be immediately reinstated. It has been recommended that this should be paid through the Jobcentre Plus and not via a separate application process to the local authority.

Mark Goldring, Oxfam chief executive, said: “Food banks provide invaluable support for families on the breadline but the fact they are needed in 21st Century Britain is a stain on our national conscience. Why is the government not looking into this?

“At a time when politicians tell us that the economy is recovering, poor people are struggling to cope with a perfect storm of stagnating wages, insecure work and rising food and fuel prices. The government needs to do more to ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable aren't left behind by the economic recovery.”

However, a government spokesperson has rubbished the report. He said: “It’s simply not possible to draw conclusions from these unverified figures drawn from disparate sources. They cover a wide variety of provision including food redistributed to places such as community cafes, lunch clubs for the elderly and children's breakfast clubs which are frequented by all sorts of people.

“This report also overlooks basic facts about the strength of our welfare system. We provide a vital safety net, spending £94bn a year on working age benefits to support millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


Susan Meads   09/06/2014 at 17:44

Incredible how government can find reasons for ignoring the really desperate situations in which more and more people are so clearly finding themselves. However good benefits are, they are useless if not paid on time, or arbitrarily suspended; even if people have 'jobs' if those jobs are on minimum wages for zero hours, they will not be able to budget for their needs. Why do we get so little information about the proportion of those in work who are on zero hours contracts? How may of those working in their own (new) businesses are struggling to get an income from them while trading in a low-pay community? You can do anything with statistics; such a pity that they never seem to induce useful action to remedy some of the blatantly obvious problems.

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