Benefit delays cause hunger, say MPs, but fail to find culprits

Mon, 08/12/2014 - 13:41 -- nick

Benefit delays are one of the main reasons why people in Britain go hungry in the UK, a report has found.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Food Poverty looked at a range of factors, and says other problems include high utility bills and low incomes, also affect those seeking to feed themselves and their families.

Key among welfare issues were:

- delays and errors in the processing and payment of benefits;

- the heavy-handed issuing of benefit sanctions by Jobcentre Plus.

Given the presence of Tory MPs on the group, it is no surprise that the report doesn't lay blame at the door of Iain Duncan Smith for this, despite his Department for Work and Pensions driving sanctions targets and malpractice.

The group found that sanctions were being given without good reason, but showed little interest in pursuing the targets culture despite many whistleblowers from within jobcentres having revealed them.

George Osborne also changed the system so new JSA claimants now have to wait a week before applying, a delay which undoubtedly worsens hunger, but again this goes unmentioned by the committee.

Troubles for those in work can also lead to problems, particularly a loss of hours for those on zero-hour contracts. The report found that many working people visit food banks, and that the UK has the lowest paid bottom-tier of workers among competitor countries, but claims that this is an issue facing the whole western world despite the range of political policies that could alleviate the problem here.

This includes support for the living wage, a policy which no major political party opposes but none will make law despite the fact that it would make a huge contribution to low-income poverty.

Some recommendations, including reducing food waste, teaching people about food and cooking, and setting fair energy prices, are positive as far as they go, but the report resolutely fails to call the government to account and place blame where it fits best, at the feet of the slash-and-burn coalition.

An apolitical 'study' into food poverty is of very limited value when so many of the reasons behind this suffering are political. The coalition has deliberately stoked anti-unemployed feeling, and backed this up with anti-unemployed policies and, crucially, big cuts to the value of benefits.

It professes concern for those on low wages but refuses to implement the living wage and has now moved on to cutting tax credits and other working welfare payments, even while putting billions on the benefit bill through above-inflation rises for pensioners.

The report, with its tinkering around the edges, misses the point. If we want to eradicate food poverty the single most important thing we must do is ensure everyone, whether working or workless, has enough money to live on.