Benefit problems are the most common reason for people using food banks, a new report shows.
The study by the Church of England, the Trussell Trust food bank network, Oxfam and Child Poverty Action Group, found that more than half of users were there because of delays in paying benefits, sanctions, and other related issues.
Lord Freud, the government's minister for welfare reform, has previously claimed the main reason was because the service was free, and ministers have consistently denied any link between benefits and usage.
In stark contrast to this attitude, the report found most people felt ashamed at using food banks, seeing them only as a last resort.
40 in-depth interviews with Trussell Trust foodbank users were conducted, supported by data collected from more than 900 recipients, to provide strong evidence for findings.
Around a quarter of those responding had been sanctioned, while around a third were waiting for their first payment, a situation George Osborne has worsened by introducing a one week delay in first benefit claims.
Unsurprisingly, the Department for Work and Pensions rejected the conclusions, saying:
“The report itself concludes it can’t prove anything – it uses self-selecting data and recognises there are complex underlying issues. We have a strong safety net in place, spending £94bn a year on working-age benefits, and we provide a wide range of advice and assistance for anyone in need of additional support.”
This denial comes despite the fact that the Trussell Trust, the biggest food bank provider in the UK, has been growing hugely and handed out over 913,000 aid parcels last year, primarily to claimants.
The DWP knows that, despite its spend on working age benefits, they have been losing value for years due to caps and cuts, and the number of sanctions has exploded to around one million last year, driven by targets at jobcentres.
It also knows that the £94 billion spend is meaningless in this context as food bank users are primarily workless while most of this money goes to working people.
David McAuley, Trussell Trust CEO said: “This new evidence brings into sharp focus the uncomfortable reality of what happens when a ‘life shock’ or benefit problem hits those on low incomes: parents go hungry, stress and anxiety increase, and the issue can all too quickly escalate into crippling debt, housing problems and illness. The Trussell Trust has consistently said that too many people are falling through gaps in the social security system."
The coalition has consistently turned a deaf ear to the concerns of those on out-of-work benefits, preferring to demonise them and question their morals to force workers to look at them as the root of their own financial suffering.
This is despite the fact that the financial crisis was caused by greedy and sometimes criminal bankers, and falling incomes are a consequence of company decisions and the government's lack of support for the living wage.
It is no surprise that they want to reject the report out of hand; acceptance would mean a total abandonment of all policy and a complete change of attitude towards unemployed people.
Their lack of care or even interest in the poorest in the country means this is unlikely to happen.