The use of food banks has soared since the government came to power, but Minister for Work and Pensions Lord David Freud has rejected a link with the government's benefit cuts.
Speaking in the House of Lords yesterday Lord Freud said it was hard to make a "causal link" between the two.
Despite evidence that more and more people are being driven to use the facilities due to over-zealous sanctioning - removing benefits for often-small violations of benefit rules - and below-inflation benefit rises, the Minister said:
“Food banks are absolutely not part of the welfare system that we run. We have other systems to support people.” Asked to clarify this, he replied: “If you put more food banks in, that is the supply. Clearly food from a food bank is by definition a free good and there’s almost infinite demand.”
Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty published a report recently pointing to a trebling in the number of people using food banks in the past year alone, with estimates of around 500,000 users currently. The two charities blamed welfare cuts and sanctions for the rise.
Chris Johnes, director of Oxfam’s UK poverty programme, said: “[the Minister's] comments don’t bear much relation to the reality. The fact is that food banks are stepping in to fill a gap left by the welfare system.”
“The evidence is very clear that people are going to food banks out of real need. They feel a sense of stigma that they can’t feed themselves and their families.”
Chris Mould, executive chairman of the UK's biggest food bank provider the Trussell Trust, told The Independent: “The only people who seem unable to accept there is a social crisis driven by the cost of living is the Government.”
Contrary to Lord Freud's assertion, the Trussell Trust found that 30% of all those using its food banks were referred because they were experiencing a benefit delay and 15% because of benefit changes.
A DWP spokesperson appeared to contradict Freud's assertion that food banks are not part of the welfare system when they told The Independent:
“We welcome the contribution voluntary organisations and food banks play in supporting local communities, beyond the safety net provided by government.
“That is why Jobcentre Plus – for the first time – is now referring people to their services."
Direct referrals from jobcentres suggest that food banks are now very much part of the welfare system.
Lord Freud was in the news in April when around 200 protestors gathered outside his £2 million London home to object to his welfare reforms.