Sanctions and low benefits lead to big rise in food bank use

Thu, 30/05/2013 - 12:26 -- nick

More than half-a-million people in Britain are now regularly forced to use food bank handouts to survive.

A report by Church Action on Poverty and Oxfam, 'Walking the Breadline', shows that "some of the increase ... is caused by unemployment, increasing levels of underemployment, low and falling income, and rising food and fuel prices."

UnemployedNet campaigns on the level of benefits, urging the government to revise them to ensure they meet the cost of living.

Benefits have fallen behind food price rises for many years, even before the below-inflation increases instituted by the coalition.

'Walking the Breadline' says that up to half of visits to food banks are a direct result of benefits issues, including jobcentre sanctions, delayed payments, and incapacity benefit reassessments.

It calls on the government to increase both benefits and the minimum wage by at least the rate of inflation, saying current levels breach the basic human right of access to adequate food.

"The shocking reality is that hundreds of thousands of people in the UK are turning to food aid," said Mark Goldring, Oxfam's chief executive. "Cuts to social safety nets have gone too far, leading to destitution, hardship and hunger on a large scale. It is unacceptable that this is happening in the seventh wealthiest nation on the planet."

The government has rejected the idea that its changes are to blame, with Energy Secretary Ed Davey telling MPs this month it was "completely wrong to suggest there is some sort of statistical link between the benefit reforms we're making and the provision of food banks".

But the report, which used information provided by the Trussell Trust, the UK's biggest provider of foodbanks, recognised that "There is clear evidence that the benefit sanctions regime has gone too far and is leading to destitution, hardship and hunger on a large scale."

Two weeks ago a jobcentre report admitted mistakes had been made on sanctions, with targets being implemented leading to an increase in their number without the knowledge of central managers.

The report recommends an immediate inquiry is held by MPs into how benefit delays, sanctions, and welfare cuts have led to this increase in food poverty.

It foresees more problems when Universal Credit is introduced nationwide in October, and has called on the government to ensure its impact is assessed independently, as well as to tackle tax dodging to ensure no benefit cuts are needed in the future.

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