Over half a million Britton’s are now having to turn to food banks in order to keep their families fed, a joint report by Church Action on Poverty and Oxfam has claimed.
Trussell Trust, the biggest charity in the food services field, has reported a 465 per cent increase in people using their banks over the last two financial years – with 346,992 people relying on emergency food supplies provided by the charity.
To put these numbers in to context, in the financial year between 2005-2006 just 2,614 people received emergency food supplies from the Trussell Trust.
Of course, since 2006 we have seen the UK enter a double dip recession, which for many would go halfway to explaining the astronomical increase in the number of people needing to use food banks. The report however, seems to point the finger at another culprit: the inefficiency of the UK’s welfare system.
Although the number of people using food banks has been increasing year on year since the recession – with 25,899 people needing help from 2008-2009 and 61,468 people using the banks between 2010 and 2011 – the figures for the last two years don’t tie in with the rate of growth (around 50 per cent a year) seen previously.
The reason for this, according to figures provided by Trussell Trust, is because 50 per cent of people who use the food banks now do so because their benefits have either been stopped, cut or paid late.
People who use the food banks have to be issued with a voucher by a professional such as a doctor, social worker or Job Centre advisor in order to be eligible to receive help. The voucher has to indicate what caused the emergency, whether it’s debt or low income or something else, which is how Trussell Trust have managed to collate this alarming information.
According to the report titled ‘Walking the Breadline’, for the first time, changes to the benefit system are now more likely to be cited as the reason for the emergency food voucher being issued than “low income”.
The issues people are encountering with the welfare system range form the below-inflation rises in benefit payments, to the new Jobseeker’s Allowance sanctions and also the controversial reassessments that are happening to gage claimants entitlement to incapacity benefits , which last week saw double transplant patient Linda Wootton, die just 9 days after being assessed as ‘fit to work’ by private assessment firm ATOS.
The report is also highly critical of mistakes and delays to benefits payments, which can mean that people don’t have any money coming in for more than two weeks at a time, leading to “food uncertainty” amongst many british families.
The increase in use of food banks has been widely condemned in the media, with former World Health Organisation adviser and University Professor Tim Lang saying that there “ought to be a very big political debate about food banks”. He went on to say: “It should be a sign of shame that the sixth-richest economy on the planet has people who are essentially retreating to a Dickensian world. It’s shocking how quickly it’s been normalised.”
However, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has said he is proud that the government agreed that Job Centre staff could refer people to food banks. Speaking to the BBC he said: “Under the last government, Job Centre staff were not allowed to talk about it. My concern is that the individual who is in front of Job Centre staff can get access to everything they need to.”
This attitude, however, doesn’t tackle the real issue.
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne hit the nail on the head when he stated: “Instead of sending people to jobs, our job centres are sending people to food banks.
“Yet instead of offering extra help, this Tory-led government is cutting taxes for millionaires. That tells you everything you need to know about this government’s values.”
With more changes to the welfare system happening over the next few months the government needs to seriously consider how they are going to support the most vulnerable families.
The Department for Work and Pensions has said that their welfare reforms will “improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities, with the universal credit simplifying the complex myriad of benefits and making three million households better off.”
However, the report warns that because universal credit will normally be paid monthly instead of fortnightly, it could mean that the experience of people running out of money before the end of the month will become “much more widespread”.
If the the amount of people needing to use food banks increases even at the previous trend of around 50 per cent each year, it could mean that next year nearly 750,000 people will need access to emergent food supplies, and if it increases at the rate it did this year then we could potentially see numbers as high as 8 million people needing to use food banks.
Now that is certainly something that needs thinking about.