Food banks now supporting half a million people
A report commissioned by Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty warns that as many as 500,000 Britons are now reliant on food aid as a result of changes to the benefit system, benefit sanctions, stagnating wages and unemployment.
The number of people dependent on charities for food has trebled in the last year alone. Pointing out a significant problem in the UK, the report called the increase of the need for food aid a “national disgrace” that “undermines the UK’s commitment to ensuring all its citizens have access to food” and calls upon MPs to set up an urgent inquiry into its findings.
The report highlighted a number of key welfare issues, the most significant of which was the combination of the economic downturn and the government’s austerity measures. Blaming “unemployment, increasing levels of underemployment, low and falling income, and rising fuel prices”, the report singled out the government’s changes to the benefit system for particular scrutiny, labelling it as the single biggest cause for people needing to use food banks.
It said there was “clear evidence” that the benefit sanctions regime has “gone too far” and warns that the numbers of people reliant on charities will only increase as the new Universal Credit system is introduced. As with any new system there will be teething problems and mistakes which will inevitably leave people wrongly sanctioned or without access to benefits that they are entitled to.
The fact that the timing of Universal Credit’s introduction coincides with the slashing of legal aid budgets means that people will have little legal recourse should they fall fowl of the system’s teething problems.
The report also asserted that it was “unacceptable” that while thousands of families are struggling to meet their basic needs, “wealthy individuals and corporations continue to dodge their obligation to pay their fair share of taxes”.
Following separate research last year by SSentif which demonstrated that homelessness had also increased by more than 25% since the coalition government took power, the report will make particularly embarrassing reading for Ed Davey, the energy secretary, who earlier this month said in parliament that it is “completely wrong to suggest there is some sort of statistical link between the benefit reforms we’re making and the provision of food banks”.
Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, also came under fire with the report saying “the social safety net is failing in its basic duty…. food banks should not replace the ‘normal’ safety net of the welfare state”.