Department of Work and Pensions in denial on food banks

02.06.2014

The Department of Work and Pensions within the UK Government is in denial about the cause of the increase in food bank use. This is the conclusion of the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee in a report published today.

 

Following months of evidence taking, the Committee has concluded that welfare reform is a “significant cause” of the rise in demand being experienced by providers of food aid. Evidence received by the Committee suggests a rise of around 400% in people receiving assistance in 2013/14 when compared with the same period in 2012/13.

In particular, the Committee has expressed concerns regarding the impact of benefit sanctions and urged the UK Government to recognise that people are struggling to meet their basic need for food due to its direct action.

Convener of the Welfare Reform Committee, Michael McMahon MSP said:

“The UK Government can no longer ignore the evidence that their welfare reforms are having a real impact on people’s ability to feed themselves. There can be no place for this in a modern, prosperous nation, just as there should be no need for food banks.

“Our evidence showed some low paid workers need to access food banks. This makes it even more insulting for them to insist that people using food banks are anything other than in desperate need of help. Help the welfare system should be providing, not charities. Allowing this Dickensian model of welfare to take root is simply unacceptable. Ignoring the problem cannot be part of the solution.”

Within its report, the Committee praises the dedication and commitment shown by food bank volunteers. Notwithstanding this, the Committee makes it clear that food bank provision should not ‘creep’ into welfare state provision.

Deputy Committee Convener, Jamie Hepburn MSP said:

“All our Committee members visited food banks across Scotland. We were impressed by the professional and respectful way that the volunteers dealt with people who came to them, often in their hour of greatest need. The Scottish Government’s action in providing an Emergency Food Aid Action Plan will hopefully ensure any logistical issues around food bank provisions are addressed.

“However, the point remains that food banks are a community, charitable response to fellow citizens in need. The UK Government needs to ensure it does not start to weld them into the welfare system. It needs to own up to the role it is playing in causing the increase in demand and stop pretending this is simply all about people looking for something for nothing. That insults the vulnerable members of our society using food banks and the volunteers that run them. It also denies their role in pushing people to the brink – and often beyond.”

Within the report, the Committee explores the UK Government assertion that the growth in food banks is due to increased publicity and people choosing to use food banks as “economic choices”. It concludes that:

  • There is a direct correlation between the Department for Work and Pensions welfare reforms and the increase in use of food banks.
  • The Department for Work and Pensions benefit sanctions can be seen as a root ‘cause’ and food banks as a ‘consequence’. 
  • In a developed nation such as ours there should not be any need for the Red Cross, an international aid charity, to be involved in the provision of food aid in the UK.
  • The Committee does not agree with the assessment of the Department for Work and Pensions Ministers that individuals are choosing to use food banks principally due to ease of access and increased awareness. The Committee believes that individuals turn to food banks primarily out of necessity; many often feel stigmatised and ashamed at having to use them.
  • It is concerning to hear evidence that people in employment who are on low incomes are using food banks. This suggests that beyond the current users of food banks there may be many more hovering on the edge of needing food aid.
  • Doubt has been cast on the value placed by the UK Government on international comparisons as validation of its argument that food bank usage is supply led. The Committee found evidence that in Canada food banks had become institutionalised and were replacing state provision. There was also evidence that the high level of food bank usage in Germany was related to the changes in the country’s welfare provision.

Background

Alex Johnstone MSP dissented from 3 paragraphs, as noted within the report.

Follow the work of the Committee at @sp_welfareref

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