Thousands of Hartlepool families have been given vital help following heartfelt pleas to a foodbank.
Hartlepool Foodbank gave 4,222 people three days of emergency food in 2014-15, compared to 4783 in 2013-14.
The figures included 1,147 children getting help from the foodbank.
Bosses at the foodbank, which is one of 400 nationally run by the Trussell Trust, have praised communities for helping the cause, which saw people in Hartlepool donate 38 tonnes of food.
The top three reasons for foodbank referrals were benefit delay 33 per cent, low income 25 per cent and benefit changes 11 per cent.
A spokesman for the Trussell Trust said:
“Thanks to the generous donations from members of the public Hartlepool Foodbank is often able to provide some basic toiletries in addition to the emergency food, to families who are at struggling point, as well as signposting them to other services in the local area.
“Many Trussell Trust foodbanks, including Hartlepool Foodbank, are partnering with other agencies to provide additional services such as welfare advice, budgeting help and debt support from their premises, helping people to break out of crisis.”
Nationally last year 1,084,604 people – including 396,997 children – received three days’ food from the Trussell Trust’s network of foodbanks in 2014/15, compared with 913,138 in the 2013/14 financial year, an increase of 19 per cent.
Trussell Trust UK foodbank director Adrian Curtis said:
“Despite welcome signs of economic recovery, hunger continues to affect significant numbers of men, women and children in the UK today. It’s difficult to be sure of the full extent of the problem as Trussell Trust figures don’t include people who are helped by other food charities or those who feel too ashamed to seek help.
Adrian Curtis added: “Trussell Trust foodbanks are increasingly hosting additional services like debt counselling and welfare advice at our foodbanks, which is helping more people out of crisis. The Trussell Trust’s latest figures highlight how vital it is that we all work to prevent and relieve hunger in the UK. It’s crucial that we listen to the experiences of people using foodbanks to truly understand the nature of the problems they face; what people who have gone hungry have to say holds the key to finding the solution.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 23 Apr 2015
> Coming soon – the Pope is a Catholic, study finds….
Austerity policies such as cuts to welfare and local services are driving the rapid spread of food banks in the UK, according to an academic study.
The Oxford University research shows emergency food aid is most concentrated in areas where there are high levels of joblessness and benefit sanctions.
The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition persistently refused to acknowledge a link between its economic and social security policies and the explosion in food banks.
But the Oxford study, published in the British Medical Journal, shows demand for food parcels is strongest where poverty is accompanied by restrictions on, and reductions in, social assistance.
“More food banks are opening in areas experiencing greater cuts in spending on local services and central welfare benefits and higher unemployment rates.”
The study, which uses data supplied by the UK’s biggest food bank network, the Trussell Trust, finds food banks operated in 20 UK council areas in 2009-10. By 2013-14 they existed in 251 areas.
At the same time, the rate of food aid distribution tripled between 2010 and 2013 from about 0.6 food parcels per 100 people to 2.2 per 100.
There were stark variations between local areas, from a low of less than 0.1 food parcels per 100 people in Lichfield, Staffordshire, to a high of eight parcels per 100 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
These in part reflected the fact that some areas had more or longer-established food banks, the study found.
Even taking this into account, higher rates of food parcel distribution were still “significantly associated” with welfare cuts and austerity measures.
In particular, the prevalence in an area of benefit sanctions – where unemployed claimants who do not meet jobcentre rules have their payments stopped for at least four weeks – was a strong indicator of food parcel use.
The study says:
“The rise in food bank use is … concentrated in communities where more people are experiencing benefit sanctions.
“Food parcel distribution is higher in areas where food banks are more common and better established, but our data also show that the local authorities with greater rates of sanctions and austerity are experiencing greater rates of people seeking emergency food assistance.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said:
“The government spends £94bn a year on working-age benefits and provides a wide range of advice and assistance for anyone in need of additional support.
“The vast majority of benefits are processed on time with improvements being made year on year and the number of sanctions has actually gone down.”
The lead author of the study, Rachel Loopstra, said it was likely to have “underestimated the true burden of food insecurity in the UK” because food aid provision is patchy and data collection is relatively crude.
She called for further research to capture the full extent of food insecurity and food bank use in the UK. One of the last acts of the coalition was to reject a cross-party call for the government to collect robust data on food poverty.
The study is the latest in a string of separate reports linking welfare reform to food bank use, from poverty charities, churches, MPs, and food banks.
Source – The Guardian, 09 Apr 2015
A Labour government would tackle the root causes of the increase in the use of food banks across the UK, with the party to pledge that they “can never be allowed to become a permanent feature of British society”.
Shadow ministers will promise to solve jobcentre benefit delays, halt the proliferation of benefit sanctions, and address low pay in a five-point plan aimed at reducing the number of people forced to turn to food banks.
They will cite Trussell Trust statistics showing that nearly a million people used food banks in 2013-14, figures that are generally assumed to underestimate the number of people who went hungry as a result of food insecurity over the period.
Labour will promise a cross-government approach to end what it calls the “chaos of food policy” under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, and will say that a Labour administration will make tackling food bank dependency a specific ministerial responsibility.
A target would be set to reduce the number of people who cite delays in benefits being processed as the prime reason for using food banks. Benefits typically take around 16 working days to process, although backlogs mean many disability benefit claimants have waited for several months.
Studies have shown that benefit sanctions – when payments are stopped for alleged rule infringements – are the prime reason for between 10% and 30% of food bank users being referred for food aid.
Labour says it will abolish jobcentre targets for increasing sanctions, and make hardship funds more quickly available for those who are sanctioned. The party has a longstanding commitment to abolish the bedroom tax, which is also driving food bank use in some areas of the UK.
It has also promised to address low pay, by raising the minimum wage to at least £8 an hour before 2020, promoting a Living Wage and ending zero-hours contracts, so that working people do not suffer the humiliation of being referred to food banks to put meals on the table.
The plan is a clear statement from Labour that it considers welfare reforms to be the biggest single driver of food bank use, a connection the government has always strenuously denied.
The shadow environment, food and rural affairs secretary, Maria Eagle, will say in a visit to a London food bank on Wednesday:
“The Tories’ attitude to the relentless rise in hunger in Britain speaks volumes for who they stand up for. They refuse to accept any responsibility for it, despite the fact their policies are making it worse.
“Labour will take a strategic and joined-up approach to food policy to ensure that everybody has the chance to eat safe, nutritious and affordable food, now and in the future. Emergency food aid should remain just that – food banks can never be allowed to become a permanent feature of British society.”
Numerous studies by charities and academics in the past 18 months have linked welfare reform, austerity and the shrinking of the welfare safety net to the rise in poverty and food bank use. Food banks were practically unknown in the UK five years ago, when the coalition was formed.
However, ministers have insisted there is no robust evidence that social security policy has triggered the rise in food bank use. The welfare minister, Lord Freud, argued that food bank use had expanded because charity food parcels were “free”.
The Trussell Trust, which runs 420 food banks across the UK, is committed to reducing the number of people needing to use them, but its policy is to keep a “safety net” service in place in each major town.
Source – The Guardian, 25 Mar 2015
New figures reveal that families with children have paid an average £1,800 more in tax, as a direct result of the government’s VAT hike.
David Cameron and the Tory-led coalition government increased the rate of VAT from 17.5% to 20% in 2011. A move which has had a devastating impact on low-income families, many still struggling to cope with rising energy prices, cuts in welfare benefits and years of below inflation wage rises – a real-terms cut in income.
VAT can be charged on a number of different items including food, adult clothes, gadgets and household appliances – among others.
Items such as gas and electricity for the domestic home is usually charged at what is known as the ‘discount rate’. Some other items are ‘zero rated’ or ‘VAT free‘: such as baby wear, children’s clothing, children’s footwear and newspapers.
However, treasury figures analysed by Labour reveal how the 2.5% hike in VAT costs a couple with children £450 a year on average. This means that over the course of this parliament hard-up families have paid a total of £1,800 more in tax under David Cameron.
Food bank charity Trussell Trust helped to feed more than 913,000 people with three days worth of emergency food aid in 2013, including 330,205 children – up from 40,898 in 2009/10.
The second most common reason given for turning to food banks is ‘low income’ (20.29%), while benefit delays are cited as the primary reason (30.93%).
Labour said the Tories have gifted the top one percent of earners with tax cuts, “while everyone else faces a cost-of-living crisis”.
Shabana Mahmood MP, Labour’s Shadow Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, said:
“Before the last election David Cameron and George Osborne said they had no plans to raise VAT, but that’s exactly what they did after they got in.
“Raising VAT on families and pensioners is what Tory governments always do”, she said.
> And everyone who isn’t part of a family or a pensioner too – please lets be inclusive about this . We all pay VAT.
“These figures show that over the last four years a family with children has paid £1800 more in higher VAT under the Tories.”
“The truth is that the only people who have got a big tax cut under this Government are those earning over £150,000.
“And while everyone else faces a cost-of-living crisis, the Tories have refused to rule out another VAT rise in the next Parliament to pay for their £7 billion of unfunded tax promises.”
Shabana Mahmood said a Labour government would “balance the books in a fairer way”.
Adding: “We’ll cut taxes for 24 million people through a lower 10p starting rate of tax, freeze energy bills, cut business rates and expand free childcare for working parents.
Labour would also reverse “David Cameron’s £3 billion a year tax cut for the top one per cent of earners.”
Sourece – Welfare Weekly, 04 Jan 2015
> Another for the “Really ? Who’d have thought it ?” file.
New benefit rules forcing claimants to wait at least five weeks before they receive any cash will increase demand on food banks, says the TUC.
Under current rules new claimants have to wait an average of two weeks before they receive their first benefit payment. But with the introduction of Universal Credit new claimants will not be eligible for any financial support during the first week of their claim, and will then have to wait a further month before any benefits are paid.
The warning comes in response to a cross-party inquiry into hunger and child poverty, which found that delays in benefit payments is one of primary reasons for soaring numbers of food bank users.
In the last year the food bank charity Trussell Trust helped more than 900,000 people with three-days worth of emergency food aid, with some experts suggesting the true extent of food poverty in the UK could be in the millions.
The new five-week wait for benefits will not only affect people who are unfortunate enough to be made redundant, but also anyone who is unable to continue working due to ill-health or disability – regardless of how long they’ve been in work or how much they’ve paid in National Insurance contributions.
A recent TUC poll found that 70% of people are worried about having to wait five weeks for benefits if they were to become unemployed.
TUC launched the ‘Saving Our Safety Net’ campaign earlier this year, which seeks to challenge the new rule and other benefit changes that undermine the social security system we all pay in to and could need at any moment.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“The government is introducing what amounts to a ‘food banks first’ policy for anyone who loses their job or becomes too sick or disabled to work.
“It’s unrealistic and unfair to make new claimants wait five weeks or more before they receive any cash.
“While it is right to deal with people who abuse the system, ministers are now undermining the social security safety net that any of us might need.
“The government’s welfare reforms are attacking people who have done nothing wrong at a time when they most need help.”
The DWP is sending new guidance to 700 job centres, informing them that they must make claimants aware of ‘short-term cash advances’ which may be available while their claim is processed.
Responding to the announcement, Labour MP Frank Field said:
“It is vital both that emergency payments are made available and that they are actively publicised to prevent the need for using a food bank.”
He added the Government should take action to “limit the amount of time it takes to process a claim”.
> Frank Field may say that – election on the horizon, etc – but I doubt that he means any of it. I do rather hope he gets dumped at the next election – though sadly he won’t have to wait 5 weeks for money to buy food.
Only a small number of people will be eligible for emergency support while they wait for the first benefit payment to come through, say the TUC.
> Well thank you TUC, its nice to know you’re catching up at last. Now, what are you going to do about it ?
Source – Welfare Weekly, 08 Dec 2014
This article was written by Rowena Mason and Patrick Butler, for The Guardian on Tuesday 11th March 2014
The Department for Work and Pensions is advising jobcentres on how to send people to food banks, official documents show – despite ministers’ claiming the charitable support forms no part of the welfare system.
Ministers insist jobcentres “do not refer people to food banks or issue vouchers” and that food banks are “absolutely not a part of the welfare system because we have other means of supporting people”. They say jobcentres only “signpost” the existence of food banks and dispute the link between welfare changes and a surge in their use.
However, documents obtained under freedom of information laws show there is a “high level process” written by the DWP to be followed when benefit claimants say they are in hardship because of government policy and need food.
A six-step flowchart for jobcentre staff shows that the four reasons to recommend a food bank when claimants ask for help are hardship caused by benefit changes, benefit payment delays, a benefit advance has been refused, or the advance is not enough to meet their needs.
Jobcentres that choose to offer a food bank referral “service” are told to do a health and safety assessment before sending people to a particular charity.
As part of the process, Jobcentre Plus staff fill in a slip with the claimant’s details but another document orders them, in bold letters, not to describe this as a “food voucher” – apparently so as not to erode the argument that they are not part of the welfare system.
The documents show each jobcentre is told to write down how many people have been sent to food banks on a “slip record sheet”, even though the DWP has said: “Food banks are not part of government policy and, as such, the Department for Work and Pensions does not hold or collect information on their usage.”
The latest statistics from the Trussell Trust, which oversees a network of more than 400 food banks in the UK, show 614,000 adults and children received food parcels from its food banks in the first nine months of 2013-14, compared with 350,000 for the whole of 2012-13.
Benefit changes and delays – including instances where claimants had their benefits sanctioned, or stopped for breaches of conditionality – accounted for 49% of referrals to trust food banks to the end of December. In 2012-13 these categories accounted for 43% of referrals.
Although the DWP says it does not refer people to food banks, one of the documents obtained by the Guardian is entitled Foodbank Referral Service – High Level Process. The DWP said the guidance had mistakenly been issued by staff dealing with the freedom of information request. It said all guidance to Jobcentre Plus had now been modified to change the word “referral” to “signposting” – even though the process for directing those in need of aid to food banks appears to be exactly the same.
DWP officials say people are “signposted” to food banks only if other options are exhausted, as local authorities now have responsibility for emergency food aid. However, the official DWP food bank guidance for jobcentres makes no reference to alternative help from local authorities.
The DWP added: “The benefits system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed and there is no robust evidence that welfare reforms are linked to increased use of food banks. Our reforms are fair and mean the welfare system will remain what it was always intended to be – a safety net for people at times of need.”
Labour said the DWP’s arguments that the government is not relying on food banks to fill a gap in the welfare system were unravelling. “Last year ministers said, ‘food banks are absolutely not part of our welfare system’, yet these official DWP documents show a system for referrals has been established,” said Luciana Berger, shadow public health minister. “If ministers cannot answer the simplest of questions about their department, how can we have any confidence they will tackle the rising number of people who are having to access emergency food aid?
“As the queues at food banks grow with hundreds of thousands of people forced to use food banks to survive so too do the costs to our public health and wellbeing. Food banks have become a truly shameful symbol of Britain under this Tory-led government.”
Esther McVey, the employment minister, had refused to release the guidance to Berger, saying: “It is not common practice in DWP to publish internal guidance.”
Chris Mould, the executive chairman of the Trussell Trust, said despite the guidance, jobcentre practice on charity food support varied across the country.
A small number of jobcentres had good relationships with local food banks, some ignored food banks altogether and others referred claimants to food banks “indiscriminately and without thinking”.
The Trussell Trust and the DWP agreed in 2011 after months of discussions that jobcentre staff should be able to send claimants to food banks. However, ministers continued to insist this only amounted to “signposting” in the right direction.
Last year, officials unilaterally changed the referral forms to remove the reasons why someone may have been sent to a food bank. Critics said this move made it harder for food bank staff to identify whether clients had been referred as a consequence of welfare reform.
Mould said: “The debate about whether food banks are part of the welfare state is a bit of a red herring. The real issue is about why people go hungry”.
Source – Welfare News Service, 12 March 2014
Former Tory MP Edwina Currie, has once again caused fury after criticising the work of food banks, arguing that they end up making people poorer and put local shops out of business.
Writing for The Spectator’s Coffee House blog, she claims that the Trussell Trust is “having a field day”, as they do they not own a “single food bank” preferring to “merely advise” other organisations – the Trussell Trust operates over 400 food banks nationwide – citing the “170 per cent increase in people using food banks” in the previous 12 months.
Edwina Currie argues that “anyone with their wits about them can grasp” that the more food banks there are supplying free food, the more “takers” they will have queuing at the door.
> After all, that’s the world as it appears to Tory MPs (even ex- ones). Grab anything that’s going – expenses anyone ? Here, take as much as you can carry…
In addition, she claims that as the use of food banks is equated to a rise in poverty, “well-meaning groups” are using the data as a stick to “beat the government” with. However, in their bid to “do something to help” they “may be perpetuating the problems that brought people to their doorstep in the first place”.
> Presumably by “ perpetuating the problems that brought people to their doorstep in the first place” she means by helping people to stay alive. If they were allowed to starve to death, they wouldn’t need food, would they ?
In her opinion there are three categories of people who use food banks:
1. People with long-term issues, such as addiction, alcoholism and mental illness
This category will struggle whether there was prosperity or recession she says, adding that services for them are frequently atrocious, with long waiting lists . Rather than acknowledge that it may be NHS funding that is the problem, she blames Councils saying she “despairs” when they divert money from health programmes to food banks, adding that it is a “dereliction of duty”. Using Manchester as an example, she say’s the £240,000 they have spent on food banks would be better spent on addiction clinics.
2. People with short-term problems, such as debt, or late benefit payments
Mrs Currie argues that despite food bank operators claiming it is for “emergencies only”, they continually help the “same faces” coming to claim their “free tin of soup”. She cites how Canada made the same claim “over 25 years ago” and that there is now a lot of “soul-searching about their role in maintaining people in a hand-to-mouth existence instead of confronting failure and helping them change course”.
> Perhaps those “same faces” are people who’ve been given long term sanctions as a reult of government policy ?
3. People who are not poor
Once more, Mrs Currie claims “benefits can be substantial”, arguing that this category of people make a deliberate choice to stay on benefits in order to get the “free food”.
> Really ? These will presumably be the same people who have wide-screen TV’s, foreign holidays and keep the pub trade going almost single-handidly. Strangely, I’ve never actually met one of them in real life…I’d love to find out their secrets 🙂 File under : urban myth, I think.
For Mrs Currie, the Government should “tackle this perverse incentive”. However this is easier said than done as the “kindly” food bank operators rarely have resources to visit their users homes. She believes – like herself – they would be “incensed” at the “well-fed dogs, the obligatory wide-screen TVs (aha !), the satellite dishes, the manicures and mobiles – and the car parked outside” adding “Desperate? No, not all of them”.
> So she’s advocating a means test ? No free food until you’ve sold everything you own.
For her, food banks and the free food they give, are supporting a “black economy” and pauperising those they seek to help, comparing their actions with that of giving money to ‘homeless’ beggars on the streets of London; saying it encourages “more of what it seeks to relieve”. Furthermore, she continues by saying food banks are having a “pernicious effect” on the local economy. She claims the reason why some Liverpool streets – where she grew up – have betting shops and pawnbrokers only, is because there is no need for a food store “if enough local residents can get their groceries for nothing. Adding that the absence or indeed closure of a food store “affects everyone, including those who don’t qualify for the food bank”.
These latest controversial comments come just one week after Trussell Trust Foodbank Network manager for Northern England – Anne Danks, “condemned” Mrs Currie’s claims that families were using food banks as they spent their cash on “tattoos and big screen televisions instead of food”.
She added: “Edwina Currie’s comments are just a ridiculous stereotyping of people who come to the food bank and of the people who live in poverty, and things like the Benefits Street programme reinforce the attitude of people like Edwina Currie who actually have no idea of what food banks do. It’s my job to help people realise food banks are not places used by ‘wasters’ and ‘scroungers’. The reality is our users are simply people who don’t earn enough because food and fuel prices have skyrocketed.”
Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent South, Rob Flello said he was ‘incensed’ following a comment by Edwina Currie that she could not see how emergency food aid would provide a long-term solution.
Rob Flello said: “Mrs Currie’s remarks are outrageous. I find it astonishing that a former health minister who claims to have her finger on the pulse should express such ill-informed views that are completely divorced from reality”.
He added: “I invite Mrs Currie to spend a day with me in the Potteries talking to people who run and use food banks. Only then may she realise how out of touch she really is.”
> Another attempt to put the blame for poverty squarely on the poor, unemployment on the unemployed, disability on the disabled… it’s amazing that anyone still falls for this nonsense.
Source – Welfare News Service 29 Jan 2014