Rising living costs, stagnate wages and welfare reform are frequently cited as the primary causes for rising food poverty and in increase in the demand for food banks.
New research reveals the stark reality behind food poverty in the UK and shows how benefit changes are fuelling soaring levels of hunger and poverty.
Think Money surveyed 70 independent food banks to discover why more families than ever before are turning to them for help.
The survey also reveals the growing strain felt by food banks, as a growing number of families regularly go without food and struggle to cope with welfare cuts.
There has been a 66% increase in the number of independent food banks opening over the last three years. This is in addition to food banks operated by larger providers like Trussell Trust, who handed out more than one million food parcels in 2014-15.
A staggering 59% of food banks users say they frequently go without food three or more times a week.
A Conservative MP has said stopping payments to benefit claimants is forcing people to food banks – contradicting a Government minister overseeing the crackdown.
Andrew Percy, who represents Brigg and Goole on Humberside, went on to criticise the “consistency” of the benefits sanctions regime and called for a review.
His comments in the House of Commons came minutes after Employment Minster Priti Patel argued there is “no robust evidence that directly links sanctions and food bank use”.
Benefit claimants can have their payments suspended or docked if they break the rules, but critics claim many of the breaches are trivial. The Work and Pensions Committee of MPs has twice called for an independent inquiry.
The Trussell Trust charity says a record one million packages were given out by food banks last year.
Mr Percy’s intervention followed the Labour frontbench and two SNP MPs berating the Government for fuelling the need for hand-outs of food parcels.
I asked the Jobcentre to let me have work experience there so I could dig up some dirt on the DWP. I did the work experience in another JCP in a different area from 9th March 2015 to 26th March 2015. All names are changed.
Alarm bells started to ring before I’d even started the placement. As I read the training material I overheard a man getting referred to the decision-maker for not applying for jobs. For the first job, there was no bus to get there on time. The other job he didn’t apply for required qualifications he didn’t have.
At about 10:15 on the first day of my work experience (Tuesday 10th March 2015) administrator Pammy said shows like Benefits Britain make her angry because those programmes depict JCP staff as “ogres” but it’s the benefits claimants who are lazy. “They were sanctioned for a reason,” she kept saying.
Pammy said the show had portrayed a lone mum with three kids who was sanctioned and now dependent on a food bank. The woman said she was feeding her kids out of the freezer but didn’t have enough frozen food to feed them. Pammy called her “lazy” and said she should “buy fresh food then” and that she obviously “has an attitude problem.”
During my time in the Jobcentre I saw numerous examples of staff insensitivity towards ESA claimants and customers who were ill. An ESA claimant came in asking why he hadn’t been paid. It turned out that his benefits had been stopped because he hadn’t got a ‘sick line’ (note of unfitness for work) from his GP to prove he was still unfit for work.
In response to my question about why he was on ESA, Pammy said he might be depressed. She said this is a “lazy attitude” but that now his benefit is stopped then he’ll go because he wants benefits. She kept repeating this point, convinced that benefits were the only thing that motivated depressed people (or Jobcentre customers generally).
Another morning, a JSA claimant told me she was now sanctioned and applying for hardship funds. She’d been ill and missed a Jobcentre appointment. She had phoned the doctor and went to get sick note the next day but her GP wouldn’t give her one because they didn’t see her the day she was ill, so she was sanctioned.
A man who was claiming JSA came into the Jobcentre to explain that he didn’t sign-on on Friday because he went to a funeral. Pammy said he would “probably” be referred to a decision-maker and maybe he’d get sanctioned. She also criticised him for waiting until 1pm the next working day (Monday) to inform the Jobcentre instead of telling them on Friday, the day of the funeral.
G4S security guard (‘Customer Care Officer’) Bob pointed out a customer to me and claimed he was a lost cause. He said some claimants would “like you to think [they’re looking for work]” but they aren’t, and he “will never get a job, who would hire him, would you give him a job?” Bob then suggested “They should just be wiped out, we shouldn’t have to deal with them”.
A new foodbank distribution point has opened in a small village.
The County Durham Foodbank food collection point will operate from the YMCA at Fencehouses near Chester-le-Street every Tuesday from 1pm to 3pm.
Stuart Hudson, Foodbank distribution centres manager, said:
“We are always looking for areas that will benefit from a Foodbank presence to meet the needs of those within communities who are in crisis.
“YMCA Fencehouses have identified that their local community would benefit from Foodbank support and we are looking forward to building relationships with referral agencies, local communities and the YMCA.”
Project lead David McCreedy said:
“For any Foodbank, feeding people in financial crisis is what they do.
“At Fencehouses YMCA Foodbank however, we consider that it is equally important to identify why people are becoming hungry and to take action to reduce food poverty. We will work with those using the Foodbank to support them in other areas of their difficult predicament.”
The County Durham Foodbank takes referrals from various agencies and currently runs 27 distribution points. Last year it provided 15,500 three-day food parcels to 9,963 individuals, many affected by welfare reforms or benefit delays.
A church minister has written a stirring and emotional letter to David Cameron, urging the Prime Minister to meet with victims of austerity and consider the “social and human cost” of Tory policies.
In a letter posted on the social network Facebook, which has been shared over 100,000 times and sent to Downing Street, Reverend Mike Walsh says he agrees with the PM that the best route out of poverty is by moving into work. But says David Cameron doesn’t seem to understand that people are scared about “what your policies will do to our communities and families”.
“Scared of what will happen to our health service and our schools. Scared of losing our family homes for the sake of a few quid saving from the bedroom tax, or not being able to heat our home and have enough left to buy food.”
Reverend Walsh, from The United Reformed Church, says Tory policies are “couched in terms of reducing the deficit and balancing the books”, and pleaded with Mr Cameron “to govern for everyone and unite the country”.
“The country isn’t a business, it’s its people. All its people. And you are everyone’s Prime Minister whether we voted for you or not.”
David Cameron may better understand the human cost of austerity measures if he spent “a week or two living on the minimum wage, or volunteer in a food bank”, says Reverend Walsh.
“Go to Liverpool and meet people with disabled dependents who can’t afford even one nanny, or to Newcastle and talk to people still living in poverty due to the demise of the coal industry.”
He added: “If you do that, then maybe you can heal some of the fractures in our society. Without this I just don’t believe you can see just how crucial these issues are.”
Foodbank charity Trussell Trust gave out more than one million food parcels in 2014/15, with benefit delays cited as the primary cause of rising food poverty in the UK.
The full letter reads:
Dear Prime Minister,
I don’t know if you will ever read this, but I have some things I wish to say to you.
You have won the General Election and command a majority in the House of Commons, and as such will feel you have a legitimate mandate to govern. However, you must also know that you don’t command a majority of the British people.
Although our political views are very much at odds on many issues, I’m willing to believe that you are a good man, as sure of your ideals as I am of mine, and believe your plan is what’s best for us all. You said today that you will govern for the whole country and bring back together that which has clearly fractured. I hope you will.
But Prime Minister, though you can obviously see your party did not win the confidence of Scotland and huge swathes of the north of England, I’m not sure your party quite understands why. It’s not because we’re all ‘loony-left’ or extremists and nationalists, it’s because so many of us are scared. Scared of what your policies will do to our communities and families. Scared of what will happen to our health service and our schools. Scared of losing our family homes for the sake of a few quid saving from the bedroom tax, or not being able to heat our home and have enough left to buy food.
I don’t disagree with you that the best way out of poverty is to work, nor do I think that people should get something for nothing and expect the tax-payer to support people indefinitely if they are able to work. Who would think that that was ok and fair?
But your party’s policies on these issues, couched in terms of reducing the deficit and balancing the books, don’t seem to take into account the social and human cost of such actions. The country isn’t a business, it’s its people. All its people. And you are everyone’s Prime Minister whether we voted for you or not.
You said today you will govern for everyone and unite the country. I hope you do. But to be able to do so you need to make it a priority in your first 100 days, to spend time in Scotland visiting people on zero hours contracts. Come to Manchester and talk with those who have been sanctioned for having a spare room, but have nowhere else to go. Go to Liverpool and meet people with disabled dependents who can’t afford even one nanny, or to Newcastle and talk to people still living in poverty due to the demise of the coal industry. Spend a week or two living on the minimum wage, or volunteer in a food bank for a whole day.
Then Prime Minister you might begin to understand the cost of your policies from the other side, to see people as more than their net contribution to the economy, or as deliberate drains on the system. If you do that, then maybe you can heal some of the fractures in our society. Without this I just don’t believe you can see just how crucial these issues are.
So please Prime Minister, leave Westminster for a few hours a week and truly strive to govern for all of us.
The number of people reliant on food banks to help feed themselves and their families could rocket to more than two million, according to new research.
Research by Dr Rachel Loopstra, from Oxford University, forecasts that Tory plans for a further £12bn in welfare cuts could lead to a doubling in food banks users by 2017.
Trussell Trust, who operates over 440 food banks, gave out 1,084,604 emergency food parcels in 2014/15 – up from 61,468 in 2010/11.
The charity is just one of many food bank providers, charities and churches supporting hungry families across the UK.
The research also shows that rising food bank use is due to higher demand, rather than greater supply – as claimed by some government ministers.
According to a formula devised by Dr Loopstra, the number of food parcels given out per head of the population rises by 0.16% for every 1% cut in welfare spending.
Dr Loopstra said: “It coincides with spending cuts, welfare reform and record numbers of benefit claimants losing payments due to sanctions.”
Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves seized on the figures, saying they were further evidence of the hardship and misery caused by Tory welfare policy.
“It would be an absolute disgrace for food bank use to double”, she said.
“The welfare state is there to provide a safety net. It’s not doing what it’s meant to do when people have to rely on charity.”
Reeves said David Cameron’s pledge of more savage cuts to welfare benefits means he has no choice but to cut working-age benefits, because the Tories have ruled out any changes to pensions and pensioner benefits.
“The Tories cannot achieve their £12bn of cuts to social security without doing so and hitting family budgets hard”, she said.
“Child benefit and tax credits are now on the ballot paper next week. Labour will protect them, and families across the country now know the Tories will cut them again.”
Reeves blamed benefit delays, sanctions and the hated bedroom tax for the increased demand on food banks.
She said Labour was the only party committed to reducing the reliance on food banks.
> But hang on… didn’t she say Labour didn’t want to be the party of the unemployed ? And aren’t Labour promising more Workfare ?
“A Labour government would do this by axing the bedroom tax, getting rid of benefit sanctions targets and introducing protections for people with mental health problems, carers, pregnant women and people at risk of domestic violence.”
She added: “It’s inevitable, if the Tories get back in, that we will see further food bank use.”
Trussell Trust’s Adrian Curtis said: “Despite welcome signs of economic recovery, hunger continues to affect significant numbers in the UK today.”
The Green Party in government would double Child Benefit to £40 and reverse the closure of the Independent Living Fund.
Speaking at an event in Bristol, deputy leader Amelia Womack said it’s “scandalous” that families are forced to turn to food banks in the worlds sixth richest country.
“There are now 117 billionaires in the very same Britain where one in five workers earn less than a Living Wage”, she said.
“Austerity hurts the most vulnerable people in society – punishing the poor and the vulnerable for the mistakes and fraud of the bankers.”
Amelia Womack said the Green Party would reverse the closure of the Independent Living Fund, which enables disabled people to live as independently as possible in their own homes – rather than residential care homes.
“Nearly 18,000 disabled people with high-support needs rely on the fund to live their lives with choice and control, rather than going into residential care or being trapped at home”, said Womack.
“On 30th June the funding and responsibility of ILF care and support needs will transfer to local authorities. There is no obligation to use the money specifically for ILF.
“This cut in central Government funding puts at risk some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.
“Keeping the Independent Living Fund would cost around £300 million – and I’m proud to say the Green Party is committing to doing just that. We won’t stand by while this lifeline is cut away.”
She added: “But the Green Party isn’t just opposed to cuts – we believe in doing more, much more, to redistribute income within our society.
“That’s why we’re being honest about the fact that we’d increase tax for the richest in society – and it’s why we’re able to pledge that we’d double child benefit to £40 a week. For the 29% of children here in Bristol West who live in poverty, this increase will be life changing.
“It’s bold policies like these that set the Green Party apart from others. We don’t offer half-measures, or minor changes.
“In the midst of such struggle in this country, the Green Party are offering something unique: hope. We make this one very clear promise to voters: we will always stand for an economy, a society, that works for the many, not just the few.
“That means our MPs will never blame the most vulnerable for the mistakes of those at the top.
“It means that our MPs won’t go into any sort of deal with the Tories. And it means we’ll give a Labour Government a backbone – but we won’t hesitate to vote against them to ensure we’re true to our principles.”
Worried parents of premature children fighting for their lives are facing crippling financial costs running into thousands of pounds.
A special North East foodbank has now been set up to help some mums and dads who would otherwise go hungry just so they can afford to visit their poorly children in hospital.
Research has found that parents with a baby in neonatal care in the region spend on average £280 a week.
With the average stay being eight weeks, this results in a total of £2,240. But a significant number of babies will spend considerably longer, up to six months.
Now, a regional charity is funding a paediatric social worker to provide emotional support to parents, advise them on financial issues and helps access funding.
Tiny Lives, the charity which supports the work of the Special Care Baby Unit at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary is supporting Fiona Ewing in her role working with those struggling to cope.
On top of the daily parking, travel and food expenses, some dads have reported losing their jobs as they battle to juggle work with visits and having to rush to hospital at a moment’s notice when their baby’s condition takes a turn for the worse.
Many mums of premature babies also find themselves facing delays to benefit payments as their maternity leave was not due to start for many weeks, or even months. Some families are still paying off the debts months after their babies have returned home.
Carol Meredith, head of Tiny Lives, said:
“It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. Your baby is fighting for their life in hospital. You can’t hold them, you can’t even touch them. As a mum or dad all you’d want to do is be there by their incubator as it’s all that you can do.
“But on top of this many families are having to stop and consider how are they going to afford to pay for it. Babies come to the unit for specialist care from across the North East and Cumbria so many parents have long daily journeys or may have to stay in Newcastle. As well as the travel and parking, the daily cost of buying food can soon add up.”
Fiona said parents in this situation are often faced with a number of problems.
“Just because your baby is in special care, time doesn’t stand still and there are still bills to pay.
“Families often need benefits advice as income levels can reduce significantly with early labour. Maternity Allowance may need to be applied for. This application requires six months of relevant wage slips – not too easy to get hold of if you live in Whitehaven, Cumbria and your baby is in critical care in Newcastle.
“Fathers may need help in negotiating time off from employment, or emotional support when this is not granted and when employment is threatened. I have experience of several fathers who have lost their jobs as a result of their babies SCBU admission.
“If a baby has longer term complex health needs there may be entitlement to Disability Living Allowance. This is a 42 page applicable pack, a bit daunting, so I help establish eligibility and complete these forms.
“Other practical assistance may be in helping with housing issues, especially if the child has very complex health needs or disability.
“We can help with parking and travel costs and the social workers at the hospital have set up our own food bank. When you are in the middle of a city centre there is no access to cheap supermarkets and the cost of food quickly adds up. We used to refer families to one of the city’s food banks but it is so busy now that we set up our own.
“I am also there to allow parents to let off steam. Special Care can be a scary, place,
“Having a premature baby brings with a range of emotions, from shock and disbelief to guilt and anger as well as having to face the possibility that your baby might not survive or will have long term health problems.”
This year Fiona’s role will be funded in partnership with Newcastle law firm Sintons, who launched their year of fundraising with an abseil from their offices.
Kayleigh Emmerson’s son Connor was born at just 25 weeks on November 18 2014.
He weighed just 1lb 10oz and spent 101 days on SCBU, but is now a thriving little boy.
Kayleigh, 24, from Newcastle, said:
“We wanted to be there every day. It was the only way we could feel like parents, as there was nothing else we could do for him. It was awful when you had to leave him crying.
“But the car parks and bus fares added up. Then there was the food. When you’re in the city centre every day buying a sandwich or going to the hospital canteen gets very expensive.
“Our heads were all over the place and the first thing on your mind is just that you want to see your baby and you want them to get better, but then after a while you have to think do I actually have the money to go on the bus or buy food to eat?
“I was working as a sales assistant but wasn’t supposed to start my maternity leave until the end of January. We had a massive gap before my maternity pay could be sorted out because he was born so early. Fiona was always checking on us and making sure we’d had something to eat and that was the time the food bank really helped us.
“She really cares about people and she helped us with everything, from just being there to talk to helping us with forms and giving us advice.”