April 9, 2014
The government’s welfare reforms, including benefit sanctions and the bedroom tax, are a central factor in the explosion in the numbers of impoverished people turning to charity food banks, an academic study has said.
The study, part of a three-year investigation into emergency food provision, was carried out by Hannah Lambie-Mumford, a Sheffield University researcher who co-authored a recently published government report into the extent of food aid in the UK.
That report concluded there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate a clear causal link between welfare reform and food bank demand in the UK. But Lambie-Mumford’s new study, to be published on Wednesday, says the rise in demand for charity food is a clear signal “of the inadequacy of both social security provision and the processes by which it is delivered”.
The report warns that as social security safety nets become weaker, there is a danger that charity food could become an integral part of the state welfare provision, or even an replacement for formerly state-funded emergency welfare schemes.
Lambie-Mumford’s study was based on 25 in-depth interviews with a range of food bank staff and volunteers in 2012 and 2013 and found many food banks were adapting to demand by scaling up food collection and storage provision “to accommodate the future trajectory of need”.
Her paper will be presented to an all-party committee of MPs which meets on Wednesday to finalise the terms of an inquiry into hunger and food poverty. The inquiry will examine the rise of food banks, an issue that has become politically charged as ministers attempt to deflect criticism that austerity policies, including welfare cuts, have had the effect of compelling more people on low incomes to rely on food aid.
Lambie-Mumford said her research showed that food banks were expanding to meet rising demand caused in part by a squeeze on welfare entitlements which made already poor people even worse off. This was compounded by inadequate processing of social security claims, including payment delays and “arbitrary and unfair” sanctioning decisions that left claimants without any income at all. There were other factors which had contributed to the rise of food banks, such as low wages and the rise in the cost of food. But it was important that MPs did not duck or underplay the importance of welfare reform. “The tricky thing is that welfare reform is the most political aspect of a political issue. But we should not shy away from it for this reason,” she said.
The welfare minister Lord Freud notoriously claimed last year that more people were going to food banks because the food was free, thereby triggering “almost infinite demand”. Last month Freud admitted people did not turn up “willingly” at food banks but said it was “very hard to know why” they did go.
The Trussell trust, which oversees a network of more than 400 food banks in the UK, has insisted repeatedly that welfare reform is the biggest driver of demand for food parcels. Its third-quarter data, published in March, showed that it helped 614,000 people in the first nine months of this year. Its final-year figures, expected next week, are likely to show that demand has more than doubled in the past 12 months. More than eight out of 10 food bank managers interviewed for the study acknowledged the impact of welfare changes and welfare processes as a factor in driving demand.
A DWP spokesperson said: “This report, which is based on just 25 interviews, fails to consider how welfare reforms are helping people off benefits and into jobs. The truth is that we now have record numbers of people in work, the highest employment rate for five years, and falling unemployment.” A DWP spokesman later added that the report “gave a one-sided view”.
A remarkable comment, given that the DWP don’t track people leaving benefits. This means that government claims of numbers “helped off benefits and into jobs” include those who are sanctioned, those awaiting appeal, mandatory review, the dead, those in hospital and those in prison. I think it’s about time the DWP’s outrageous lies were challenged.
It’s not a difficult task for a government to guarantee a safety-net that is always available for anyone who falls on hard times during an era of huge social and economic change. We all fund it, after all. And we all know that unemployment, injury or illness may happen to anyone through no fault of their own. I consider it a duty of any first world government to provide the means of basic survival for its citizens and fund that with the money we contribute via taxes. In fact such social and economic welfare is a human right. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the UK is a signatory to, reads:
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
The Tories prefer to spend the tax they take from you on Tory donors – private companies that don’t deliver a service but simply fleece profit, on undeserving millionaires’ tax breaks – the feckless, scrounging rich had at least £107,000 each per year extra already. Then there is the never ending line up of Tory expense scandals – all at our expense. And tax evasion. Why are we paying for this? And in return, this bunch of greedy opportunists are causing harm to our fellow citizens. I can’t comprehend this, how can we have allowed this to happen, as a so-called civilised, and once democratic society?
It’s about a driving ideology that is socially malevolent, and not economically necessary: the Tories do not think that people have a right to food, housing or medical care, that much is clear. But they continue to take the money we have paid since the 1940s for those things. And hand it out to the wealthy.
Despite these facts, the Government and the right wing media has the Orwellian dystopic cheek to talk about welfare claimants, as if all our woes are their fault. They aren’t, it’s the spiteful authoritarian Tories that are the problem.
They have to go. For the majority – for most peoples’ sake. We can’t afford this government, economically or socially. Kitty.S.Jones.