House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee urged to launch probe
Campaigners have called for an urgent inquiry into the role the Government’s welfare programme has played in a startling rise in food banks.
A joint report from Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty revealed that one of the main reasons people had to use food banks was changes to the benefits system, including changes to eligibility rules for crisis loans, delays in payments and Jobseeker’s Allowance sanctions.
In the wake of Walking the Breadline, they have urged the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee to launch an inquiry at the impact of the welfare packages.
They have also called on the Department for Work and Pensions to introduce new measures, including recording and monitoring all referrals from government agencies to emergency food provision, to give a more accurate picture of people in food poverty in the UK as well as publishing data on the number of homes deprived of benefits arising from issues like delays, and an independent monitoring of Universal Credits.
The Trussell Trust, the biggest provider of food banks in the UK, helped 14,318 in 2012/13 in Scotland, up from 5,726 in 2011/12.
Anne Begg, chair of Westminster’s Work and Pensions Committee, said the inquiry already under way into the role of Jobcentre Plus could look at the impact of the welfare packages.
Although the deadline for evidence has already passed, the Labour MP said many of the submissions already received had referred to welfare sanctions.
Begg has been inundated with emails and leaflets from campaigners and said Walking the Breadline would be included as inquiry evidence.
She said while the committee scrutinises government, not how people spend their money, it could look at the consequences of government policy.
“One of the reasons we actually launched this inquiry was, during our Work Programme inquiry, the subject of sanctions came up quite a bit,” she said. “Now the evidence is in, we will be deciding who we want to give oral evidence in the next week or so.”
Chris Johnes, Director of Oxfam’s UK Poverty Programme, welcomed this, but said: “We strongly believe that we need a separate inquiry into the growth of food poverty and its links with the operation of the benefits system.
“There are also much wider concerns in terms of frequent and significant benefit delays, errors and underpayments, and the growing inadequacy of benefits to meet the cost of living.” The DWP has its own food bank referral service. A spokeswoman said it considered other avenues first but does not monitor referrals.
She added: “Our welfare reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities, with the Universal Credit simplifying the complex myriad of benefits and making three million households better off.”