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Welfare cuts: A tale of two food bank vouchers

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In the last couple of months the Trussell Trust has issued a report which identifies the tripling of the numbers of users visiting food banks. So is this really all down to the Government’s welfare reforms?

The Trussell Trust released figures which show that over 350,000 people received a minimum of three days emergency food from the Trust food banks between April to September 2013 compared to a year ago where figures stood at just over 113,000 users. Furthermore, in 2008, these figures stood at just over 26,000 people nationwide.

Chris Mould, the Executive Chairman of the Trust has called upon David Cameron to conduct an official inquiry into food poverty in the UK and the increase of the usage of food banks. He said at the time: “Problems with welfare are not new, they have existed for years, but the reality is that when the welfare provision breaks down, people go hungry. We’re talking about mums not eating for days because they have been sanctioned for seemingly illogical reasons, or people leaving hospital after a major operation to find that their benefits have been stopped or delayed. It’s not right that so many more people are now being referred to food banks due to problems with welfare.”

Since April 2013, welfare reforms such as bedroom tax, localisation of council tax support, local welfare provisions and the most controversial introductions of Universal Credit and the benefit cap have affected many low income families who have struggled in maintaining their small family incomes. In reality though, with this harsh line the Government is taking with benefit claimants and their undertaking to helping these people back into employment, they are neglecting the thousands being dragged further and further into poverty.

MP Chris Gove caused controversy by suggesting that people visiting the food banks where people who simply did not know how to budget. The DWP themselves in response state “there is no robust evidence that welfare reforms are linked to the increase in use of food banks.” But what the Government also appears to fail to realise is that the problems are so severe that some people using food banks have started to hand back items that need cooking, as they cannot afford to use the energy.

A Government spokesperson further states in response to the report “The Trussell Trust itself says it is opening three new food banks every week, so it’s not surprising more people are using them…and Jobcentre staff are now allowed to direct claimants to them.”

At Stephensons, we recognise the growing pressures benefit claimants have to experience following the welfare reform. Stephensons are working with various food banks on a variety of projects and I have been appointed to be a referral agent. We are also now offering a free legal advice clinic at the food bank collection days.

By Ngaryan Li, Solicitor, Pro Bono Unit