I have read an interesting article recently on the BBC website that simply said that an ‘affordable healthy diet is too expensive for people.’ I would agree as this comes at a time when the country is in the midst of the greatest reforms to the welfare system. With the national roll out of the new benefit Universal Credit across the North West areas, with the tighter restrictions on jobseekers and with the benefit cap being imposed together with the removal of the spare room subsidy most famously known as ‘ the bedroom tax’, people are now facing poverty.
Neil Couling, DWP's work services director has said that the increase in the number of people using food banks is a result of supply not demand. The Trussell Trust has announced that the demand for its help had doubled in the last year. They have reported that 913,000 parcels were handed over in the last 12 months compared to the 350,000 in the previous years.
So is the increase of the number of people using the foodbank simply a result of an increase of supply? I would agree that there has been an increase in the number of foodbanks being established over the last 12 months. However, what the government fails to recognise is the reason behind the increase of foodbanks. In times of austerity, the people who are affected the most are those on low incomes and in these times of welfare reform, the situation is likely to get worse.
Our Pro Bono team, who attend the local Atherton & Leigh Foodbank twice a month, has noted a trend for people accessing the foodbank due to sanctions on their benefits. We have seen that some of these sanctions are caused by trivial issues, for example, an incorrect date on an appointment card for someone to attend and due to no fault of their own; being five minutes late due to traffic jam; failing to apply for a vacancy which was no longer available, these claimants are finding themselves with a 13 week sanction on their claim.
We recognise the growing pressure on benefit claimants due to welfare reform and we are working with various foodbanks on a variety of projects. We have a devoted service offering free legal advice at the Atherton & Leigh foodbank on the second Tuesday and last Friday of every month. Our staff also collect items and offer monthly donations to the foodbank.
By Ngaryan Li, solicitor in the Pro Bono team
If you require help with any benefit issue, then please do not hesitate to contact our team on 0333 344 4772.