The Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee has accused the DWP of being in denial over the reasons for the alarming rise in people requiring emergency food aid, and makes explicit its findings, which confirm that major contributory factors are indeed benefit delays and the UK Government’s welfare reform measures, in particular, benefit sanctions.
In research to inform their second report, the committee took evidence from a range of food aid providers, as well as visiting food banks across the country to speak to staff and volunteers about the issue.
While the UK Government has stated that there is “no robust evidence” linking increased demand for food banks to welfare reform, the Committee heard evidence to the contrary from organisations such as the Trussel Trust, who said that the main 3 reasons for referral to its food banks were benefit delays (38%), low income (19%) and benefit changes (19%, of which the vast majority related to sanctions). This counters the claims made recently by DWP spokesperson, Neil Couling, that increased use of food banks was “supply led”, while evidence from Oxfam and Community Food Moray, further undermined the UK Government’s position. Both organisations reported a worrying trend, where people were handing food back because they couldn’t afford to cook it. Moray is increasing the number of cold food parcels it supplies as a result.
The Committee warns that food banks should not become “welded into the infrastructure of the welfare state” and must be recognised as a charitable response to individuals in crisis.
Glasgow’s Director of Public Health, Linda De Caestecker, has voiced concerns about the impact that having to use food banks is having on the mental health of individuals, which could be worse than the physical effects of hunger. Speaking to the Evening Times, she said that, “I think in some ways the stress and depression felt by people who have, for example had benefits sanctions imposed and have been forced to use a foodbank, is the bigger health risk.”
The Evening Times this week launched a campaign to end hunger in Glasgow which has attracted the support of Glasgow’s football clubs, the NHS and Glasgow Housing Association.
The Scottish Government’s Emergency Food Fund is now open for applications from food aid organisations.
Sources: Scottish Government report, Evening Times