Food Bank Demand Driven By Cuts And Sanctions To Benefits, New Report Finds

More than half of people driven by acute poverty to apply for emergency food aid are there because of delays, sudden cuts or sanctions imposed on welfare payments, according to new research

The Trussell Trust’s findings are a direct challenge to the coalition government’s insistence that the meteoric rise in the numbers of food bank users is unconnected to the cuts to the social security system, and is only linked to the growth in provision.

The charity, which runs the country’s largest network of food banks, analysed more than 900 different users at a range of facilities across the country, as well as conducting 40 more in-depth interviews and 178 different caseloads from people accessing one of their advice services.

Up to two-thirds of those analysed by the study, which was commissioned by the charity along with the Church of England, Oxfam and the Child Poverty Action Group, said they were waiting for their benefits which had been delayed, because they had been sanctioned by jobcentres or because they had been suddenly hit by the so-called bedroom tax.

“The promise of a social security safety net that is there to protect people at times of crisis is something that can, and must be, preserved and protected. Food banks, whilst providing a vital and welcoming lifeline to many, should not become a readily accepted part of that formal provision,“ the study says.

The Trust has handed out food parcels to at least 913,000 people from 2013-2014, a threefold increase. The Trust says those figures are a low estimate for the numbers suffering from acute personal finance crisis, many more are likely to be relying on help from friends or neighbours.


Read the rest of this Huffington Post article here:

I was ill with hunger, went to prison for stealing food and became homeless

(This was published today on the Guardian’s Society pages)

Welfare expert Matthew Oakley should have spoken to me. I could have told him all about benefits sanctions

In collecting evidence for his review of the failings of the benefits sanctions process, welfare expert Matthew Oakley could have spoken to me. Since 2011, I’ve been sanctioned many times. I received a long benefits sanction due to a mix-up about Work Programme courses I should have attended as a condition of receiving out-of-work benefits. Life became hell. Once my food had run out, I had no money to buy more. I was sent back on the Work Programme but without funds to feed myself. The hunger was unbearable. I did not have the energy to turn up. This led to another sanction.

The sanctions became a vicious cycle as I became too ill to do anything. When I did get a job interview, I looked like a zombie as I had lost so much weight. I could not focus properly and lacked energy. Support from friends and family fell away as they assumed I was addicted to drugs. I was just hungry. I tried contacting my local MP but he did not seem interested. I felt alone and trapped. With nobody to turn to, and feeling like it was my only option, I pocketed a sandwich from a supermarket. I was arrested and fined £80. I had no way of paying and spent a week in prison for non payment. I lost my flat as I was £1,000 in rent arrears and I had piles of outstanding bills.

After a year without benefits, I approached a local homeless shelter for help. They took me in and fed me until the sanction was over. It was only in the hostel that I discovered that I was entitled to hardship payments, of which the Jobcentre had failed to inform me. I now volunteer at the homeless shelter as a thank you for all their help and because it feels good to help feed hungry people. I’ve tried my hardest to avoid more sanctions, but I’ve since been sanctioned for missing my signing in appointment, because I was at a job interview, of all things.

And I’m not alone. A research programme I’m involved in at Leeds University has heard from other people, such as Chloe, who was sanctioned for not doing enough to find work. “Four to eight weeks with no money is pretty alarming when you’ve got kids and bills and a house to run. I think I’ve cried solid for two weeks. I can’t cope,” she told researchers.

As Rosie, another single mother from the study put it: “They’re all right saying that you’re sanctioned as a punishment for not going in [for an appointment] but what am I and my son meant to eat? If that’s the only money we’re getting, what are we meant to do?” I thought “sanctions” were for criminal countries who pose a threat to the world. But now I know they are used against ordinary citizens too.


Plymouth people too poor to afford food as 70,000 live in deprivation

MORE than 700,000 people in Plymouth and the South West are so deprived they are going without three or more of the basic necessities of life, according to a new report.

Researchers carrying out the largest study of poverty and deprivation conducted in the UK found that seven per cent of people living in the region could not afford to eat a balanced diet, while about 1.2million could not afford to heat and maintain their home properly.

Some 462,900 (nine per cent) of people could not clothe themselves or their children properly, while 982,000 of the regional population were said to be in “social deprivation” – not able to take part in hobbies and sports, or provide birthday and Christmas celebrations.

In Plymouth the latest NHS figures show 10,200 city children and 67,150 people living in poverty.

Maria Mills, of Plymouth Foodbank, says benefit cuts and the tax system are conspiring to keep people in a “poverty trap.”

“Last year we helped 7,400 people, this year it will be more than 9,000,” she said. “The biggest problem is benefit sanctions, but low income and zero hours contracts are still a big issue. It’s modern slavery.

“I think instead of paying working tax credits or child tax credits, if that money went into allowing employers to pay a decent wage we would have people who could have enough disposable income. At the moment we are keeping people in a poverty trap.”

Overall, 34 per cent were found to be “multiply deprived”. But a Department for Work and Pensions spokesman questioned the findings, saying: “There is strong evidence that incomes have improved over the last 30 years, despite the misleading picture painted by this report,” he said.

“The independent statistics are clear, there are 1.4 million fewer people in poverty since 1998, and under this Government we have successfully protected the poorest from falling behind with a reduction of 300,000 children living in relative income poverty and 100,000 fewer children in workless poor families.”

Nevertheless those behind the report – the Poverty and Social Exclusion in the United Kingdom (PSE) project – insisted they stood by the results of two surveys. Professor David Gordon, from the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research at the University of Bristol, led the project which involved 14,559 people in the UK.

“The coalition Government aimed to eradicate poverty by tackling the causes of poverty. Their strategy has clearly failed,” he said. “The available high-quality scientific evidence shows that poverty and deprivation have increased since 2010, the poor are suffering from deeper poverty and the gap between the rich and poor is widening.

UK today: 40% of cancer patients can’t afford to heat their home properly

Pride's Purge

(not satire – it’s the UK today!)

Macmillan Cancer Support have commissioned a new report which shows the severe financial problems now being experienced by cancer patients in the UK.

The problems are entirely due to the government’s crackdown on so-called ‘benefit scroungers’ and the resulting ‘reforms’ to sickness and unemployment benefits.

Macmillan found that since the government’s changes to the welfare system:

  • 2 in 5 cancer patients now can’t afford to heat their homes adequately
  • 2 in 3 cancer patients are now waiting at least 6 months for financial help
  • 1 in 5 cancer patients are now waiting at least 9 months for financial help
  • 1 in 4 cancer patients have difficulties attending their hospital appointments for financial reasons
  • Over half (56%) of cancer patients now experience financial worries

So when you hear government ministers or the right-wing press going on about ‘benefit scroungers‘ – what they really mean is ‘cancer patients‘.


If the definition of a civilised society is how well…

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Tory blocks food bank because ‘he can’t get a restaurant on a Saturday’

A Tory councillor has cited full restaurants as evidence that his borough doesn’t need another food bank

With Conservatives in Crawley ignoring the findings of the council’s Deprivation Scrutiny Panel — which suggested a food bank be set up at the town hall – Cllr Liam Marshall-Ascough said:

“People aren’t in poverty in terms of going without food. You try booking a restaurant in Crawley on a Friday or Saturday night. You can’t do it.”

It sounds like Cllr Marshall-Ascough would get on with government minister Lord ‘charities are to blame for food banks’ Freud.

From Politicalscrapbook, 26th March 2014:

Thousands of HIV patients go hungry as benefit cuts hit

Thousands of people with HIV have been left struggling in poverty by the Government’s welfare reforms – with some unable to afford the basic food they need to fight their condition.


The situation is now so critical that in some cases doctors are having to prescribe food supplements to ensure that patients’ medication works, The Independent on Sunday has learned.

A national hardship fund for people with HIV/Aids, run by the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), registered a 63 per cent increase last year in those needing emergency help because their benefits had been stopped.

HIV experts described the situation as “truly alarming”, saying it was “nothing short of a disgrace” that seriously ill patients in modern Britain were having their treatments compromised by hunger. HIV medication can be less effective if taken without food.

Changes to sickness benefits introduced by the coalition – alongside other welfare reforms such as the so-called bedroom tax – have left many HIV patients significantly worse off.

Read the rest of this article by Emily Duggan in the Independent on Sunday here:

Those vile people sitting in the jobcentre a few feet away doing absolutely nothing.

From the facebook page ‘The People vs the Government, DWP and Atos”

“I’ve just seen this outside Devizes Job Centre:
A man standing crying and and so distressed he wet himself. He was saying ” they won’t help me! They won’t let me have any money! They say I’ve used all my foodbank vouchers”.
He proceeded to collapse to the ground and curl up in a ball, his arms around his dog. Two passers by were supporting him. One went to buy him some food & the other had gone to get him a blanket. Several people averted their eyes and hurried past!
I couldn’t do any more than was already being done for him, though I would have liked to help. I cried my eyes out for him and cried in anger at the vile, despicable people who are sitting in the Job Centre a few feet away doing absolutely nothing!!!
I cannot believe what is happening in this country.
This system is totally horrendous, obnoxious and despicable!”

People ‘taking food back to foodbanks’ because they can’t afford gas to heat it

“We’re actually finding people taking food back to foodbanks because they can’t afford to top up the gas and heat it.”

Peter Smith, National Energy Action.

Every so often in politics you hear a quote or a statistic that seems to suck all the air out of your lungs. Sat around a table at a debate I had organised on rising fuel bills I tried to take in the enormity of what I had just heard. I ran it through my head again.

There are people in London in 2014 who are experiencing Dickensian levels of poverty that not only are they dependent on the support of foodbanks but find the cost of cooking the food so great they have to return it. As a London politician for well over a decade I was well aware of the levels of poverty and deprivation too many Londoners live with.

But when I began our report on the rising cost of living I realised that what we were hearing from Londoners was only a tiny snapshot of the true scale of the Cold Homes Crisis facing London.

There are no shortage of reports on fuel poverty and how we can tackle it. But this report seeks to contribute something new to the debate: the voice of ordinary Londoners. Whether through the statistics from our survey or the comments of one elder who told us “life at our age is becoming frightening”, Londoners have given their voice to the debate.

In response to my London Cost of Living Survey, 85 per cent of respondents identified gas and electricity prices as the price rise that concerns them the most. We often hear people talk in the media about the difficult choices that the cost of living crisis is forcing on families. But when 68 per cent of respondents told me they have to cut back on heating as a result, I knew the consequences could be tragic.

Research has shown that at its worst, between 30 and 50 per cent of excess winter deaths can be linked to cold indoor temperatures. Last winter 2,700 excess winter deaths took place in 2012/13, meaning that between 810 and 1,350 Londoners died because their homes were simply too cold.

In recent months I and my colleagues have campaigned hard to get this issue taken seriously by Mayor Boris Johnson. The fact that we have no executive power hasn’t stopped us from intervening on behalf of Londoners against utility companies that have sought to turn the screw on Londoners’ finances still further.

When Thames Water applied to Ofwat for permission to increase prices for millions of Londoners by £29 per household during 2014-15, I intervened twice with the regulator and made arguments that were quoted in the decision notice to disallow the increase.

The Mayor on the other hand did not lift a finger to stand up for Londoners.

My report sets out how the Mayor is failing Londoners by refusing to take the side of ordinary consumers in the debate over soaring energy bills. It looks at how the Mayor’s insulation programme is failing to deliver and how the Mayor’s obsession with fracking and nuclear energy is not helping deliver the local community owned decentralised energy that will deliver affordable energy to Londoners.

Finally I put forward two recommendations of ways the Mayor could tackle the Cold Homes Crisis. We need much stronger joined up working to identify and support those at risk of fuel poverty and provide targeted interventions that could transform lives.

We also need to look at how small scale community energy co-operatives could deliver much greater diversity of supply and help up skill communities for the green jobs of the future too.

That is what serving Londoners is all about. Identifying the core problems, listening to what effect it has on the lives of ordinary people and formulating radical ideas to deliver change. A job for a Mayor of London you might say. Sadly this one just isn’t interested.

UK ‘has some of the highest and most volatile food prices’, claims Oxfam

Britons face some of the highest and most volatile food prices in Western Europe, according to research published today.

The UK was one of the worst performers in a global food index compiled by Oxfam, coming 13th overall, despite being the world’s sixth richest country. The Government’s austerity measures are exacerbating the situation and leading to the public’s increasing reliance on food banks, the charity said.

Countries were marked according to four criteria and then given an overall ranking. The categories were: levels of undernourishment; affordability and volatility of food prices; quality of food and water and the health outcomes of people’s diet. Overall The Netherlands, followed by France and Switzerland in joint second were the best places for people to eat in the index. Chad came last, just behind Angola and Ethiopia, which came joint second to last.

Oxfam’s chief executive, Mark Goldring, said: “The UK’s failure to make the top table is a shocking indictment for the world’s sixth richest country. With a record number of people turning to food banks, the government must carry out an urgent inquiry into how welfare changes and cuts are exacerbating food poverty and deepening inequality.”  The UK was among the worst performers in Western Europe on whether citizens can afford to eat. With more than half a million people using food banks, Britain shares 20th position with Cyprus, with only Austrians and Icelanders faring worse.

Elizabeth Dowler, professor of food and social policy at the University of Warwick, said she was not surprised by Britain’s low score. “I do know that some of the austerity measures have been much harsher in the UK than in, say, France or Germany,” she said. “Our energy prices are higher too in relation to income [than other countries in Europe]. If you cook food you need energy to cook so they’re connected.”

Professor Dowler, who also sits on the Food Ethics Council and worked on a report into the scale of emergency food aid in Britain that has yet to be published by the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs, said the Government urgently needed to examine these issues. “The simple answer [to the UK’s food problem] is we need some serious attention from Government at a national and local level on these issues.”

Oxfam wants Government action to address growing inequality in Britain, and its underlying problems, such as the impact of welfare reforms, unemployment, low wages and rising food and fuel prices.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “The Government is working to reduce price increases by opening up global markets and promoting competition in our food and farming industry. Already, UK food prices are lower than those in several other European countries including Germany, France and Ireland.”

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Welfare reforms are fixing the broken welfare system and will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities.

”We are ensuring people are better off in work than on benefits and have already seen the number of people in work reach record levels, while Government action to help hard-working people has frozen council tax for five years and seen the typical taxpayer save over £700 by increasing the amount they can earn before paying income tax.”

from the INdependent 29th Jan 2013:

I’ve never known times so hard as I do now at my age

extracts from a Facebook conversation on the page “‎Bedroom Tax…think its unfair…join the fight here”. 20th Jan 2013

**its so cold in my house I can see my breath”

    JN – mine is so cold as well
    DI – Mine too thats why not paying no more bedroom tax need the 22 quid a week buts me extra gas and electicity on x
    JB – same here
    NP – mine too i’ve had to pop the heating on for half an hour so I can have my weekly shower
    JL – Mine too, I have icicles hanging from my nose lol
    CW – hahaha bless ya x .. I have white finger in 2 of my fingers on my left hand, so had to put gloves on
    CY – i have put 3 jumpers on i look like the michelin man i went to bed in my clothes
    SL – Its an absolute disgrace isnt it hate this country im thinking of becoming an immigrant move to somewhere warm now the borders are open due to eu … eat or freeze that is the question beans on toast or heating for an hour ??? Ermmmm decisions decisions warra joke “great” Britain
    CL – I found this, I hope it helps a bit, even though it is disgusting we have to resort to this.
    SM – Got mold growing in my bedroom,bathroom, its so cold ..x
    SA – Bloody hell, I feel lucky in a way to only pay £10 a week gas. Only had it on for half hour this morning, its a bit cold but dressing gown makes me warm enough. Will put it on later for after bath.
    DI – Got them fleece bed tops 7 quid in the sale there like a jumper but believe there very warm ideal when skimping on heating and this cold weather
    SL – I bought halogen can’t afford my heating very often my couple of my rooms are getting damp etc x x isn’t that jusu insulation etc xx
    VB – You can see your breath at my mum’s house. She wears loads of layers to keep warm and all was ok but now her asthma is playing up really badly, the docs can’t get it under control and looks like she’ll be sent to the specialist at the hospital. Her bungalow is full of damp thanks to the cold. This country is going down the toilet.
    NP – im in the same boat here my joints and crushed spine and neck kill like mad when i’m cold, i’m also very arthritic, the pain killer consumption goes through the roof, I get that cold and stiff I cant even move, i’ve never known times so hard as I do now at my age
    SA –  You can get 140 quid electric if you claim certain benefits. Your energy supplier does it. I put in for it but havn’t heard a thing
    CW –  my sciatica and carpel tunnel play up too when its cold … and DWP just dropped my money as been on ESA a year, god knows how i’ll go on next time I get paid
    NT – like you I have crippling sciatica due to ankolosing spondylitis and peripheral nerve damage and multi level prolapse, when im this cold its utter agony, its hard to describe the pain, the £135 is helpful but its soon eaten up
    LB – same here im freezing got hot water bottle and two jumpers and hat on
    JS – Mine too, CW .. I’m a seamstress and am currently designing, in my head, a hot water bottle strap on!!!
    DI – Shame i cant use me garden fire pit got plenty of wood but no hole in roof to let smoke out cant believe them proper open coal fires would be perfect as there’s only two of us as long as you got main room nice and warm that would do us
    CW – I said the very same thing to my son day before yesterday  … I said .. wouldn’t be so bad if we could bring the chiminea inside .. in fact if I lit that and sat outside I would probably be warmer than I am now !!
    MW – I sit in my coat and scarf most of the day always glad when its bedtime
    SL – How many watch tv upstairs from about five ish as its warmer ? X
    SC – Do check out the warm home scheme, it’s a great help. Though they never seem to send it till March when it’s starting to warm up. Doh
    KA – Yes that is correct, most of the energy companies operate the scheme here is the link –
    EB  – We can’t get that as our bill is paid by the landlord. Wish they hadn’t stopped it for the gas company. Got it then.
    about an hour ago · Like
    DF – I know how that feels and so does my arthritis but must pay my Bedroom Tax