Poor taking items back to food banks as they can’t afford to cook, Oxfam claims

 

Deputy Political Editor

More than one third of councils are subsidising meals at food banks while some families are so short of cash they are returning food which they cannot afford to heat, it emerged on Sunday night.

An investigation has discovered that town halls have spent almost £3 million on feeding benefit claimants and low-paid workers who resort to foodbanks.

They include the local authorities in North-East London which cover the constituency of Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary.

He also faced fresh criticism last night over the number of mistakes made in benefit assessments of low-income families who are forced to turn to foodbanks as a result of the errors.

BBC1’s Panorama reports on Monday that 140 of the 375 councils in England and Wales are giving cash to foodbanks in their areas.

Some are paying for food, while the majority are covering management, administration or accommodation costs for foodbanks. Between them they have set aside £2.9 million over the last two years, according to the programme.

The London boroughs of Waltham Forest and Redbridge constituencies, which cover Mr Duncan Smith’s constituency, have spent almost £70,000.

Derbyshire County Council, which has invested £126,000 in food banks, said food poverty had overtaken healthy eating as its most pressing public health concern.

Julie Hirst, a public health specialist at the council, said: “It’s become an issue of food poverty and some people in the country are not being able to eat at all and if people can’t eat at all, what's the point in trying to get them to eat healthily?”

The Department for Work and Pensions said there was “no robust evidence that welfare reforms are linked to increased use of food banks”.

It added that local councils were best placed to provide emergency help to residents and had been given extra money to cover their costs.

But Oxfam Scotland Sunday disclosed that some people were handing back food because they did not have enough credit in their electricity meters to switch on their cooker.

A spokesman, Francis Stuart, told the Scottish Parliament: “One of the most shocking pieces of evidence we have seen is people who use food banks have started giving back items that need cooking because they can’t afford to turn on the electricity to cook the food they desperately need.”

In a report Monday, the Tory-leaning think tank, Policy Exchange, said an estimated 68,000 jobseekers a year have their benefits unfairly withdrawn, leading to “unnecessary hardship” and growing numbers relying on food banks.

They include claimants who have failed to attend a Jobcentre interview for the first time and receive a sanction which is later overturned on appeal.

The head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales pointed to the proliferation of food banks as stepped up his criticism of the Coalition’s welfare reform policies.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show that the reforms could not be at the cost of “casting people into destitution.”

He added: “When I sit and listen to my priests and they say when they put, through the food bank, three days’ food in front of a woman with her children and she bursts into tears because she hasn’t eaten for three days, that’s not a fantasy. That’s human lives.”

 

Hungry Britain? is broadcast at 8.30pm on Monday on BBC1.

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