Anger as Employment Minister Esther McVey denies food bank use is linked to welfare reforms

Senior Reporter

Charities and politicians have reacted with anger to a claim by the Employment Minister that the dramatic rise in the number of people using food banks has nothing to do with the Government’s welfare reforms.

In a letter to the Scottish government, Esther McVey said “the rise in food banks predates most of the welfare reforms this Government has put in place”, adding that there was “no robust evidence linking food bank usage to welfare reform”.

Figures from the Trussell Trust, Britain’s biggest food bank provider, have shown that demand has increased by more than 300 per cent in the past year.

The charity’s Ewan Gurr said: “A recent Scottish Government report states that welfare reforms, benefit delays, benefit sanctions and falling incomes have been the main factors driving increased demand on food banks. Food banks are responding to a need that has always existed but welfare reform has exacerbated the need.”

In March, a report by the Policy Exchange think tank concluded that the Coalition’s toughening up of benefit sanctions – under which jobseekers can lose up to four weeks’ of payments for missing an interview – was leaving many dependent on food handouts.

Author Guy Miscampbell said: “Four weeks without any money is driving people to desperate measures including a reliance on food banks.”

Ms McVey was responding to a letter from Margaret Burgess, Scotland’s minister for housing and welfare, in which she expressed concerns about the increasing demand for food banks north of the border.

The SNP’s Kevin Stewart MSP, who sits on the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee, said: “This heartless letter from Esther McVey shows that the UK Government has washed their hands of the ever growing number of people being forced to rely on food banks.

“The extent to which the Westminster government will bend the facts in order to try dodge their responsibility on this issue is astonishing.”

A volunteer puts together a parcel of food at a Food Bank in Brixton, south London (Getty) A volunteer puts together a parcel of food at a Food Bank in Brixton, south London (Getty)
Labour’s shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Rachel Reeves, said: “With a trebling in the number of people relying on food banks to survive, the Government should listen to evidence from the Trussell Trust and other groups. It is clear that the bedroom tax and benefit delays have forced hundreds of thousands to food banks.”

In her letter, Ms McVey also declined a request to appear before the committee, but said she would meet them “informally”.

A DWP spokesperson said: “The truth is that we’re spending £94 billion a year on working age benefits and the welfare system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed so they can meet their basic needs. 

“The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development say there are fewer people struggling with their food bills compared with a few years ago, and our reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities by promoting work and helping people to lift themselves out of poverty.”

How the Government has explained away food banks

George Osborne: “I think one of the reasons that there has been increased use of food banks is because people have been made aware of the food bank service through local jobcentres.”

Iain Duncan Smith, Work and Pensions Secretary: “I think it is a positive thing for people to use food banks and I think if they need it, local authorities sometimes refer to food banks now because they run the social funds and instead of actually just paying money out some of them refer across.”

Lord Freud, minister for welfare reform: “It is difficult to know which came first – supply or demand… if you put more food banks in, that is the supply. Clearly food from a food bank is by definition a free good and there’s almost infinite demand.”

David Cameron: “The use of food banks went up tenfold under the last Labour government. So before they try to use this as some political weapon, they should recognise this started under their own government.”

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