There is no evidence linking soaring food bank use to the DWP’s strict regime of benefit sanctions, a Government minister has claimed.
Priti Patel, an employment minister at the Department for Work and Pensions, told MPs that she did not accept claims by researchers that abruptly stopping someone’s income could cause them to seek emergency food aid.
“We have looked at this issue extensively and we agree with this conclusion reached by the All-party Parliamentary Group into hunger that the reasons for food bank use are complex and overlapping,” she said.
“There is no robust evidence that directly links sanctions and food bank use.”
Ms Patel's claim caused MPs on the opposition benches in the House of Commons to issue audible gasps.
Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, an SNP MP, recounted the experience of one of her constituents, who was sanctioned for missing a jobcentre appointment while he was in hospital recovering from a heart attack.
“It is absolutely clear from all independent evidence that the sanctions regime is having a heart-breaking effect on people,” she argued.
But Ms Patel responded that she did “not at all accept anything the honourable lady has said” and argued that “food banks pay a vital role in welfare provision”.
The Trussell Trust, a charity which oversees a large number of food banks, told the Independent that the minister’s claims about sanctions were “simply not true”.
The Trust’s chairman urged the Government to review the evidence on the subject, citing a number of academic publications in his response to the minister.
“The claim that there is no evidence linking sanctions to foodbank use is simply not true,” Chris Mould said.
“Independent research from the University of Oxford published in April 2015 found that areas of the UK facing greater unemployment, sanctions and budget cuts have significantly greater rates of people seeking emergency food aid.
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
1/8 Welfare payments will be slashed
One of the most controversial parts of the Conservative manifesto was to cut benefits for the working age poor by £12 bn over the next three years. But during the campaign they only said where £2 bn of these savings would come from. That leaves £10 bn still to find. Some experts think the only way they can close that gap is by means testing child benefit – with millions of families losing out
2/8 There will be tax cuts for those in work and those who die
The Tories will increase the threshold at which the 40p rate of tax becomes payable to £50,000 by 2020. They haven’t said so but it is also likely that at some point in the next five years they will abolish that 45p rate of tax altogether for the highest earners. They also want to increase the effective inheritance tax threshold for married couples and civil partners to £1m
3/8 There will be an in/out EU referendum in 2017
The next two years are going to be dominated by the prospect of a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. First off David Cameron has the daunting task of negotiating a deal with other EU leaders an acceptable deal that he can sell to his party so he can go into the referendum campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote. This may be unachievable and it is possible that the Tories may end up arguing to leave. Opinion polls show Britain is divided on EU membership, one poll this year showed 51% said they would opt to leave compared to 49% who would vote to stay in
4/8 There will be more privatisation of the NHS
Having won the election the Tories now have a mandate to go further and faster reforming the NHS. In order to make cost savings there is likely to be greater private involvement in running services, while some smaller hospitals may lose services they currently provide like A&E and maternity units
5/8 There will be many more free schools – and traditional state schools will become a thing of the past
The Tories plans to create 500 new free schools and make 3,000 state schools become academies. They will also carry on reforming the Department of Education and remove more powers from local authorities over how schools are run
6/8 On shore wind farms will be a thing of the past and fracking will be the future
Government spending on renewable energy is under real threat now the Lib Dems are no longer in power with the Tories. Subsidies are likely to be slashed for off-shore wind farm and other green energy supplies. Meanwhile there will be generous tax break for fracking as ministers try and incentivise the industry to drill for onshore oil and gas
7/8 There maybe more free childcare – but not necessarily
In the campaign the Tories pledged to double the amount of free early education for three- and four-year-olds from 15 hours a week to 30. The extra hours would only be offered to working families where parents are employed for at least eight hours a week. However they have not said where the money will come from to fund the pledge
8/8 Workers' rights could be reduced
The Tories want to slash business regulation, merge regulator and cut costs. The Lib Dems stopped them from reducing the employment rights of workers in power – but these are now under threat
“Furthermore, joint research in ‘Emergency Use Only’ by the Trussell Trust, Church of England, Oxfam and Child Poverty Action Group, found that 19-28% of the foodbank users for whom data was collected had recently had household benefits stopped or reduced because of a sanction.
“Further research, particularly as further changes to the benefits regime are planned, is going to be critical to understanding the scale of the problem.
“We urge the Government to review the existing literature on the subject and meet with agencies and charities on the front line dealing with clients affected by benefit sanctions.”
In March of this year the Independent revealed that Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has refused to meet with the Trust for over a year – but had actually held discussions with an American investment bank about tackling child poverty.
The Department for Work and Pensions says that a dramatic rise in food bank use is because job centres now point claimants in need to food banks.
However, only a small proportion of referrals to food banks actually come from job centres.