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UK Politics

Food banks row: Bishop of Truro hits back at Lord Freud

'A lot of evidence some people have to use them because of benefits system glitches'

A bishop put himself on a collision course with ministers today as he dismissed suggestions that soaring use of food banks was linked to benefit cuts.

The Independent reported this week that Lord Freud, the welfare reform minister, told peers that more people were using the banks because more of them existed - and denied they were even part of the welfare system.

The Rt Rev Tim Thornton, the Bishop of Truro, who has more than 20 food banks in his Cornish diocese, said he was very surprised to hear the minister's comments and predicted their use would continue to increase because of Government proposals to impose a cap on welfare spending.

"It is a scandal we have any food banks at all in the 21st century and we need to do something to work out what is going on," the bishop told the Independent.

"There is a lot of evidence to say some people have to use them because of glitches in the benefits system that the Government needs to address."

He said he was worried that the planned ceiling on welfare spending announced last week by Chancellor George Osborne would create a "real need", which would force people to "go elsewhere to survive".

Mr Thornton said: "The cap will, I fear, make more people use food banks."

The Bishop of Bolton, the Rt Rev Chris Edmondson, has also expressed concern that changes to the benefits system will increase demand at food banks.

In a Commons debate on food banks, the Labour MP Phil Wilson said cuts to benefit levels and tax credits will see each household in County Durham lose £680 a year and would take £151m out of the local economy.

He also denounced the so-called bedroom tax which will affect 8,500 people in the county, describing it as an "insidious piece of legislation which, anecdotally, is starting to be seen as another reason why people are using food banks".

Mr Wilson said the Government should start collecting information about food bank use and use it to "help to close the holes in the welfare safety net that are so obviously opening up".

Mark Hoban, a work and pension minister, echoed Lord Freud's comments that there was no obvious link between benefits delays and errors and food bank use. He said the new Universal Benefit would also help to tackle poverty.