Government accused of suppressing the damning report that suggests its flagship welfare reforms are forcing ever more people to resort to food banks

 

Social Affairs Correspondent

The author of a Government-commissioned report into food banks has told the Independent that welfare reforms since she conducted the research are forcing many more people to resort to emergency food handouts.

The Government is accused of suppressing a piece of research into food poverty in Britain for more than seven months. It was finally published by the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs today morning amid suggestions that it had been “slipped out” while the floods were still in the news.

It concluded that there was “growing demand” for emergency food because of increased need. This directly contradicts the position of Work and Pensions minister Lord Freud, who claimed last summer that the expansion of charities such as The Trussell Trust had driven the demand.

The research was conducted in early 2013, before a raft of welfare reforms were introduced in April. Professor Elizabeth Dowler, a sociologist from Warwick University who led the research, said: “For many people the situation is definitely harder than when we wrote this report. What is different now is many are needing help who didn’t need it in the past and people are saying the safety net has gone.

“A lot of things have changed in the last year. We’ve had the devolution of the emergency fund system and we’ve had the so-called bedroom tax, which has put a lot of families into rent arrears. The evidence is that there are more and more sanctions being applied [to benefit claimants] and it’s hard to see how that could not have a negative effect on households struggling with food security.”

Despite being peer reviewed and apparently signed off by a steering committee in June, the report was not put into the public domain until yesterday. Its publication was delayed for more than seven months after officials from the Department for Work and Pensions and DEFRA put it under intense scrutiny.

A source close to the project said: “My sense is that the political advisers got hold of it. We had to be very careful about anything we wrote to do with benefits and social security.”

The heavy Government scrutiny was alluded to in the report itself, which said it was “steered closely” by a group with included DEFRA, DWP and the Department of Health.

The report’s authors were given less than 24 hours' notice that the research was going to be published yesterday after all this time. Academics told it was finally going online speculated amongst themselves that it was probably being “slipped out” while attention on DEFRA was focused on floods. However, a spokeswoman for DEFRA said this was “categorically not the case”.

Professor Dowling said of the delays: “Instead of taking so long to publish this report it seems to me the Government should have got it into the public domain and addressed the problem.”

In her official statement published yesterday, she said: “We are delighted our report has been published. We urge the Government to learn from it and from those living in harsh circumstances, and to find creative, fair ways to enable all in this rich country to have enough money to be able to eat healthily. This work is urgent.”

The final report was heavily caveated and avoided making its own pronouncement on the causes of the rise in food aid use, instead summarising the views of national charities and NGOs, and local-level research. Citing these groups, it said crises such as the loss of a job or problems with social security benefits would prompt people to seek emergency help with food.

Maria Eagle MP, Shadow Environment Secretary, said: “It is now clear why David Cameron has fought so hard over many months to keep this report hidden, because it rubbishes the claim that the increase in food banks is driving demand. Instead of hiding behind a myth that is insulting to all those parents who have skipped meals to ensure their children do not go hungry, it is time Ministers took this issue seriously."

Steve Turner, the assistant general secretary of Unite, said of the research: “This is a Whitehall whitewash. Ministers and advisers have spent a year poring over it to remove the unpalatable truth that the government has created a national crisis, punishing people when they need help, presiding over a dramatic rise in food bank use while George Osborne squeezes living standards in a way unseen since the Victorian era.”

The news follows a joint letter from 27 Anglican bishops published today, blaming David Cameron for creating a “national crisis” which has seen half a million people visit food banks since April last year.

A Government spokesperson said: “Charities such as food organisations have always provided a valued service to those in need in their communities, in addition to the safety net provided by governments, and we should welcome the help they provide.

“That is why this Government has given Jobcentre Plus advisers the ability to say to people who need help that they can go to a food bank. The literature review published today was commissioned as part of Defra’s general work on food in the UK to see what information was available on the issue.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas