Hundreds of thousands of people in the UK can't afford food, and the Government isn't helping them

When even working families are being forced to rely on food banks, it's clear that the status quo isn't working

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The Independent Online

The latest report into Britain's hungry lays bare the extent of the cost of living crisis in David Cameron’s Britain. Low pay and rising prices have pushed hundreds of thousands of people into relying on food banks, while the Bedroom Tax and poor practice at the Department of Work and Pensions have only exacerbated the already desperate situation.

Behind the numbers are the stories of real people whose lives have been getting harder in an economy which we’re being told is recovering. On an almost weekly basis I have cases at my surgery with people whose incomes are being squeezed to breaking point. People from all kinds of backgrounds turning to food banks: working people coming in on their lunch-breaks, mums who are going hungry to feed their children, people whose benefits have been delayed and people who are struggling to find enough work.

I’ve even met people turning to food banks who have waited six months for their benefit claims to be processed, people sanctioned for not turning up to sign on because they were at a job interview, and people working on zero hours contracts. This shouldn’t be happening in Britain today.

 

The Department of Work and Pensions needs a shake-up. Numerous sources have reported that unofficial targets for numbers of people who should be sanctioned (in other words, cut off from benefits), have been imposed on jobcentres by the Department.

While sanctions have played a role as the backstop to our system since the 1920s and will continue to do so, we need jobcentre staff focused on helping people into work, not simply finding reasons to kick them off benefits. The Department also needs to urgently get a grip on the delays, errors and waste which are leading to people waiting too long without vital support.

We also need to tackle the scandal of low pay in Britain. The report estimates that up to one quarter of people who depend on food banks are in low-paid work – in some locations up to half of all food bank users are in work – so it’s clear that many people’s wages simply can’t cover the rising cost of living.

Instead of hiding behind the Tory myth, that says the increase in food banks is driving demand, it is time Ministers got a grip and took this issue seriously.

Labour won’t sit idly by while people suffer under the cost of living crisis. That’s why the next Labour Government will freeze energy prices, take action on water bills and raise the minimum wage as well as abolishing the unfair Bedroom Tax. Our economic plan will ensure we earn our way to rising living standards for all, not just a few, and balance the books in a fair way.

Maria Eagle is MP for Garston and Halewood and Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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