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Food banks 'filling benefits gaps'

Gaps in the social security net are one of the main reasons people are turning to food banks, a new study has found.

Problems linked with benefits, such as waiting for payments, or sanctions often trigger visits to food banks, says a report by Oxfam, Child Poverty Action Group, the Church of England and the Trussell Trust.

Many of the users are not aware of crisis payments they could receive, and few are using them, according to research among more than 1,000 people using a number of Trussell Trust food banks.

Many users face a number of challenges, including ill-health, relationship breakdown, caring responsibilities or mental health problems.

The study also found that many are unable to work or have lost their job.

The number of people receiving three days' supplies from food banks increased from almost 129,000 in 2011/12 to more than 913,000 a year later, Trussell Trust figures showed.

Most of those said they had turned to food banks as a "last resort", often describing the experience as "embarrassing" or "shameful".

The report calls for increased access to hardship payments, improvements to the Employment and Support Allowance, and better support, especially at jobcentres.

Rachael Orr, head of Oxfam's UK poverty programme, said: "Food banks are both a lifeline for people at a time of crisis and a symptom of fundamental failure in our society. This report gives a voice to food bank users in the UK and highlights relatively simple policy changes that could significantly reduce food bank use.

"MPs and their party leaders can't solve individuals' personal problems but they can and should act to provide an adequate safety net for those at a time of crisis."

Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said: "Food banks have boomed not because they're an easy option but because people haven't got money to eat - often because of problems with claiming and the payment of benefits.

"A delay in a benefits decision or a period pending a review can force hunger and humiliation on families, leaving them no option but the food bank. Rather than protecting these families from poverty at the time when they most need help, the system leaves them with almost nothing to live on.

"With more than one in four UK children now growing up poor there is no excuse for inaction. Politicians from all parties need to commit to reforming the system so that families can get short-term advances of benefit payments, the quality of sanctions decisions is improved and disabled people are not left without income whilst challenging unfair decisions."

The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Rev Christopher Chessun, said: "This report offers a picture of people facing acute crises in their lives with fortitude and dignity. That this happens is no surprise to thousands of Church of England parishes around the country who help to provide care and relief for their neighbours by running and supporting food banks.

"It is vital that the measured and practical recommendations set out in this report are actively considered and acted upon by politicians of all parties to ensure that more and more people are not forced into relying on emergency food aid."

Trussell Trust chief executive David McAuley said: "This new evidence brings into sharp focus the uncomfortable reality of what happens when a 'life shock' or benefit problem hits those on low incomes: parents go hungry, stress and anxiety increase, and the issue can all too quickly escalate into crippling debt, housing problems and illness.

"The Trussell Trust has consistently said that too many people are falling through gaps in the social security system."


From Belfast Telegraph