The Tory government has rejected data suggesting its austerity policies have forced an unprecedented number of people to use food banks in the past year, dismissing the findings as “anecdotal evidence.”
According to leading food-bank provider, Trussell Trust, more people than ever are using the facilities with hundreds of thousands failing to meet the cost of basic necessities. Up to 1,332,952 three-day supplies were distributed over the past year, 13 percent more than 2017. It is the highest figure in five years.
One of main drivers is understood to be low income, as it accounted for 28 percent of all referrals. Benefit delays and changes were also significant factors at 24 and 18 percent, respectively.
It follows concerns that the Tories’ new Universal Credit welfare system is plunging more people into poverty amid delays to benefit payments. The Trust found that food banks in areas where the welfare program has already been rolled out have seen an increase of up to 52 percent in the past year. That compares to a 13-percent rise in areas where the scheme has been in place for three months or where Universal Credit hasn’t been introduced at all.
Emma Revie, chief executive of the charity, said: “It’s hard to break free from hunger if there isn’t enough money coming in to cover the rising cost of absolute essentials like food and housing. For too many people, staying above water is a daily struggle. It’s completely unacceptable that anyone is forced to turn to a food bank as a result.
“Universal Credit is the future of our benefits system. It’s vital we get it right, andensure levels of payment keep pace with the rising cost of essentials, particularly for groups of people we know are already more likely to need a food bank – disabled people, people dealing with an illness, families with children and single parents,” she told The Independent.
Those resorting to food banks are not just benefit claimants but also employed people, as one in six working households were referred, according to Tess Lanning, director of the Living Wage Foundation.
“Many of those who are going hungry are also working, with one-in-six households referred to food banks in work,” Lanning said, the paper reports.
“Our own research found over a third of parents working full-time and earning less than the real living wage are now regularly skipping meals. That’s why we need to see more businesses step up, go beyond the government minimum, and commit to pay a living wage based on the cost of living.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson, however, defended the government’s welfare initiatives, saying the findings were merely based on “anecdotal evidence.”
“This research is based on anecdotal evidence from a small, self-selecting sample of less than 0.04 per cent of current Universal Credit claimants, whereas Universal Credit is working for the vast majority who claim it.
“It was also carried out before our significant improvements to Universal Credit came into effect at the budget; such as 100 percent advances, which support people before their first payment, removing the seven waiting days and two weeks’ extra housing support for claimants moving onto Universal Credit.”
He went on say that one million people have been lifted from absolute poverty and employment rates are at a record high.
Defending the Universal Credit scheme, which aims to “incentivize” people to work, he added: “Meanwhile, we continue to spend £90 billion ($125.5 billion) a year on welfare to support those who need it most. The best way to help people improve their lives is through employment, with people on Universal Credit moving into work faster and staying in work longer.”
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