MORE than half of people seeking help from food banks are doing so because of changes to the benefits system.
Coun Richard Udall, who led a review by county councillors into the surge in demand for food banks across Worcestershire, said while benefits sanctions had always existed they were now being issued ‘too frequently and without any awareness or compassion about the consequences’.
In total 10,868 people sought help from the county’s seven Trussell Trust backed food banks during 2013/14, up from 4,363 on the previous 12 months.
Redditch Food Bank has been running since September last year and in its first 12 months has fed over 1,900 people with more than 540 of those being children.
Food banks provide emergency food for three days to people in crisis and up to three times for any one individual, who are referred in by various organisations. On average 70 per cent of people only use a food bank once.
Volunteers say working and unemployed people from all sections of society are being referred to them.
Some of the driving factors behind the rise in demand include low incomes, debt, sickness, unemployment and refusal of a crisis loan. But according to the Trussell Trust delays to and withdrawal of benefit payments make up the bulk of referrals.
Examples given during the review included a blind woman being forced to use a food bank because her benefits had been withdrawn because she had been unable to read a letter asking her to attend a job centre interview. On another occasion a man lost his benefits because he attended a job interview rather than a job centre meeting, despite only being told the night before.
Coun Udall added a particular problem was the ‘professional claimants’ who knew how to use the system were avoiding being penalised while those unused to needing to call on the state were suffering.
“So many people in this country in the 21st Century, one of the richest countries in the world, depend on food parcels – that can’t be right. Whatever the reason, whatever the cause, whatever the Government we have to tackle it.”
The group has recommended the report is forwarded on to the county’s six MPs to ask them to request detailed statistics around the use of benefits sanctions from the Department of Work and Pensions. The county council is also being urged to play a greater role by providing locations to allow food parcels to be picked up outside of normal opening hours and spreading the role of the Community Food Bank Worker across the county to help develop cooking skills and the preparation of affordable, nutritious meals. Schools should also be encouraged to offer basic cooking and household budgeting lessons.
The recommendations will now be considered by the council’s decision-making cabinet.