Food bank

The Independent: Iain Duncan Smith refuses to meet with food bank charity about poverty – then meets with investment bankers about it instead

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Iain Duncan Smith has refused to meet with Britain’s biggest food bank charity for over a year – but has instead held discussions with an American investment bank about tackling child poverty.

The Trussell Trust confirmed again today that its chairman Chris Mould had still not been granted a meeting with Iain Duncan Smith, despite reports as far back as 2013 that he had requested one.

But this week the Department for Work and Pensions disclosed under government transparency rules that Mr Duncan Smith had held a meeting about child poverty with the US investment bank JP Morgan Chase.

In May Mr Duncan Smith met with representatives of the bank at a meeting about child poverty, alongside other businesses and organisations including the British Retail Consortium, Virgin Trains, and the financial services company Legal & General.

He has still not met with the Trussell Trust’s chairman despite requests from him and “various” figures at the charity, however.

Mr Duncan Smith has previously criticised the Trust’s foodbank work and accused it of “scaremongering” over his welfare reform policies.

In a 2013 letter to the charity’s chairman Chris Mould, he criticised the “political messaging of your organisation”, which he alleged had “repeatedly sought to link the growth in your network to welfare reform”, the Observer newspaper reported at the time.

Almost 50% of referrals to food banks are because of the impact of welfare reform measures, according to statistics released by the charity.

The Trust, a Christian charity, has set up over 430 independent food banks staffed by 30,000 volunteers.

The Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson told the Independent:

“We have met with the Trussell Trust and routinely meet with a range of civil society organisations.

“The truth is, it was this Government that started signposting people to these services for the first time through Jobcentre Plus.”

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Need for food banks is caused by welfare cuts, research shows

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Need for food banks is caused by welfare cuts, research shows

Report warns that as social security safety nets become weaker, charity provision could replace state-funded schemes
, social policy editor The Guardian, Tuesday 8 April 2014 18.24 BST
A food bank in Kilburn, north London

A food bank in Kilburn, north London. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

The government’s welfare reforms, including benefit sanctions and the bedroom tax, are a central factor in the explosion in the numbers of impoverished people turning to charity food banks, an academic study has said.

The study, part of a three-year investigation into emergency food provision, was carried out by Hannah Lambie-Mumford, a Sheffield University researcher who co-authored a recently published government report into the extent of food aid in the UK.

That report concluded there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate a clear causal link between welfare reform and food bank demand in the UK. But Lambie-Mumford’s new study, to be published on Wednesday, says the rise in demand for charity food is a clear signal “of the inadequacy of both social security provision and the processes by which it is delivered”.

The report warns that as social security safety nets become weaker, there is a danger that charity food could become an integral part of the state welfare provision, or even an replacement for formerly state-funded emergency welfare schemes.

Lambie-Mumford’s study was based on 25 in-depth interviews with a range of food bank staff and volunteers in 2012 and 2013 and found many food banks were adapting to demand by scaling up food collection and storage provision “to accommodate the future trajectory of need”.

Her paper will be presented to an all-party committee of MPs which meets on Wednesday to finalise the terms of an inquiry into hunger and food poverty. The inquiry will examine the rise of food banks, an issue that has become politically charged as ministers attempt to deflect criticism that austerity policies, including welfare cuts, have had the effect of compelling more people on low incomes to rely on food aid.

Lambie-Mumford said her research showed that food banks were expanding to meet rising demand caused in part by a squeeze on welfare entitlements which made already poor people even worse off. This was compounded by inadequate processing of social security claims, including payment delays and “arbitrary and unfair” sanctioning decisions that left claimants without any income at all. There were other factors which had contributed to the rise of food banks, such as low wages and the rise in the cost of food. But it was important that MPs did not duck or underplay the importance of welfare reform. “The tricky thing is that welfare reform is the most political aspect of a political issue. But we should not shy away from it for this reason,” she said.

The welfare minister Lord Freud notoriously claimed last year that more people were going to food banks because the food was free, thereby triggering “almost infinite demand”. Last month Freud admitted people did not turn up “willingly” at food banks but said it was “very hard to know why” they did go.

The Trussell trust, which oversees a network of more than 400 food banks in the UK, has insisted repeatedly that welfare reform is the biggest driver of demand for food parcels. Its third-quarter data, published in March, showed that it helped 614,000 people in the first nine months of this year. Its final-year figures, expected next week, are likely to show that demand has more than doubled in the past 12 months. More than eight out of 10 food bank managers interviewed for the study acknowledged the impact of welfare changes and welfare processes as a factor in driving demand.

A DWP spokesperson said: “This report, which is based on just 25 interviews, fails to consider how welfare reforms are helping people off benefits and into jobs. The truth is that we now have record numbers of people in work, the highest employment rate for five years, and falling unemployment.” A DWP spokesman later added that the report “gave a one-sided view”.

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Disabled people ‘feel terrorised’

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February 27, 2014 2:00 pm

Disabled people ‘feel terrorised’

Disabled people feel terrorised by the Government’s welfare policies and want the truth on how their lives have been affected, MPs have heard.

John McDonnell has criticised the impact of the Government's welfare reforms.
John McDonnell has criticised the impact of the Government’s welfare reforms.
A petition started by comedian Francesca Martinez, who has cerebral palsy, attracted 104,741 signatures to trigger a Commons debate, which called for an independent assessment of the coalition’s welfare system changes.

Excess deaths of welfare claimants, Universal Credit’s IT roll out, the use of Atos to conduct work capability assessments and the Remploy factory closures are among the issues in need of investigation, according to a motion from Labour’s John McDonnell.

The MP for Hayes and Harlington said many people felt “hounded” just for being disabled.

Moving the debate, Mr McDonnell told the Commons: ” We met some of the campaigners this morning. Some of them said these expressions: ‘Do they realise that many of us feel terrorised by what the Government is doing?’

“One disabled campaigner said to me: ‘Can you tell them that they call their programme fulfilling our potential but we feel many us of simply won’t survive this round of cuts. A generation is going to be lost.’

“That’s why the central demand of this petition is very straightforward. Today’s motion is to call in essence for a cumulative impact assessment of all the welfare changes that have been introduced by this Government.

“And the argument they’ve put forward is if politicians and society only knew the full effect of these changes on the lives of disabled people and their families surely they would not let this happen in a civilised society.

To read the full article click here

It turns out that benefits street is populated by rich people

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It turns out that benefits street is populated by rich people

Wealthy private landlords are being exposed as the new face of the benefits scrounger taking Britain for a ride
 theguardian.com, Tuesday 25 February 2014 12.52 GMT
The Duke of Westminster.

‘The Duke of Westminster, whose Grosvenor Group scoops £243,000 in taxpayer handouts.’ Photograph: David Gamble/TopFoto

Another day, another couple of front page headlines damning benefit scroungers. Except today? Today is different. The claimant-bashing Tory MP Peter Bone is apparently under investigation for an alleged housing benefit fraud relating to his mother’s care home costs. Over at the Mirror, the Queen and Prince of Wales are revealed to be reaping a fortune in publicly subsidised rent payments to their privately held property empires. I have to admit, for a snarky Guardian writer tasked with sharing First Thoughts on the day’s breaking news, this is all just too good to be true.

Bone, it must be stressed, fully denies the allegations, and legal formalities forbid comment. The Mirror’s scoop comes as part of an extensive research exercise with the GMB union and is gleaned from freedom of information requests. It is understandable that the Royals grab the headlines – these payments represent a little cherry on top of the whole cake of the civil list and personal wealth that fund a lavish lifestyle of privilege earned only through accident of birth. But appropriately enough, they feature here as merely the salient symbols of a system that is rotten. The full list of private landlords growing rich from taxpayers’ handouts is like a who’s who of the landed aristocracy, the great and the good. There is the Duke of Westminster, inevitably – the eighth richest person in Britain – whose Grosvenor Group scoops £243,000. Ninth Baronet Sir Richard Sutton is grabbing £68,000, a paltry sum compared with the £195,000 paid to Lord Robert Iliffe. And a Tory politician, Richard Benyon MP, with a personal wealth of £110m, is bringing in pocket money of £626,000 per year in housing benefit.

Elsewhere, less illustrious and notable names are doing quite nicely out of the system too. Faceless corporations with addresses in the Cayman Islands or Guernsey, of course. Or those who mine gold from the grimmest depths of poverty, such as the owners of one hotel in Glasgow, who claimed over £1.5m from housing the homeless in squalid, rat-infested rooms.

Nobody knows exactly how much of the nation’s benefits bills goes directly to private landlords. One recent estimate put the bill at £35bn over three years. The situation is largely a consequence of a degraded social housing stock that can be traced back to the right-to-buy policy and the liberalisation of the rental sector of the 1980s. Whereas once council housing served to keep housing affordable, and rent controls and protected tenancies acted as buffers for those in the private sector, the open market has led to galloping costs, creating a direct river of cash that flows direct from the less wealthy taxpayers to the wealthy and – all too often – the tax evader. Meanwhile, the one available tax policy that would have a chance of recouping some of this vast wealth – a land value tax – remains mysteriously unpopular with political parties.

To read full Guardian article click here

Families turn to food banks as last resort, not because they are free – report

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Families turn to food banks as last resort, not because they are free – report

Review for Defra was passed to ministers in June but not published, creating speculation findings had been ‘suppressed’
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A food bank in Croydon.Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian
 
The government has come under pressure from church leaders and charities to address increasing prevalence of food poverty caused by welfare cuts. 

Low incomes, unemployment and benefit delays have combined to trigger increased demand for food banks among the UK’s poorest families, according to a report commissioned by the government (pdf).

The report directly contradicts the claim from a government minister that the rise in the use of food banks is linked to the fact that there are now more of them. It says people turn to charity food as a last resort following a crisis such as the loss of a job, or problems accessing social security benefits.

The report concludes that, while there is some evidence that welfare changes have contributed to increased demand, it is difficult to make a clear and robust link.

The review emerges as the government comes under pressure from church leaders and charities to address increasing prevalence of food poverty caused by welfare cuts. The End Hunger Fast campaign has called for a national day of fasting on 4 April to highlight the issue.

The review, written by a team of food policy experts from the University of Warwick, was passed to ministers in June but has remained under wraps until now, creating speculation that the government “suppressed” its findings.

Examining the effect of welfare changes on food bank use was not a specific part of its remit, says the report, which is understood to have undergone a number of revisions since early summer at the behest of the Department for Food and Agriculture and the Department for Work and Pensions.

The researchers found that a combination of rising food prices, shrinking incomes, low pay and increasing personal debt meant an increasing number of families could not afford to buy sufficient food.

Benefits payment problems – either administrative errors that can leave claimants without cash for weeks, or the temporary withdrawal of benefits as a result of sanctions –are a factor in the increase in demand for food aid, the report says.

Ministers have repeatedly said there is no robust link between welfare changes and food bank use, while the welfare minister Lord Freud claimed the rise in food bank use was because there were more food banks and because the food was free.

But the Warwick researchers explicitly reject Freud’s claim in a statement accompanying the report: “We found no evidence to support the idea that increased food aid provision is driving demand. All available evidence both in the UK and international points in the opposite direction. Put simply, there is more need and informal food aid providers are trying to help.”

To read full Guardian article click here

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Mark Serwotka: Floods Expose Absurdity of Austerity

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General secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union

Posted: 12/02/2014 17:25
 In the last few weeks – intensifying in recent days as the flood waters have moved closer to London – it almost seems as if politicians have only wanted to help clear some of the mud so they can pick it up and sling it at their opponents. It is difficult to hear yourself think amid this cacophony of blame, but it is worth considering what the floods and our reaction to them tell us about the state and public spending.

Despite the usual spin and bluster, it is a fact that spending on flood defences has been cut by this government and frontline Environment Agency jobs have gone including, insiders say, those who worked alongside the emergency services and on flood warnings.

The Conservative chair of the relevant select committee of MPs has said the floods “reinforce our concerns about cuts to the Defra budget”. And the GMB on Tuesday said most of the £130million extra funding planned will be spent on capital projects and will save few, if any, of the 1,700 jobs under threat.

This has been a horrible time for everyone whose home or business has been flooded and there will be no quick fixes for many families. But it is distasteful in the extreme that some on the right are preying on their misery by saying the only way to help is by cutting foreign aid that supports poverty-stricken and war-torn families around the world.

This rob Peter to pay Paul mentality is nothing new, but it exposes the absurdity of those who hanker for a smaller state. The idea that “our people” – whether our country or our constituents – are more deserving than others is not only crudely selfish, it also makes no sense.

Arch Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg is not waiting for “the market” to step in and pump out his constituents’ homes, or drain the fields or rebuild battered walls and fences. No one in these communities is crying out for G4S or Serco to come to the rescue; they’re asking for the state to help, in the form of the Environment Agency experts, the police, firefighters, local government officers and the armed forces.

Full article click here