Government researches link between welfare reforms and rise in foodbank use

10 August 2018

ROO WILLIAMS

Meeting a need: volunteers prepare food for the holiday play scheme at Ty Price, the community centre of St Thomas’s, Overmonnow, in the diocese of Monmouth. This week, the Team Vicar, the Revd Catherine Haynes, who has a community-engagement brief, said that “hidden poverty” in the area was linked to the introduction of Universal Credit and a reduction in housing benefit. The church was working with foodbanks to support those in need, and a spike had been observed after the school holidays. “They try their best to keep together during the holidays,” Miss Haynes said. The centre also stores other goods for people in need, including white goods and bedding. Up to 90 children are attending the six-week scheme, supported by businesses and volunteers from churches near by. “If we want a fairer society, it means everyone contributing: the vision of Aneurin Bevan,” she said

Meeting a need: volunteers prepare food for the holiday play scheme at Ty Price, the community centre of St Thomas’s, Overmonnow, in the diocese of Mo...

FOR years, the Government has rejected a link between its welfare reforms and the rise in use of foodbanks. One Secretary of State accused a provider of “scaremongering”.

But two months ago, it asked the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to investigate whether a link did, after all, exist, The Guardian has revealed.

The news emerged in the same week as the Trussell Trust urged the DWP to fund local authorities to provide food and activities in the school holidays, to ensure that children did not go hungry, and to increase benefit levels for families with dependent children.

“Although our network will be doing all they can this summer to help families struggling to make the money they have stretch to cover the essentials, no charity can replace people having enough money for the basics,” the charity’s director of operations, Samantha Stapley, said on Friday.

The draft research proposal for the DWP, seen by The Guardian, lists a key objective of the proposed research as “to identify any areas of DWP policy or operational practice that may have contributed to a rise in demand for foodbank services”.

The results are due to be published in October 2019, and will entail a survey of 600 foodbank managers and 500 foodbank users.

Charities, including the Trussell Trust, and academic researchers have consistently cited problems with benefits — delays, changes, sanctions — as the main trigger for referrals to foodbanks (News, 7 June 2013; 12 December 2014; and 10 November 2017), although more recently “low income” has been cited (News, 27 April).

The Government has suggested that there is “no robust evidence that welfare reforms are linked to increased use of foodbanks”. A former Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith, accused the Trust of “scaremongering” (News, 3 January 2014).

The Government has also accused researchers of using “self-selecting data” (News, 21 November 2014). A study from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, commissioned in 2014, spoke of a lack of “robust evidence” (News, 28 February 2014).

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This week, a spokesperson for the DWP said that it was “constantly reviewing research carried out by organisations to add to our understanding of foodbanks and will consider further research to add to our evidence base, to ensure we’re providing the best possible support for vulnerable groups.”

Data published by the Trussell Trust last week records that it supplied more than 200,000 three-day emergency supplies during July and August last year, 74,011 of which went to children: an increase on previous months. Last year, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger estimated that the loss of free school meals during the holidays added between £30 and £40 a week to parents’ outgoings for one child.

Among the Trust’s recommendations are that the Government place a statutory duty on local authorities to provide food and activities in the holidays, funded by the DWP. A pilot is already under way. Currently, many churches provide free food for children during the holidays, through holiday clubs (News, 19 August 2016).

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