Foodbanks rise ‘inextricably linked’ to welform reforms
The growing demand for foodbanks is “inextricably linked” to welfare reforms, charities have told MSPs.
Holyrood’s Welfare Reform Committee heard how thousands more people have turned to voluntary organisations for emergency food parcels, following changes to the benefits system which were introduced by the UK Government in April 2013.
Those who rely on foodbanks often walk for miles as they cannot afford to pay for transport, and many are given items that can be eaten cold because they are unable to pay for electricity in order to cook, the committee heard.
The services are also being used by people who are employed on low incomes, and who are struggling with the rising cost of living, the charities said.
The Trussell Trust has reported its foodbanks helped more than 56,000 people between April last year and February 24. The total for the previous 12 months was 14,318 – including about 4,000 children.
Ewan Gurr, Scotland development officer, said: “That is an exponential rise in the demand for emergency food relief.
“It is indisputable that people are under more pressure than they ever have been, and obviously we are not seeing benefits keep pace with the rise in living costs.
“The evidence that we are seeing every day right across our foodbank network is that welfare reforms are inextricably linked to the rising demand for emergency food relief.”
Jo Roberts, of Community Food Moray, said the organisation saw around 13 cases each month before April 2013.
After the introduction of welfare reforms, this number grew to 59. The charity recorded 301 cases in February.
“The main issue people are presenting with is welfare and benefit problems. The biggest reason is welfare sanctions,” Ms Roberts said.
She said demand for “cold food boxes” was increasing.
“On our referral forms we ask what cooking facilities people have. We have a number coming through where, yes they have all the cooking facilities, but they can’t use them because they can’t afford to put the electricity in the meter,” she said.
Problems with transport are also an issue, Ms Roberts added.
Denis Curran, chairman of Loaves and Fishes, a Glasgow-based charity which provides food parcels, agreed people were “walking three or four miles with children” to attend foodbanks.
SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing said she had met someone who walked around 12 miles from Ballingry to Dunfermline to access a service.
“I think the issue of transport is hugely important because many of these facilities are not going to be on the high street,” she said.
Mr Curran also highlighted misconceptions about why people are using foodbanks.
“There seems to be a fallacy out there that it is misused, and that it’s greed,” he said.
“It is easier to say they are thieves, liars, cheats and layabouts – that they misuse the benefits system.
“What is the real figure of the people who have committed suicide through benefit cuts? People come to us and they are terrified.
“Powers that be – it is time you woke up to reality. We don’t need meetings to decide if benefit cuts have got something to do with a rise in foodbanks.
“The situation is people are being penalised for being poor.”
Dave Simmers, chief executive of Community Food Initiatives North East, called for more research into the scale of the issue.
He said: “Anecdotally we have got strong evidence of the impact of welfare reform on the usage of foodbanks, but undoubtedly there is a need to back that up with independent research.”
The committee later heard from academics at Heriot Watt University.
Dr Filip Sosenko, research a ssociate, challenged previous comments made by Conservative welfare minister Lord Freud in which the politician questioned links between the rise in foodbanks and welfare reforms, and suggested increased supply was prompting greater demand.
Dr Sosenko said: “Welfare reform was not the main or obvious factor fuelling demand for food aid prior to April 2013, however there is enough evidence to say, from April 2013, it has become a major factor fuelling demand.”
He told the committee that the “harshest changes” to the benefits system were introduced in April 2013, but sanctions became tougher as early as October 2012.