Today Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty have published a report, Walking the Breadline: The Scandal of Food Poverty in 21st Century Britain. They highlight the alarming rise of people dependent on food banks in the UK (currently a whopping half a million people, according to their estimates). Even more worryingly, they point out that up to half of these people are seeking out food banks due to benefits being delayed, reduced or withdrawn altogether. They expect these numbers to rise with the introduction of Universal Credit.
They make the following recommendations:
1. The House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee conducts an urgent inquiry into the relationship between benefit delay, error or sanctions, welfare reform changes, and the growth of food poverty.
2. The Department for Work and Pensions publishes data on a regular basis on the number and type of household who are deprived of their benefits by reason of benefit delay, error or sanctions; the numbers leaving and returning to benefits after a short period of time, and the number of referrals from Jobcentre staff to local food banks.
3. The Department for Work and Pensions commission independent monitoring of the roll-out of Universal Credit, to ensure that there is no unintentional increase in food poverty.
4. All referrals to food banks/emergency food aid provision, made by government agencies, be recorded and monitored in order to establish more accurate numbers on people experiencing food poverty in the UK.
5. HM Treasury make tackling tax dodging an urgent priority, including promoting robust and coordinated international action at the forthcoming G8 meeting in Northern Ireland in June – to reduce the need for future cuts in benefits, and restore the principle that benefits should at least rise in line with inflation.
You can read the full report here.