Welfare Reform a "significant cause" of Rise in Food Banks

Posted by Jamie Livingstone Head of Oxfam Scotland

2nd Jun 2014

We welcome the findings of a new report from a Scottish Parliamentary committee which links the surge in food bank use in Scotland to welfare reforms.

The Welfare Reform Committee report concludes that the UK Government's welfare reforms are a "significant cause" for increasing numbers of people needing food support. It describes food banks as a "sign of a Dickensian model of welfare which should have no place in a prosperous nation".

Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam Scotland, gave evidence to the Welfare Reform Committee.

He says: "This report is clear: welfare reforms are playing a major role in the huge and growing number of people needing food support. We welcome the Committee's recommendation that the UK Government must now recognise this link - it is not good enough to deny the impact of welfare reform on food poverty.

"No one turns up at a food bank out of choice - it is the lack of options which is forcing them to seek food; it is a measure of last resort."

The amount of food aid distributed by the Trussell Trust alone in Scotland has increased dramatically, with over 71,000 people using their food banks in the 12 months to April 2014, a fivefold increase from just over 14,000 the previous year.  Large increases have also been reported by other food providers in Scotland, including our partner the West Dunbartonshire Community Foodshare, who also cite benefit delay, low pay and sanctions as some of the key causes for people turning to their service.

Today's report says the Committee is "convinced by the volume and strength of the evidence" that there is "a direct correlation" between welfare reform and the increase in use of food banks. The Committee calls on the UK Government to acknowledge this link and "recognise that welfare reforms are contributing to demand for food aid".

MSPs voiced particular concern about sanctions. It comes after a report from the Department for Work and Pensions showed a total of 100,000 sanctions were imposed in Scotland between October 2012 and the end of 2013, affecting more than 60,000 people.

As well as welfare reform, the Committee points to the economic downturn and increases in food and fuel prices as contributory factors to the rise in food bank use. 

Jamie added that "the Committee is entirely correct to say that food banks, whilst necessary right now, must never become institutionalised within the welfare state. If we want to eliminate the need for food banks in our society we must tackle the root causes of food poverty and that includes both the adequacy of the social safety net but also the impact of low pay and insecure jobs."

We welcome the mitigation measures passed by the Scottish Parliament, including moves to compensate those affected by the so-called Bedroom Tax. The creation of the Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) is also a welcome measure, however, the Scottish Government and local authorities must ensure support reaches those who need it. 

Today's report highlights some concerns that local authorities have sign-posted people to food banks in the first instance rather than the Scottish Welfare Fund.  When people do receive support via the SWF it is often in-kind, rather than in cash. 

Oxfam Scotland believes cash transfers, rather than in-kind support such as food vouchers, give people greater choice and dignity, as well as boosting the local economy. You can find out more about our vision for building an economy that works for the people in Our Economy: Towards a new prosperity

Blog post written by Jamie Livingstone

Head of Oxfam Scotland

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