- Work and Pensions Secretary defends the rise of food bank use
- Labour and unions blame benefit cuts for pushing people into poverty
- Ministers plan cuts to tax credits but demand companies increase wages
Matt Chorley, Political Editor for MailOnline
09:16 EST, 25 June 2015
09:18 EST, 25 June 2015
Iain Duncan Smith today defied criticism of the government’s welfare cuts, insisting he ‘welcomes’ food banks in Britain.
The Work and Pensions Secretary said the rise in the number of charities handing out food parcels was evidence of ‘decent’ people helping those who have ‘fallen into difficulty’.
But the comments reignited claims that benefit cuts were forcing more people to turn to good causes for help, and plans to reduce tax credits will make the problem worse.
Iain Duncan Smith today defied criticism of the government’s welfare cuts, insisting he ‘welcomes’ food banks in Britain
Ministers have previously argued that an increase in the number of food banks has been fuelled by Jobcentre staff being allowed to refer the unemployed to food banks for help.
It is also suggested that increased media coverage about food banks means more people are aware of their existence.
But critics claim cuts to benefits and rising living costs are to blame in part for some people struggling to make ends meet.
New figures today showed that 15 per cent of people are living in relative poverty, while the number of children classed as living in relative poverty is 2.3 million.
The government boasted that poverty levels remained at the lowest level since the 1980s.
But in the Commons, Labour MP David Winnick said: ‘If the situation has improved substantially why has there been such a large amount of food banks, far larger than previously?
‘Isn’t it quite clear that some Tory members have no idea at all of the amount of poverty which exists, in many cases in their own constituencies?’
Earlier the SNP’s Ian Blackford said: ‘Is it not a disgrace that in my own constituency the biggest increase in food bank use has come from those who are in work?’
Mr Duncan Smith said he had no problem with the increased use of food banks: ‘Most of my colleagues are usually involved with food banks and actually help them.
‘I welcome food banks. I welcome decent people in society trying to help others who may, for various reasons, have fallen into difficulty.
‘I don’t accept the single cause of that is to do with the welfare reforms, quite the contrary.
‘Food bank usage has been rising over a period. It was never part of the British system, but in Germany where their welfare payments you can argue are higher, 1.5 million a week use food banks, much more than they do here.’
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘It’s small wonder that Iain Duncan Smith is a fan of food banks – his polices are keeping them in business.
‘If he spent more time visiting food banks he would see for himself that many users are in work, as well those punished by his cruel sanctions regime. Slashing tax credits for the working poor will only make things worse.’
Senior Conservatives have repeatedly faced criticism for their attitude towards food banks.
But Lord Freud said the rise in demand for food banks was difficult to understand., adding ‘it is very hard to know why people go to them’.
Ministers have previously argued that an increase in the number of food banks has been fuelled by Jobcentre staff being allowed to refer the unemployed to food banks for help
Two years ago Cabinet minister Michael Gove was branded an ‘absolute disgrace’ by Labour after claiming families who use food banks have only their own ‘decisions’ to blame.
He suggested that many cash-strapped families have brought their problems on themselves.
He added: ‘I appreciate that there are families who face considerable pressures.
‘Those pressures are often the result of decisions that they have taken which mean they are not best able to manage their finances.
‘We need to ensure that support is not just financial, and that the right decisions are made.’
Former Tory chairman Lord Tebbit has also claimed that people who use food banks to get basic items free and spend their remaining cash on junk food, blaming a ‘near infinite demand’ for anything free.
Last year the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the UK found that, since the establishment of the Trussell Trust network in 2004, numbers of emergency food assistance providers have grown to at least 1,500, including 800 food banks – around half of them operated by the Trust.
Its major report, Feeding Britain, found there that ‘demand for emergency food assistance is increasing, and sometimes increasing dramatically’.
But Tory peer Baroness Jenkin of Kennington faced criticised after she suggested that a lack of cookery skills was in part to blame for families going to food banks, and boasted she ate a bowl of porridge for 4p for breakfast.