Saturday, 21 December 2013

Extracts from the Commons Food Bank Debate 18th Dec 2013

Hansard Transcript here.
Watch the Debate here.

The Motion
Initial Speech by Maria Eagle
Comments from Gov Benches
Effect of Benefit Changes and Sanctions
Testimonies
The Outcome of the Vote
Actions


The Motion:

"That this House notes that the number of people using foodbanks provided by the Trussell Trust alone has increased from 41,000 in 2010 to more than 500,000 since April this year, of whom one third were children; further notes that over the last three years prices have risen faster than wages; further notes the assessment of the Trussell Trust that the key factors in the rising resort to foodbanks are rising living costs and stagnant wages, as well as problems including delays to social security payments and the impact of the under-occupancy penalty; calls on the Government to publish the results of research into foodbanks commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which Ministers promised would be made public in the summer of 2013; and further calls on the Government to bring forward measures to reduce dependency on foodbanks, including a freeze on energy prices, a water affordability scheme, measures to end abuses of zero hours contracts, incentives to companies to pay a living wage and abolition of the under-occupancy penalty."
Initial Speech by Maria Eagle(Lab): Ministers [have been] repeatedly stressing that “food banks are absolutely not part of our welfare system...

The Government have tried to claim that the growth in food banks is a case of supply and demand. Lord Freud, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, suggested that the rise was down to people seeking out food because it was free. He said:“by definition there is an almost infinite demand for a free good.” Yet everyone who receives food from a food bank is referred there by a front-line organisation and, therefore, verified as being in a crisis situation...

The Education Secretary has claimed that people are turning to food banks because “they are not best able to manage their finances.”How insulting, patronising and out of touch is that comment...

There is a very straightforward way for Ministers to clear up any doubt about the reasons for the increase in reliance on food aid: they can finally publish the official report into the growth of food banks, which was delivered to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in June. That report has now been sat on by Ministers for six months, longer than it took to produce...

Comments from the Government Benches
Esther McVey: Labour left the UK with the highest structural deficit of any major advanced country...

When the Labour councillor who had set up the Trussell Trust came for support and said, “Allow me to signpost food banks in Jobcentre Plus,” Labour said no. Labour wanted it to be their little secret because, beneath the veneer of what seemed like a sound economy, it was crumbling. It knew what was going to happen...

It is important to look at what is happening around the world. The UK has a population of 63 million and 60,000 people are visiting food banks according to the Trussell Trust. In Germany, however, with a population of 82 million, there are 1.5 million users of food banks. Canada has population of 35 million, and there are 830,000 monthly users of the Trussell Trust. We must put everything in context and look at what happened, whether that is the overspending and not being able to balance the books from 2002, or the financial crash of 2007.

Andrew Selous (Con): I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Does she remember that the Trussell Trust thanked this Government for allowing jobcentres to refer people to food banks? That was a compassionate thing to do and the Labour party refused to do it.

Sir Tony Baldry (Con) : In its recent report on monitoring poverty, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has observed:“Making comparisons of people using food banks over time is not easy, as there simply are more food banks now than five years ago. They may well be meeting need that was previously going unmet.” However, there is obviously a need to look at the impact of benefit changes and, in particular, benefit delays.

John Glen (con): ...I am not trying to deny the scale of food bank use. If Labour Members would stop trying to make political points, that would be helpful.The important issue is getting to the bottom of why so many people are using food banks. The Trussell Trust says that this is about not only homelessness, benefit delay, low income and changes to benefits, but domestic violence, sickness, refused short-term benefit advances, debt and unemployment...But what I find lacking in this debate is a serious estimation of what alternative measures could be put in place; all I have heard is, “Remove the sanctions regime. Give more money.” Where is that money going to come from? How will the incentive effect... ....We should not tritely simplify the matter and say, “It is all about the benefit changes and the Government must do something, but by the way I will not specify what we would do as an alternative, how much it would cost and how we would pay for it and in what time scale.” Unless alternative policies are advanced, the things that some Members are saying ring very shallow for everyone involved in food banks....

Effect of Benefit Changes and Sanctions:
Stephen Mosley (Con): ...Figures from my local food bank show that 59% of those who have used the food bank since April have visited because of changes to benefits and a growing number of people are visiting because of sanctions.

Ian Murray (Lab): The hon. Gentleman mentions his food bank. The food bank in my constituency, run in a joint venture by the Trussell Trust and Blythswood Care, has seen a six times increase in the number of people using it this year alone, mainly due to benefit changes.

Sir Tony Baldry (Con):...In April, an online survey was sent to 3,000 Church of England incumbents. In that survey, the Church Urban Fund asked clergy in parishes right across the country questions about their perceptions of food poverty and what was going on in their parishes. The respondents were invited to indicate what they considered the causes of food poverty, based on their experience of running food banks. These figures come to more than 100% because some clergy selected more than one topic, but 62% chose low income, 42% chose benefit changes and 35% chose benefit delays. It is also worth noting that some respondents believed that individual behaviour was a contributing factor, with 27% selecting poor household budgeting as a significant cause of food poverty.

Hywel Williams (PC): Significantly, about 20% of the people who go to food banks are the working poor. They are not the scroungers and shirkers who are cited so enthusiastically by some hon. Members and by the popular newspapers

Alison McGovern (Lab):...According to volunteers at the food bank in my constituency, they have been told that the need for food banks has been caused by the move from benefits to work. People’s weekly benefits stop and their pay cheques come at the end of the month, which is too far away.

Dame Anne Begg(Lab): ...Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty thought the situation serious enough to encourage their supporters to lobby their MPs and ask them to lobby the Work and Pensions Committee to look into the link between the increase in the use of food banks and the increase in the use of sanctions, as well as the increase in long delays and mistakes in benefit payments by Jobcentre Plus...

The belief that much of the problem is caused by errors in benefit payments is shared by Citizens Advice Scotland, which reports that 73% of the people using food banks cite problems with their welfare payments, that 30% are experiencing delays in getting the payment to which they are entitled, and that 22% are the subject of jobseeker’s allowance sanctions. However, people who have been sanctioned make up less than a quarter of those who are using food banks. All too commonly, people are using them because they have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own. People are still falling ill and losing their jobs as a result, only to face a long delay in getting any benefit. Those delays have got worse in recent years. It also seems to be taking longer and longer to get benefits reinstated once they have been stopped, even by accident. Cuts are also being made to the benefits that people get, including the most pernicious of all—the bedroom tax—and this is all before the largest change of all, universal credit, has been introduced. So things could get worse.

Mr Godsiff (Lab): ...At the end of the day, lives will be scarred by the humiliation of forcing people into food banks—not just the lives of those individuals, but the lives of their children, too. Whatever the Government say, their MPs should be ashamed of that.

Rachel Reeves (Lab): ...The basic need for housing should be met by our wages or by a social safety net when it is needed. The basic need to be able to heat one’s home and turn on the lights should be met by having a decent wage or a social safety net when it is needed.

Sheila Gilmore (Lab): ... When I went to my local church-run food bank, I found that the people there were not political; the one thing they wanted to tell me was how shocked they were that so many of the people coming to them were suffering from sanctions—and sanctions not as a last resort but as a first resort.

Testimonies
Jessica Morden (Lab): I was e-mailed last Friday by a woman in my constituency who asked me to attend this debate. She said: “... At the beginning of this year, the DWP sanctioned me for six months due to an administrative error, which I did not ever receive a written apology for. I had to live on £27 a week for six months until my support worker found out and helped to get me back on my feet. I am not a waster or a shirker but having to receive food parcels because you have nothing in your cupboards is embarrassing for anyone. I also know people who work as hard as they can but because of low wages can’t manage.”

Hywel Williams (PC): ....A man came to see me on Monday who had been sanctioned and had no money. He had been called for an interview, but was not able to go because he had to take his seriously ill wife to hospital for cancer treatment. He could not be 30 miles away at the same time.

Catherine McKinnell (Lab): My constituency office took a phone call from an ex-serviceman yesterday who is now thankfully in receipt of a war pension, disability living allowance and employment and support allowance. However, while he was waiting for four weeks for Atos to deal with his appeal, he had to use a food bank. Does the Minister agree that that is an absolute disgrace?

Fiona Mactaggart (Lab): ...poor people in Slough are now fighting each other in the local Tesco when discount vegetables and fruit come out. A constituent texted me yesterday to say that he observed such fights on three separate occasions and that Tesco now has to put on security to deal with the issue. Is that not shocking in the 21st century?

The Outcome of the Vote:
Ayes 251, Noes 294.

In Nottinghamshire this translated to the following :

Ayes
Vernon Coaker, Gedling
Gloria De Piero, Ashfield
John Mann, Bassetlaw
Alan Meale, Mansfield
Chris Leslie, Nottingham East
Graham Allen, Nottingham North
Lilian Greenwood, Notingham South

Noes
Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke QC, Rushcliffe
Anna Soubry, Broxtowe
Mark Spencer, Sherwood

No information
Not sure how Patrick Mercer OBE, Newark voted

Actions

Emailed local Conservative party asking when report detailing the research into foodbanks commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be published.

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