Oxfam backs call for public inquiry into food banks

Oxfam is backing calls for a public inquiry into the massive rise in the numbers of people relying on food banks.

Figures published today by the Trussell Trust, show that more than 350,000 people received three days’ emergency food from the charity’s foodbanks between April and September 2013, treble the numbers helped in the same period last year.

In the same period in Scotland, a total of 23,073 people including 6,608 children needed support.

The Trussell Trust says that hunger is getting worse and the charity is calling for a public inquiry into the causes of UK food poverty and the consequent surge in food bank use.

Chris Mould, Executive Chairman of The Trussell Trust said: ‘We said in April that the increasing numbers of people turning to foodbanks should be a wake-up call to the nation, but there has been no policy response and the situation is getting worse. The level of food poverty in the UK is not acceptable. It’s scandalous and it is causing deep distress to thousands of people.

“The time has come for an official and in depth inquiry into the causes of food poverty and the consequent rise in the usage of foodbanks. As a nation we need to accept that something is wrong and that we need to act now to stop UK hunger getting worse.’

The Trussell Trust is writing to David Cameron asking him to look into the questions on food poverty recently raised by the Government’s poverty tsar Frank Field MP.

Judith Robertson, Head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “These figures lay bare the shocking scale of destitution, hardship and hunger in Scotland and across the UK. It is completely unacceptable that in the seventh wealthiest nation on the planet, the number of people turning to food banks has trebled.

“Cuts to our social safety-nets have gone too far, especially the widespread use of sanctions by the DWP. It is leading to destitution, hardship and hunger on a large scale.

“And this isn’t just affecting people who are on benefits. Rising food costs and falling wage levels are leaving thousands of working families unable to feed themselves properly.

“Oxfam welcomes The Trussell Trust’s call for the Prime Minister to launch an urgent inquiry into why people are forced to turn to food banks.”

Earlier this year, Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty published ‘Walking The Breadline’, estimating that – taking into account the Trussell Trust and other emergency food providers – more than half a million people in the UK are now relying on emergency food aid.

Evidence from Trussell Trust food banks shows that rising living costs and stagnant wages are forcing more people to live on a financial knife edge where any change in circumstance can plunge them into poverty.

Even small shifts in prices can have a big impact, because people simply don’t have any money to spare.

Food prices have risen by 12.6% above inflation over the past six years and rising energy prices this winter are likely to see more people forced to choose between eating and heating. People at food banks have started giving back food items that need cooking because they can’t afford to turn on the electricity.

Many people on low-incomes are also being affected by the implementation of April’s welfare reforms. Trussell Trust foodbanks are reporting increased referrals as a result of housing benefit cuts, and benefits sanctions.

Chris Mould said: ‘Problems with welfare are not new, they have existed for years, but the reality is that when welfare provision breaks down, people go hungry. We’re talking about mums not eating for days because they’ve been sanctioned for seemingly illogical reasons, or people leaving hospital after a major operation to find that their benefits have been stopped or delayed. It’s not right that so many more people are now being referred to food banks due to problems with welfare, especially as much of this is preventable.

“This is not about pointing fingers, it’s about finding solutions. That’s why we believe an enquiry is now essential’

Last week, British Red Cross announced that it will provide volunteers for the first time to support Tesco’s nationwide food collection for Trussell Trust Foodbanks and FareShare because it is so concerned by levels of UK hunger.