UK Politics

Food bank use tiny compared with Germany, says minister

Media captionIain Duncan Smith: "There are lots of other reasons people go to food banks"

The number of people using food banks in the UK is "tiny" compared with Germany, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has told the BBC.

Last week a report by a cross-party group of MPs found benefit-related problems were the single biggest reason for food bank referrals.

Mr Duncan Smith said it was wrong to suggest it was purely a benefits issue.

Germany had more generous benefits and higher pay - yet more people there used food banks, he said.

The Trussell Trust runs more than 420 food banks in the UK- where people donate in-date, non-perishable food via churches, supermarkets and elsewhere.

People identified as being in crisis by professionals like doctors and the police are issued with vouchers which can then be redeemed for three days' emergency food.

'Quite wrong'

The trust says they fed 913,138 people nationwide in the year 2013-14, more than a third of which were children.

In an interview with BBC One's Sunday Politics, Mr Duncan Smith said 1.5 million people a week used food banks in Germany.

"It is tiny in proportion here compared to a place like Germany which has more generous benefits and in which you have a higher level of pay.

"So just saying it is to do with benefits is quite wrong. What I do say is there are lots of other reasons lots of people go to food banks."

In its Feeding Britain report, published last week, the cross-party group of MPs and church leaders blamed an income squeeze, benefit delays and excessive utility bills for a big rise in the use of food banks in the UK.

It said the number of food banks had grown from a handful to the 420 run by the Trussell Trust in 10 years - and possibly at least many more being run independently.

The report said: "Benefit-related problems were the single biggest reason given for food bank referrals by almost every food bank that presented evidence to us.

"The inquiry is concerned that there are avoidable problems occurring in the administration of social security benefits, which have a particularly detrimental impact on poor and vulnerable claimants."

'Terrible thing'

In his interview, Mr Duncan Smith said benefits were now being paid more quickly - from 88-89% being on time under Labour, to 96-97% now.

But he accepted that his department needed to publicise better an advanced payment which was available to all job seekers who find themselves in difficulties, to "tide them over".

Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey urged people to mark Christmas by donating food to food banks, for those unable to afford to feed themselves properly over the festive period.

"Christmas is a time to rejoice and celebrate, to share food together," he told Sky News.

"Parents are giving up food in order to allow their own children to go without starvation.

"I think that's a terrible thing for our country to fall into this kind of trap so we have to, I think, do something and Christmas is a really timely point of the year to reflect on our priorities."

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