Benefit delays forces people to use food banks, charity says

image captionA new food bank opens in the UK every week, the Trussell Trust says

People are turning to UK food banks in increasing numbers because their benefit payments are being delayed, a charity has said.

The Trussell Trust says at present a new food bank is being opened every week due to the high demand.

The charity told BBC Radio 4's You and Yours about a third of people using its 142 food banks saw delayed payments.

The government said emergency loans were available and 80% of benefit claims were processed within 16 days.

Trussell Trust chief executive Chris Mould told the BBC it expects to feed more than 100,000 people in 2011.

Mr Mould said: "There's a huge need in our country at the moment.

"We have people who are going without food in order to feed their children sometimes for days, for all sorts of different reasons, but fundamentally because their incomes are too low to support their basic needs of housing, clothing and food.

"And the bureaucratic support that's available simply takes too long to kick into gear on occasions."

Tracy from Haverhill, Suffolk, used the Reach Centre food bank while she was waiting for her benefits to be paid.

"I was thinking that maybe I would have to wait one week, but it did go on for a bit longer. In total I was waiting probably about three weeks," she said.

"This is why I had to use food bank basically. It was through me not having any friends or family that I could sort of rely on or call upon.

"I don't really know what would have happened (otherwise) to be honest.''

Chris Mould said: "We've fed over 60,000 people in the financial year to April 2011, we expect to feed 100,000 this year.

"They have all been referred by state care professions and others who are directly involved with them who know their stories and know them as individuals and have decided that they are in genuine need."

image captionThe charity estimates it will help 100,000 people this financial year

Freedom of Information figures show that more than one in 10 applicants for Jobseekers Allowance are having to wait three weeks or more for money to arrive, and one in five people people applying for Employment and Support Allowance are having to wait that long.

Between August 2010 and July 2011 more than 300,000 people had to wait a month or more for their benefits.

In a statement, the Department for Work and Pensions said that its processing times had "remained consistent with over 80% of claims turned around in under 16 days".

It added that emergency loans worth £228m, usually processed within two days, were made last year.

But many prefer not to make use of these loans, including Tracy.

"That would have meant going into debt, and I just didn't want to do that," she said.

Mr Mould said it was a common reaction.

"Debt is a very difficult thing to get out of, and this is a loan against the benefits that you're going to receive, and of course benefits have not tracked to inflation.

"Food prices have gone up, so people live in fear of falling into a situation where they cannot pay the rent, cannot feed themselves and will not be able to see a way out."

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