Scotland politics

UK government 'in denial' over food bank use, says Holyrood committee

Boxes at a food bank Image copyright PA
Image caption The DWP has argued that there is no evidence to link welfare changes with food bank use

The UK government's Department for Work and Pensions is "in denial" about the causes of an increase in food bank use, according to a Holyrood committee.

In a new report, MSPs argued welfare changes were a "significant cause" of the rise in demand.

The committee claimed evidence pointed to a 400% rise in people using food banks in 2013/14 compared to 2012/13.

Last month, a UK minister said there was "no robust evidence linking food bank usage to welfare reform".

The Scottish Parliament's Welfare Reform Committee took evidence from food bank providers including the Trussell Trust and aid charities including Oxfam Scotland and the British Red Cross.

The committee also heard evidence from Heriot Watt University, who had been commissioned to conduct research on food bank use for the Scottish government.

Benefit sanctions

The committee said it was particularly concerned about benefit sanctions and called on the UK government to "recognise that people are struggling to meet their basic need for food due to its direct action".

Labour MSP Michael McMahon, the convener of the committee, told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme: "This impression that somehow it's a lifestyle choice that people are choosing 'should I go to McDonalds or go to a food bank?' is just a ridiculous argument for anyone to make.

"There's no doubt that the increase can be connected directly to benefit sanctions and other issues.

"And it's not just those who are without income completely who are dependent on food banks, it's also low paid workers."

MSPs also argued food bank provision should not be allowed to become a substitute for welfare state provision.

Deputy convener and SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn, said: "All our committee members visited food banks across Scotland.

"We were impressed by the professional and respectful way that the volunteers dealt with people who came to them, often in their hour of greatest need."

He added: "The UK government needs to ensure it does not start to weld them into the welfare system.

"It needs to own up to the role it is playing in causing the increase in demand and stop pretending this is simply all about people looking for something for nothing."

Welfare reforms

Scottish Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone dissented from some parts of the report, the committee said.

The UK government has claimed there was no evidence of a link between its welfare reforms and the use of food banks.

In May, employment minister Esther McVey wrote to the Scottish government, saying food bank use was increasing across a number of different countries.

She wrote: "The rise in food banks predates most of the welfare reforms this government has put in place."

Ms McVey has turned down a request for a public meeting with the welfare committee, but said she would meet them informally.

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