Benefit reforms needed to tackle food poverty, cross-party report finds

8 Dec 14

The government has been urged to speed up the payments of benefits and reform the current sanctions regime in a bid to reduce food poverty in the UK.

A report published today by the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the United Kingdom found that there were far too many people going hungry in the country, with increasing numbers reliant on food banks.
The committee, which was chaired by Labour MP Frank Field and Bishop of Truro Tim Thornton concluded government action was needed to help tackle food poverty.
Among its recommendations was a call for the payments of benefit to be quickened so that claimants receive money within five days.
Benefit-related problems was the singlebiggest reason given for food bank referrals, the group highlighted.
‘We believe the government must urgently reform the benefits system so it is able to deliver payments quickly within five working days,’ the report stated.
‘We fully understand this will take time to achieve. But the Department for Work and Pensions must begin this process of reform by ensuring it has the data to measure the time between a claim being made and the claimant receiving their first payment.’
Under the current system, some benefits such as Housing Benefit can take a long as 14 days to be paid to claimants.
These arrangements are ‘cumbersome, complicated and fail to respond effectively to the daily changes in people’s lives’, the report stated. ‘Changes are urgently needed to create a benefits system that is truly fit for purpose in the twenty-first century.’
The group, whose members included Conservative MPs John Glyn and Sarah Newton and Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck, also called for the current regime of Jobseekers’ Allowance sanctions for people deemed not to be looking for work to be reformed.
Although there was a need to continue demanding the necessary responsibilities from claimants, the report said changes would ensure that people have a better chance of being able to fulfil these.
‘There has been a harmful disconnect in some cases between Jobcentre Plus procedures and the needs of claimants, in which claimants feel they are subjected to a ‘one strike and you’re out’ policy,’ the report stated.
‘More than three million sanctions were applied in the five years to September 2013. We found that even if someone has applied for enough jobs to fulfil their requirements, for example, they may be sanctioned for having filled in the forms incorrectly.’
To allow greater flexibility in the system, staff at Jobcentre Plus should be able to exercise their own discretion as to whether a requirement was missed through circumstances beyond the claimant’s control, and be able to recommend that sanctions not be imposed on such occasions.
A ‘yellow card’ warning system should also be put in place to give claimants the chance to provide an explanation for a first offence, before a sanction is applied.
Responding to the report, a government spokeswoman said: ‘This report is a serious contribution to an important debate, with many good ideas, and recognising that the reasons behind demands for emergency food assistance are complex and frequently overlapping. 
‘As a country we have enough food to go around, and we agree that it is wrong that anyone should go hungry at the same time as surplus food is going to waste. There is a moral argument as well as a sustainability one to ensure we make the best use of resources.’


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