Monday, 6 April 2015

Down and out in Britain and Enfield

The government has denied that its benefit policies are driving people to foodbanks. As so often, its wrong.

Benefit sanctions
Official data shows that the number of sanctions has increased since 2006 and more steeply since 2012.  The number of sanctions, now over 1 million per year, is nearly four times as many as in 2006.

There are many examples of absurd sanctions, eg a sanction applied for missing a JobCentre interview because the claimant was at a job interview! A research report by Dr Kesia Reeve of Sheffield Hallam University says that "when sanction decisions are reviewed, half of them are overturned ... The evidence at present is limited, but points clearly to a system that is more punitive than it is supportive".

But what happens when people are sanctioned? Often they run out of money. In a survey published by Manchester Citizens Advice Bureau in 2013 80% of those sanctioned said they got into debt.

The debt advice charity StepChange says "Personal consumer debt in the UK stands at £168 billion and it’s rising at its fastest rate since the credit crunch ... for too many, debt becomes a serious problem. Almost three million people are in problem debt in Britain. ... The cost of problem
debt to society is conservatively estimated at £8.3 billion."

Debt may become a problem when an unexpected bill arrives or when income falls unpredictably. A survey for StepChange found that almost two thirds of the workforce worry about how they
would cope if they experienced an income shock. The Money Advice Service estimates 9 million people are over-indebted and StepChange estimates that  2.9 million people in Great Britain are in severe problem debt.

Benefit sanctions and other problems often drive people into or deeper into debt. Where people  already have too much debt either of these may be the straw that breaks the camel's back. Some will be unable to feed themselves or their children.

The Trussell Trust runs 430 foodbanks and continues to open new ones. There's one in Enfield North, just off  the A10. Last year Trussell Trust foodbanks provided 3 days food to 913,138 people. (The Trust admits that there's some double counting in that number.) That's 163% more than in the previous year and 14 times more than in 2010. Established foodbanks provided 51% more food than last year.

The single biggest cause of people using a foodbank is a problem with benefit and the Trust says "83 percent of Trussell Trust foodbanks surveyed recently reported that benefits sanctions, which have become increasingly harsh, have caused more people to be referred to them for emergency food". The Trust also mentions "Static incomes, rising living costs, low pay, underemployment".

The Trust’s Chairman, Chris Mould, has called for: "A more thoughtful approach to the administration of the benefits regime and sanctions in particular, increasing the minimum wage, introducing the living wage and looking at other measures such as social tariffs for essentials like energy."

These are all Green Party policies or consistent with those policies. Perhaps he should join the Green Party!

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