Benefit delays spark rise in demand for food banks in Sunderland

Graham Wharton, project manager at the Salvation Army's community project in Southwick, Sunderland.
Graham Wharton, project manager at the Salvation Army's community project in Southwick, Sunderland.
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DELAYS in benefit are driving more Wearsiders to turn to food banks in order to survive.

Figures from the Salvation Army – which helps dish out food parcels to Sunderland’s needy – show changes in the benefits system are leaving some people going hungry.

Graham Wharton, who manages the church’s community project in Southwick, said: “We found, some months ago, that there was a big change in people moving from Employment Support Allowance on to Jobseeker’s Allowance.

“Some families who were changing over in benefits were actually experiencing a delay from four to six weeks. This trend slightly continued, but it certainly does not seem to be as huge as it used to be.

“However, how do you feed a family if you’re not getting any money at all?” Sunderland’s food bank project – One for the Basket –handed out 319 food parcels to 648 people in the year up to April 2013.

Two years ago, the project was reporting a 70 per cent increase in referrals from agencies including the Probation Service.

Figures from the Salvation Army revealed most – 52 per cent – were due to delays or changes in benefits. However, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said the number of benefits processed on time – within 16 days – is up this year to 90 per cent, a rise of four per cent from 2009/10.

A DWP spokesman said: “The benefits system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed. And there is no robust evidence that welfare reforms are linked to increased use of food banks.

“The Government has taken action to help families with the cost of living, including increasing the tax-free personal allowance to £10,000 which will save a typical taxpayer over £700, freezing council tax for five years and freezing fuel duty.”

Mr Wharton, who has worked for the Salvation Army for 16 years, added: “Once upon a time it was one or two, every so often. Now we probably issue between 15 and 20 food parcels a week.”

Chris Mould, executive chairman of The Trussell Trust said: “Problems with welfare are not new, they have existed for years, but the reality is when welfare provision breaks down, people go hungry.”