Charity leaders across West Suffolk have said benefit sanctions are pushing people into debt crises – fuelling demand for foodbanks.
Their reports corroborate a government report, which revealed rising food prices, low pay, increasing debt and delays or temporary withdrawals of benefit payments are increasing foodbank use.
However Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley has stood by welfare reform while acknowledging the need to protect those unable to work from food poverty.
Amanda Bloomfield, chief executive of Gatehouse, the umbrella organisation of Bury St Edmunds’ Foodbank, said it was handing out approximately 25 parcels a week.
She said: “We do have a lot of people who have benefit sanctions which lead them into debt crises.
“It’s not a constant flow of the same people using it again and again. It’s people who reach a crisis situation and use the food bank once or twice, not usually more than that.”
The majority of people accessing the foodbank’s services are aged between 25-40, usually with families.
Bury MP David Ruffley said it was ‘undeniable’ that the number of people accessing foodbanks had increased since the start of this parliament.
He said: “It’s worrying in the seventh biggest economy on planet Earth, which is what the British economy is, that we have a situation that anyone needs to go to food banks.”
Mr Ruffley said he did not think the increase was solely the result of welfare reform.
He said: “Do I think the welfare reforms are necessary? Yes. I do.
“They are designed to try to get people back to work and those who are able-bodied should be encouraged to get back to work. But we should not be sanctioning those who are incapable of getting back to work.”
Mr Ruffley said he has supported people who hadfound themselves in this situation.
Hazel Smith, of Stowmarket and District Food Bank, run by Churches Together, said the majority of those referred to the service had received benefit sanctions or delays accessing welfare.
She said a single parent had been referred to the foodbank after being sanctioned. The parent had their benefits stopped after missing a job interview to stay at home with a sick child.
Mr Ruffley praised the work of foodbanks. He said: “They are meeting a need, a tragic need, in what is over all a very rich society but that’s why we have charities for these eventualities of difficult cases.”