Iain Duncan Smith re-ignites row over food banks in North East

The Work and Pensions Secretary said insisting that people's reasons for going to a food bank were just to do with benefits was 'quite wrong'

The East End Food Bank run by the Elim Church in Newcastle
The East End Food Bank run by the Elim Church in Newcastle

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith was slammed by food bank campaigners after claiming it was wrong to say people relied on them as a result of benefits sanctions.

The Conservative minister said there were many reasons why people relied on them, but said that insisting it was just to do with benefits was “quite wrong”.

His comments came after a Church of England-backed report showed how delays in welfare payments and sanctioning of claimants were key factors behind people using food banks.

Matthew King, assistant manager at Newcastle’s West End food bank - the busiest in the country - said the minister was not telling the whole story.

He said: “Mr Duncan Smith is being economical with the truth. Unfortunately he’s got quite a track record with this subject of being very selective with his facts.”

Talking on the BBC’s Sunday Politics show, Mr Duncan Smith said people going back to work were less likely to want to use food banks.

 

He also claimed food aid in the UK was “tiny” compared to Germany. He said: “In Germany, food banks are used every week by 1.5 million people. It is tiny in proportion here compared to a place like Germany which has more generous benefits and in which you have a higher level of pay.

“So just saying it is to do with benefits is quite wrong.

“What I do say is there are lots of other reasons lots of people go to food banks.”

But Matthew King said the people he sees at his West End food bank, which helps around 1,000 households every week, are suffering as a result of benefit sanctions.

He said: “The majority of the people who come to us are subjected to benefits delays and sanctions, or reductions because of the bedroom tax.

“They are really struggling to cope and to put food on the table.”

But Mr Duncan Smith defended the speed with which benefits are processed.

He said that when the Coalition came to power only 88-89% of payments were processed on time, compared to 96-97% now.

But the minister accepted that the advanced payment that all job seekers are entitled to needed to be better publicised.

He said: “If they have a difficulty financially, there is money available to tide them over any particular area or time they have a problem with.

“What the report said was that we need to do more to advertise that. So we are doing that now and I accepted that.”

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