Theresa May and the Tory government are to blame for increased stress on London’s food banks, said Mayor Sadiq Khan during his question period on Thursday.
Khan, quoting the latest statistics from the Trussell Trust, told the assembly that the disastrous rollout of the Tory’s Universal Credit policy has directly resulted in a massive increase in food bank referrals.
“It shows that, not just the current leader of the Tory party, but their future leaders also, are out of touch,” said Khan.
Assembly Member Florence Eshalomi reinforced the Mayor’s statements, adding that her constituency of Lambeth and Southwark had seen a 33 per cent increase in food bank referrals from April to July of this year, with 94 per cent of those referrals coming as a direct result of benefit changes.
Eshalomi pointed out another statistic pointing to issues with Universal Credit: “A number of people who are accessing food banks are actually in work,” she said.
The latest statistics from Trust for London, released earlier this month, show that 6 in 10 Londoners experiencing poverty come from working families, an all-time high. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn raised the issue at the Prime Minister’s questions on Oct 11, demanding a halt to the roll out.
“It’s years behind schedule, forcing people to food banks, driving up evictions, leaving families in debt,” Corbyn said. “Can’t the Prime Minister see it?”
PM Theresa May responded by asserting that the underlying need for a system that makes sure people are not “better off on benefits” justifies the bugs in the system.
Assembly Member Fiona Twycross agreed that the rollout must be halted, saying that the Tory government had “missed the point” of criticisms relating to Universal Credit.
“We’ve already seen what devastating effects these policies are going to have,” she said to the assembly. “A safety net should alleviate suffering, not increase it.”
Khan criticised politicians who see the use of food banks as an example of strong communities rather than for the real issue behind them.
“There’s nothing uplifting about seeing poverty in London, or there being a need for foodbanks,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking to see people’s dignity affected this way. It’s heartbreaking to see the stigma attached to it.”
The Citizens Advice Bureau reported in a press release earlier this month that they have dealt with over 100,000 issues relating to Universal Credit. They found many of their clients on Universal Credit were at great risk of “eviction, visits from bailiffs, being cut off from energy supplies and even prison” and urged the government to correct the issues before continuing with the rollout.
London Food Link reported in their latest London Food Poverty Profile that over 111,000 Londoners received emergency three-day food parcels between April 2016 and March 2017, a rise from the previous year. The Trussell Trust is expecting a further rise in that number, with statistics showing a nearly 17 per cent increase in emergency food referrals in areas with full Universal Credit roll out, compared to the national average of 6.6 per cent.