'140 councils subsidise food banks'

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File photo dated 20/12/11 of workers at a Food Bank. More than a third of all councils in England and Wales are subsidising food banks - setting aside almost ?3 million in recent years, an investigation has found. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday March 3, 2014. The local authorities have set aside ?2.9 million of public money over the last couple of years to combat food poverty, according to BBC Panorama. While the Government says that food banks are not part of the welfare system, the programme asked all 375 councils in England and Wales about food banks and 323 responded, and of those, 140 said they were providing funding. See PA story POLITICS Foodbanks. Photo credit should read: David Jones/PA Wire

More than a third of all councils in England and Wales are subsidising food banks - setting aside almost £3 million in recent years, an investigation has found.

The local authorities have set aside £2.9 million of public money over the last couple of years to combat food poverty, according to BBC Panorama.

While the Government says that food banks are not part of the welfare system, the programme asked all 375 councils in England and Wales about food banks and 323 responded, and of those, 140 said they were providing funding.

Most councils were covering management, administration or accommodation costs for food banks, while some were paying for the food itself, the programme found.

In Derbyshire, the county council said its most pressing public health concern used to be healthy eating, but food poverty has overtaken it.

The council has just invested £126,000 from its public health budget into food banks.

Julie Hirst, public health specialist at Derbyshire County Council, told Panorama: "It's now become an issue of food poverty and some people in the country are not being able to eat at all and if people can't eat at all, what's the point in trying to get them to eat healthily?"

Professor Liz Dowler, a food policy expert from the University of Warwick, and one of the authors of a recent Government-commissioned report about food aid, said food banks are "an inadequate plaster over a gaping wound".

Professor Dowler added: "They do not solve the problems. And that they should be enshrined as an inadequate solution is deeply immoral."

Panorama found that over the last two years two councils covering the constituency of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith have between them committed almost £70,000 to combat food poverty.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said: "Food banks do not form part of the benefit system."

In a statement it said: "Local authorities are now responsible for providing short term, emergency help to those who need it and additional funding has been devolved to help them do so.

"Local authorities are better placed to give local support than a central system as they can give tailored, flexible support to those in greatest need based on detailed knowledge of the issues they are facing in their communities."

The DWP also told Panorama there was "no robust evidence that welfare reforms are linked to increased use of food banks."

The programme found that in the 11 months to September 30 2013, more than 133,000 jobseeker's allowance sanctions were overturned - the equivalent of almost 400 sanctions overturned every day.

Dr David Webster, an honorary senior research fellow from the University of Glasgow, has been researching the Government's figures on sanctions. He told Panorama there is "an undeniable link" between the tougher benefits sanctions regime and the increased use of food banks.

"Basically, people who start poor are going to be driven into complete destitution," he said.

The DWP said sanctions are used as a last resort, and that anyone who disagrees with a decision can appeal, and also told the programme that it gets the vast majority of decisions right.

The department added: "Our welfare reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities with the Universal Credit making three million households better off."

Hungry Britain? will be broadcast at 8.30pm tonight on BBC One.

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