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Food Banks

Volume 573: debated on Thursday 9 January 2014

No such assessment has been made. I welcome the work of charities providing access to nutritious meals to those who may otherwise struggle. Food aid providers are local organisations responding to specific community needs. It is not the Government’s role to tell these organisations how best to run the service they provide.

The Minister will be aware that care professionals issue food bank vouchers to those they identify as being in crisis, but I am concerned that many people are not accessing food banks, either because they cannot contact care professionals because of mobility or disability issues or because they are not aware that they are eligible. Will he take steps to ensure that people are made aware of food bank services and are encouraged to use them if they are in food poverty?

Different food banks take different approaches. Some give one-off support for an immediate crisis, and many have people coming through only once or twice in six months, while others enable people to self-refer if they have not been referred by social services or other agencies. There is a range of different approaches, therefore, and the Government would be reluctant to start interfering with these charities and telling them how to run their services. They are on the ground and developing policies to deal with these problems.

What discussions has the Minister’s Department had with the Department for Work and Pensions about the latter’s decision to remove from forms the tick-box indicating that people might be going to food banks because of benefits changes? Should we not know why people are going to food banks and should his Department not be saying so to the DWP?

On delays to benefits payments, the DWP’s performance has improved: 90% of payments are now made within the time scale set out. Benefits matters are for the DWP. My Department deals with food, and I am happy to talk about food prices and food inflation, but I will not interfere in benefits policy.