2,000% spike in people using Islington Food Bank since 2011 linked to ‘welfare reforms, austerity & Universal Credit’

Cllr Troy Gallagher and Kathy Weston from Islington Food Bank outside Islington Town Hall. Picture:

Cllr Troy Gallagher and Kathy Weston from Islington Food Bank outside Islington Town Hall. Picture: Islington Council - Credit: Archant

The number of people using Islington Food Bank has soared by more than 2,000 per cent in the past seven years due to “welfare reforms, austerity and Universal Credit”, councillors claim.

The Trussell Trust's Islington Food Bank, run from Highbury Roundhouse Youth and Community Centre, in Ronalds Road, has seen its numbers spike from 383 to 5,688 users in the seven years to January.

The revelation comes from the Police and Performance Scrutiny committee's much anticipated report on Universal Credit. It has been monitoring the government's controversial flagship welfare reform since it was rolled out in Islington in June.

Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn told the Gazette: "The huge increase in the number of people relying on food banks to feed themselves and their families shames our country. Brutal cuts to our social security system introduced by the Conservatives since 2010 have created disgraceful levels of poverty in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

"Austerity was a political choice, creating the shocking levels of poverty, homelessness and destitution that we see both in Islington and across the country.

"This government has rightly been condemned by the United Nations' Special Rapporteur for its neglect of its citizens and failing the most vulnerable in our society."

If elected PM, Mr Corbyn pledged to end the "benefit freeze", scrap the "bedroom tax", stop the roll-out of Universal Credit, end the five-week wait for a benefit payment and axe the "punitive sanctions regime".

The committee's vice chair Cllr Troy Gallagher told the Gazette: "Quite clearly there is a clear link between the increase in food bank usage and all the effects of austerity. The increase of Universal Credit and the five-week gap before people get paid means people still have to get vouchers and go to food banks because they can't afford to feed themselves and their children.

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"I think it's a sad indictment of government policy on austerity and the damaging effects of Universal Credit on families and communities in this point where food banks and clothes banks are becoming normal."

The report also highlights the "majority of food bank users were the 'working poor', and families with three or more children". These groups are said to have lost more than £60 per week under Universal Credit.

Cllr Gallagher added: "We're talking about frontline teachers, teaching assistants who have steady employment are having to rely on food banks because the cost of living and stagnant wages. It's terrible."

In March, a mother-of-three and full time carer, Zainab Mohammed, 48, told the Gazette: "I was pushed into rent arrears and Universal Credit and made to feel I was begging at the food bank, I feel it's really unfair."

Universal Credit is an online-only system of monthly payments, replacing six working age benefits, including Job Seeker's Allowance and Housing Benefit.

Islington Food Banks said it had a 12 pc increase in users in the year to March 2019, with 5,688 registered clients.

Low income was the biggest driver for food bank referrals over this period, rising from 28 pc to 43 pc.

But a spokesperson added that "the number of clients coming in due to benefit delays or changes has fallen from 44 pc in 2017 - 2018 to 40 pc this year."

Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust said: "What we are seeing year-upon-year is more and more people struggling to eat because they simply cannot afford food. This is not right.

"Enough is enough. We know this situation can be fixed - that's why we're campaigning to create a future where no one needs a food bank. Our benefits system is supposed to protect us all from being swept into poverty.

"Universal Credit should be part of the solution but currently the five week wait is leaving many without enough money to cover the basics. As a priority, we're urging the government to end the wait for Universal Credit to ease the pressure on thousands of households.

"Ultimately, it's unacceptable that anyone should have to use a food bank in the first place. No charity can replace the dignity of having financial security. "That's why in the long-term, we're urging the Government to ensure benefit payments reflect the true cost of living and work is secure, paying the real Living Wage, to help ensure we are all anchored from poverty."

A DWP spokesperson said: "The reasons for people using food banks are complex and they cannot be attributed to a single cause.

"For those who need extra support, the UK Government spends over £95 billion a year on support for those who need it, including those who are on a low income."

Between January and March this year 1,444 people used Islington Food Bank, including 365 children.

You can view the full report here.