I feel increasingly helpless. I'm getting more and more comments, often on old posts, from people who are desperate because they, or someone in their family, has had their benefits stopped. It's heart-rending, and there's virtually nothing I can do except advise them to go to the CAB.
The situation is made very clear in an article in the Observer online today by the food critic Jay Rayner about "Food Bank Britain". He doesn't just focus on the Trussell Trust, although they feature. He also looks at the Real Aid charity in Hull. The experience is the same. And Chris Johns of Oxfam's UK Poverty Programme is clear why it's happening. It's not just changing benefits provision, he says, but "the way government agencies temporarily remove benefits for perceived misdemeanours: a failure to sign the right paperwork, or apply for the right training scheme." And then the same agency that sanctioned them gives them a food bank voucher. In Fulham there's a woman getting food from the Trussell Trust who is her husband's full-time carer and has three children. The benefits agency discovered an overpayment of £600 in 2009, they insist (although the woman says she would have noticed) and have stopped their benefits for a month to recoup it. (Just as an aside, it used to be the case that overpayments couldn't be reclaimed if the mistake was not made by the client.) Other cases are cited. In Hull, Real Aid don't use vouchers, but charge £1.50 for the food. A lot of people actually prefer this. And they are giving the help to people who are working or who are pensioners, because they don't have enough money to buy food.
The article cites the claims of Lord Freud, who doesn't accept that the increase in the use of food banks has anything to do with increased need.
The evidence is overwhelming, but the government doesn't care. It still refuses to publish the data on sanctions. Why?
And then we get this. The most disgusting, lying, vile piece rubbish that the Express has managed to come up with, in collaboration with the equally disgusting Iain Duncan Smith. What is there to say? It's a torrent of lies, of words designed specifically and unashamedly to lie. I am too furious to be coherent about it at the moment.