Charity calls for 'food bank hotline' to help people in crisis

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The Trussell Trust wants the Government to introduce a hotline to each food bank's local Job Centre Plus to support people in crisis quicker.

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According to the Trussell Trust, the number of people receiving food parcels has continued to rise

The charity's call comes as figures show that more than half a million emergency food parcels were distributed by its network of food banks in a six-month period.

Between April and September 2016, Trussell Trust foodbanks across the UK distributed 519,342 three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis. This compared to 506,369 during the same period last year, of these 188,584 went to children.

The charity says that the ‘staggering number’ means that the food  bank network is on course to distribute the highest number of food parcels in its 12-year history during 2016-17.

Benefit delays and changes to the welfare system have been the biggest reasons for foodbank use, accounting for 44 per-cent of referrals to foodbanks.

Low income was the second largest cause of crisis, accounting for nearly one-in-four of all referrals, driven by problems such as low pay, ‘insecure work’ or rising costs.

According to the Trust, a challenge faced by food bank managers, volunteers and welfare advisers is having to spend a 'significant' amount of time on hold to the Department for Work and Pensions' (DWP) phone lines on behalf of people in crisis.

To support those experiencing serious crises more quickly and efficiently, it is calling on the DWP to put in place a hotline to each food bank’s local Job Centre Plus. 

The Trust says this would reduce stress and the negative impact on the mental well-being of people referred to the food bank. It would also provide 'timely and invaluable trouble shooting' for people referred to food banks because of problems with a welfare claim.

David McAuley, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said, 'As the number of emergency food parcels provided to people by foodbanks rises once again, it’s clear that more can be done to get people back on their feet faster.

'Many foodbanks now host independent welfare and debt advisers but they cannot solve all the issues. To stop UK hunger we must make sure the welfare system works fairly and compassionately, stopping people getting to a point where they have no money to eat.

'It feels like we could be seeing a new era at the DWP with a consultation on Work Capability Assessments and willingness to engage in dialogue with charities working on the front line. A telephone hotline could build on this and go a long way to improving food banks ability to help get people out of a crisis faster.'

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said, 'Reasons for food bank use are complex so it’s misleading to link them to any one issue and the vast majority of benefits are processed on time.

'We know that work is the best route out of poverty and there are record levels of low unemployment. But for those who need extra support, we provide a strong safety net through the welfare system, including hardship payments, benefit advances and budgeting loans.'

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