That, for the year ending with 31 March 2014, for expenditure by the Department for Transport:

(1) further resources, not exceeding £3,070,706,000, be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 1074 of Session 2012-13,

(2) further resources, not exceeding £4,648,442,000, be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and

(3) a further sum, not exceeding £6,414,882,000, be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.

The Speaker then put the Questions on the outstanding Estimates (Standing Order No. 55).

3 July 2013 : Column 1025

estimates 2013-14


That, for the year ending with 31 March 2014:

(1) further resources, not exceeding £192,766,307,000, be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 1074, 1070, 1079 and 1082 of Session 2012-13, and in HC 322 and HC 396 of this Session,

(2) further resources, not exceeding £19,622,161,000, be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and

(3) a further sum, not exceeding £187,933,974,000, be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.—(Greg Clarke.)

Ordered, That a Bill be brought in upon the foregoing Resolutions relating to Estimates 2013-14;

That the Chairman of Ways and Means, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Danny Alexander, Sajid Javid, Mr David Gauke and Greg Clark bring in the Bill.

Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Bill

Presentation and First Reading.

Greg Clark accordingly presented a Bill to authorise the use of resources for the year ending with 31 March 2014; to authorise both the issue of sums out of the Consolidated Fund and the application of income for that year; and to appropriate the supply authorised for that year by this Act and by the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Act 2013.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 86).

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This afternoon we saw bizarre scenes where the Secretary of State did not have information in front of him about the future of Territorial Army bases. You will recall that I inquired about the future of Dunfermline TA, which was listed for closure. The Secretary of State confirmed that that TA was closing and that they would have to travel to an adjoining community. I have, late today, received a letter from the Minister for the Armed Forces, the right hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr Robathan), saying that what will actually happen is that they will cross a road. Given that this has caused huge distress today in Dunfermline, is there anything you can do to encourage the Ministry of Defence to get its stories accurate and straight, and to encourage Ministers to come back to the House at the earliest opportunity to clear up this whole sorry mess?

Mr Speaker: The responsibility for clarity of statement rests with every Member of the House. Obviously, where a ministerial statement is concerned, one would hope that it would be both accurate and clear. It is not for me to require a Minister to return to the House on this specific matter. However, the hon. Gentleman, through his point of order, has drawn attention to the factual situation, which I rather imagine he will communicate externally. Whether he wishes to communicate with others, including those in the Ministry of Defence, in the hope that they will wish to communicate with organs of journalistic expression I know not, but the hon. Gentleman is doing his best to advance his case.

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Thomas Docherty: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. You will also recall that the Secretary of State undertook to write to both you and me about the Kilmarnock confusion today. I have checked the letter board and my e-mails, and I have had no such communication. I do not know whether you have received any communication, but the Scottish media have been briefed on the situation. I am curious to know whether the Secretary of State bothered to contact you, as he undertook to do so today.

Mr Speaker: I have not been contacted by the Secretary of State in the course of the afternoon. What I would like to say to the hon. Gentleman is that I stand by the remarks that I made, and which I think were echoed by others in respect of the handling of this matter today. It was clearly very unsatisfactory. If the hon. Gentleman is in his place tomorrow at business questions, and if his senior and responsible position in the team does not preclude him from participation in business questions, he may find that there are words uttered that will assuage even his very considerably wounded feelings on this matter. I think we will leave it there for now.

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Road Traffic

That the draft Road Safety (Financial Penalty Deposit) (Appropriate Amount) (Amendment) Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 5 June, be approved.—(Mr Syms.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),


That the draft Offender Management Act 2007 (Commencement No. 6) Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 10 June, be approved.—(Mr Syms.)

Question agreed to.

Business of the House


That, at the sitting on Wednesday 10 July:

(1) paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments) shall apply to the Motion in the name of Edward Miliband as if the day were an Opposition Day; and proceedings on the Motion may continue for three hours and shall then lapse if not previously disposed of; and

(2) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 20 (Time for taking private business), the Private Business set down by the Chairman of Ways and Means shall be entered upon at any hour and may then be proceeded with, though opposed, for three hours, after which the Speaker shall interrupt the business. .—(Mr Syms.)

3 July 2013 : Column 1027


Jamie Still Campaign

7.4 pm

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): Earlier today I accompanied the family of Jamie Still—Jamie’s mother Karen, father Mike, sister Rebecca and grandfather Peter—to present a 13,000-strong petition on behalf of the Jamie Still campaign. I want briefly to pay tribute to their courage and especially to the work of Jamie’s sister Rebecca, who has shown remarkable courage in the face of the tragic and unnecessary loss of her brother.

The petition states:

The Petition of a resident of the UK,

Declares that the Petitioner believes that the sentences for drink driving need to be tougher in the UK; in one case the brother of Rebecca Still was knocked down and killed by a drunk driver whilst he was on the pavement with his friends; further that the Petitioner believes that the driver did not lose his licence until 8 months later and did not go to prison until 9 months later; further that the driver received 4 years in prison but may only serve 2 years. The Petitioner would like zero tolerance for drink drivers so that they lose their license earlier and so that sentences are longer.

The Petitioner therefore requests that the House of Commons urges the Government to amend legislation so as to be tougher on drink driving.

And the Petitioner remains, etc.


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Benefits and Food Banks (County Durham)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Syms.)

7.6 pm

Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): I would like to start this debate with two quotations. The first is as follows:

“Relief varied…theoretically graduated according to the recipient’s power of earning his own living. As usual, the deserving poor were crowded out by the idle and worthless.”

The second quotation refers to

“the shift-worker, leaving home in the dark hours of early morning, who looks up at the closed blinds of the next-door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits”.

What do they have in common? Both refer to the deserving and undeserving poor; both are divisive. They appeal to emotion and prejudice, but not reason. The worker starting the night shift will probably be having to do so because he is on a low income and needs the money, while the person asleep behind the blinds will be the millionaire, dreaming of how to spend his tax cut.

Those two quotations are from over a century apart. The first is from “A History of the County of Durham”, published in 1907, and can be found on page 245 of volume II of the series. The second quotation is from the Chancellor’s 2012 Conservative party conference speech. In some quarters, times change but everything stays the same. The quotation from 1907 ends with these words:

“some of the towns and more populous parts found it advisable to have workhouses.”

As we approach the middle years of the second decade of the 21st century, we do not have workhouses, but we do have a growing network of food banks.

I want to congratulate and thank all the volunteers who work in food banks, especially in County Durham, many of whom I have known for a long time and can proudly count among my friends. I wanted to hold this debate to raise what I believe to be a growing crisis in our communities. It is a hidden crisis, because the recipients of food parcels do not, in the main, want to talk about their needs. They are embarrassed and can be cowed by their experiences—they do not appear on “The Jeremy Kyle Show”. How can we be surprised that they feel that way, when their Government refer to them as shirkers and demonise their predicament, even though almost 20% of those who use food banks in County Durham are in work?

I have no doubt that the Minister will say in his response that the number of people using food banks in 2005-06 stood, according to the Trussell Trust, at about 2,800 and rose to 40,000 four years later. The Minister may well talk about it now, but he did not talk about it then. I do not know whether he will mention that, by 2012-13, that figure had grown to a staggering 350,000—up from 128,000 the year before. This figure does not include independent food banks, of which there are a growing number. A report produced for Church Action on Poverty and Oxfam by Niall Cooper and Sarah Dumpleton is entitled “Walking the breadline”, and it puts the number at nearly 500,000.

The Minister may also say that the previous Labour Government refused to allow Jobcentre Plus to refer people to the local food bank, and that this Government

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have reversed that decision. I will say two things on that. First, when Labour was in power there were only about 50 food banks—50 too many, in my book—but today there are more than 300, so there will be a better chance of finding a food bank today than back then, which is a sad reflection on 21st-century Britain. Secondly, I will take no lessons from the Conservative party about Labour’s record on poverty: we introduced the minimum wage and the Conservatives opposed it; and we introduced tax credits and Sure Start. Those are all things to be proud of, and they were all opposed by the Conservatives.

This Government are referring people in need to food banks because there are more people in need and there are more food banks to refer them to. In 2011, the Trussell Trust had one food bank in the north-east, located in Durham—in the Labour years there were no food banks in the north-east of England—and in that year, food was distributed to 741 people. Today, there are 10 major centres in the north-east. In the previous financial year, Trussell food banks distributed crisis help to 10,500 people. In the first three months of this financial year, they have provided help to 7,100.

Durham Christian Partnership runs the food banks in Durham. The main distribution centre is in Durham city. There are many more in the county now acting as satellite food banks to the main food bank in the city. There are three in my constituency: at St Alban church in Trimdon Grange, at Trimdon village hall and at St Clare’s church in Newton Aycliffe. Three more are to open in Deaf Hill, Fishburn, and Sedgefield in the coming months.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): What the hon. Gentleman says about Durham is replicated across the whole of the United Kingdom; it is the same in my constituency. People who are perhaps seen to be well-off or middle class are also using the food banks, because they do not have enough wages. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that the initiative by the churches and the faith communities has been the real goer for making the food banks work? It is they who have driven it, along with the local government, and perhaps local government could do more alongside the faith communities to make it happen for more people.

Phil Wilson: That is a valid point, and we should pay tribute to the churches up and down the country that are now providing food to half a million of our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England.

I would also like to mention the growth of independent food banks. One is run by the Excel church in Newton Aycliffe—known as Excel Local—and it has fed over 1,000 people in the area over the past year or so. In September 2011, the Durham Christian Partnership distributed 42 kg of food, helping 18 people. The latest figures for May this year show that the network of 12 food banks in County Durham has fed 934 people, providing 300-plus meals a day. This figure is increasing month on month. In total, the partnership has distributed in the region of 70,000 kg of food.

Lord Freud, the Work and Pensions Minister has made headlines today when he said that the demand for food banks

“has nothing to do with benefits squeeze”.

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I rebut those comments by quoting from an e-mail I received from Peter MacLellan who runs the Durham Christian Partnership food bank network. He says that

“from the distribution points and also from calls received in the office that the changes to crisis loans and the other welfare changes have a major impact. Looking at the reasons why people are referred to the food bank up to the end of March 2013 out of 6620 people 18% came because of benefit changes and 34% due benefit delays. For April and May together, of 1,800 fed 22% came because of benefit changes and 40% due to benefit delays. So combining benefit issues the percentage has grown from 52% to 62% which I would regard as a significant rise.”

He goes on:

“I am especially concerned that there seems to be an issue with delays in claim processing and I’m not sure whether this is a local issue or national one or how the benefit claim processing centres are performing against their targets.”

Can the Minister say why there seems to be an issue with delays to benefits?

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does he think it an absolute disgrace that in 2013 not only are people relying on food banks, but in County Durham children are turning up at school hungry?

Phil Wilson: My hon. Friend—a fellow Durham MP—and I both know what is happening in our schools now. Children are turning up hungry, and we know of cases where teachers have paid for food for the children out of their own pockets. That is a crucial issue in areas such as ours.

Will the Minister tell the House whether there are problems with benefit claim processing centres hitting their targets? If there are not, why do data from food banks prove there is a problem? There seems to be a huge difference between what independent charities are saying and what the Government are saying. Other worrying statistics show that just under 20% of those using food banks are in work and use them because their income does not cover the cost of electricity, rent and food, and something has to give. More significantly, a third of recipients are children. Food banks now claim that demand is outstripping supply, and the welfare reforms have yet to be implemented.

Durham county council estimates that 119,600 households in County Durham— just over half of all households in the county—will be affected by universal credit when it is introduced. The council also estimates that changes to benefits and tax credits will see each household lose £680 a year, and that £151 million will be taken out of the local economy. Around 8,500 people in so-called under-occupied properties will be affected by the bedroom tax. That is an insidious measure which, anecdotally, is starting to be seen as another reason people are using food banks.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): In Tees Valley, which is partly covered by my hon. Friend’s constituency, we are aware that unemployment for 16 to 24-year-olds is above 32%, long-term claimants of jobseeker’s allowance have more than doubled since mid-2010, and Middlesbrough council estimates that 10,000 children are now living in poverty. We also know today from ITV news in the north-east that £500,000 in rent arrears has not been paid due to

3 July 2013 : Column 1031

the bedroom tax. Does my hon. Friend think that those four factors are contributing to the rising use of food banks?

Phil Wilson: Of course they are. Some people say it is an issue of supply and that because there are more food banks, more people are using them, but there is definitely demand out there. The statistics being quoted have massive consequences. No one is denying that welfare provision needs reform, but whatever any Government do in that regard, they must be prepared to face the consequences. When the welfare bill is increased by £20 billion, it is obvious that the reforms are not working. The increase in the number of food banks proves that the holes in the safety net are getting bigger.

The key issue for people using food banks seems to be the delay in the receipt of benefits. Yesterday, in the other place Lord Freud said:

“The Trussell Trust has said that one reason why people have come to it is benefit delays. I checked through the figures and in the period of that increase the number of delays that we had had reduced.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 July 2013; Vol. 746, c. 1072.]

Whoever we talk to in the food bank movement, they say that delays to benefits are the main reason people are referred to their centres. Surely it is not for food banks to be the stop-gap because the system is not working. Will the Minister say what his Department is doing to resolve that issue?

What kind of people attend food banks? They include the mother who lost her job 16 months ago and is distressed that her nine-year-old child has not eaten fresh fruit or vegetables for most of that period. Another young mother did not have any food in the house and was worried about how she would feed her children when they returned home from school that day. There were many more examples from all over Durham and indeed the UK—all harrowing and all tragic.

Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food stated in an article in The Guardian on 27 February:

“Food banks should not be seen as a “normal” part of national safety nets…Food banks depend on donations, and they are often run by volunteers: they are charity-based, not rights-based, and they should not be seen as a substitute for the robust social safety nets to which each individual has a right.”

I agree with him. I also agree with him when he says that although society might not have completely broken down because of the significant increase in the number of food banks, it is fair to say that the increase reveals where society is broken. As I have said, the safety net might be there, but the holes in it are getting bigger, allowing more people to fall through.

In the other place yesterday, in reply to a question from Baroness Howarth of Breckland about the monitoring of food banks, Lord Freud said:

“It is not the job of the DWP to monitor this provision, which is done on a charitable basis.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 July 2013; Vol. 746, c. 1073.]

I would respectfully say to the Minister that, as there are now 500,000 of our fellow citizens using food banks, I believe the time has come to monitor food bank usage. The increase could be down to supply, but it is certainly down to demand. Why is it that the three main reasons

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for people using food banks are delay in benefit receipt, benefit changes and low incomes? Domestic violence and homelessness are other reasons for usage. Surely a responsible Government would start revising their approach to welfare reform by using the data acquired from food banks to help to close the holes in the welfare safety net that are so obviously opening up.

The Government state that one reason for the increase in the number of food banks is that Jobcentre Plus now refers people on to them. However, the House of Commons Library standard note on food banks and food poverty states, on page 13:

“While increasing awareness of the existence of food banks may well be a factor in explaining recent growth in usage...the role of Jobcentre Plus in this regard is difficult to quantify since it does not collate statistics on food bank referrals.”

In addition, referrals from Jobcentre Plus did not start until September 2011, by which time the number of people being fed by food banks was increasing from about 60,000 in the previous year to 128,000 by the end of 2011.

Perhaps it would be in the Minister’s own interest to start collecting data; it would certainly be in the interest of those being fed by food banks if the Government were to look at what we can do to close the holes in the safety net. It is not only me saying that; the UN special rapporteur on the right to food believes so too. He said in the same article that I quoted earlier:

“The lesson of the current upsurge in soup kitchens and food pantries is not that we need more food banks or fewer food banks, it is everything else—the social safety net above and around it—that needs to change, and the direction of that change can be oriented by the lessons that food banks, and the stories of their clientele, teach us.”

The Government must not be allowed to renege on their responsibilities because charities are left to pick up the pieces. My request of the Minister is to learn from the food bank phenomenon, because it is not going to go away. It is only going to get bigger. If we are not careful, the social safety net built up over the decades will be dismantled and put away somewhere as a memory.

I would also like to hear the Minister’s response to the call from Church Action on Poverty and Oxfam in their report “Walking the breadline” for the Government to set up an inquiry by the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee into any relationship between benefit changes and food poverty. Would the Minister welcome such an inquiry? The report also called for regular publication by the DWP of data on benefit delays, errors and sanctions, for monitoring by the DWP of the effect of universal credit on food poverty, and for the recording and monitoring of food bank referrals made by Government agencies. I know that the Minister will deny this, but I believe that, if we are not careful, food banks will become a part of the welfare system—and that it will happen by default.

Finally, I would like to thank the volunteers who make the food bank network work. They include Peter MacLellan, who co-ordinates the food banks in County Durham for the Durham Christian Partnership, and Ernie Temple who runs the food bank at St Clare’s church in Newton Aycliffe. I also want to thank Rachael Mawston and her team at Excel Local for all the hard work they put into running their food bank, and Councillor Peter Brookes, Michael King and Rev. Michael Gobbett of Sedgefield Churches Together, who run the food

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banks in the Trimdons and who are looking to expand into Sedgefield, Fishburn and Deaf Hill. I am sure that the Minister will applaud their hard work. There will always be those who fall through the safety net, however well constructed it might be, and we need such people to prevent those most in need from falling through the net on to the ground. I believe that those people now have their hands full.

7.24 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Mr Mark Hoban): I congratulate the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) on securing the debate.

I believe that, in the long run, the process of welfare reform on which we have embarked will enable more people in County Durham to find work, and will help those who are in work but on low incomes. The hon. Gentleman implied that Durham county council was fearful of universal credit, but I believe that the council should welcome the opportunity that it presents. Our intervention and support will encourage and help people to move up the earnings scale.

Mr Kevan Jones: What about jobs?

Mr Hoban: I shall return to the subject of jobs shortly.

My Department has been asked a number of questions about food banks in recent weeks, and this evening I have listened to what the hon. Member for Sedgefield has said about constituents of his who make use of them. I hope he will be reassured to know that we do not think that they form part of the welfare system. We do not measure their use, but we do “signpost” people to them, just as we might direct people to any charity that provides help and support. I should add, however, that we know from the Trussell Trust’s own figures that only 2% of people say that they were directed to a food bank by Jobcentre Plus.

Under the current benefits system, it is not obvious to people that working will make them better off. The problem lies not with claimants, but with the system. Our reforms will, over time, deliver dynamic benefits as more people are encouraged to work and to increase their earnings. As all the evidence shows, work is the best route out of poverty for individuals and households. Universal credit is a seamless “in and out of work” benefit which will make it easier for people to move into work. Because people should know that work pays and earning more pays more, incentives are built into the system to encourage them to move from low incomes to higher ones. Over the next few months, we shall be identifying ways in which we can help people to increase their earnings and reduce their dependence on the welfare state, thus giving them more dignity and boosting their self-esteem.

Universal credit will make 3 million households better off and will lift a quarter of a million children out of poverty, because we are putting more money into the system. The hon. Gentleman asked about family poverty. Statistics relating to households with below-average incomes show that the number of children in workless poor families has fallen by 100,000 over the past year.

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As well as making work pay, however, we must ensure that benefit payments are directed towards those who need them most, that they provide a fair deal for the taxpayer, and that they restore fiscal responsibility to our finances. The reforms that we have introduced are already helping more people to move into work. In the last year alone, there has been a 6% fall in the number of claimants of jobseeker’s allowance in County Durham, and the figure for young people is even better: 14% fewer are claiming the allowance.

The Work programme in County Durham is helping people to find sustained employment. Of the 12,000 who have joined the programme in County Durham, 1,200 have secured jobs, and four out of five of those have remained in work for longer than six months. That demonstrates—here I address the point made by the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones)—that there are jobs there, and that people are staying in employment. We are seeing a break in the pattern of worklessness that persisted under the last Government, who wrote off many of those people.

Let me give an example of what is happening under the Work programme. Wesley McGinn had applied for more than 1,000 jobs since leaving school. His provider worked with him to improve his interview skills and his CV, and helped him to search for jobs that matched his skills and aspirations. Now he is working for Care UK. Wesley has said:

“I'm so glad that Ingeus helped me succeed...I have a good job, I feel I am making a real difference, and I can now pay my own way in life.”

The system that we inherited from the last Government simply wrote people off when they were unfit for work, but in the last two years the number of people in County Durham receiving employment and support allowance and incapacity benefit has fallen by more than 3,000. Some of those people had been receiving incapacity benefit for more than five years. Now, either those people are in work or we are actively helping them to find work rather than writing them off and leaving them stuck on a life of benefits. We are beginning to see real change as a consequence of our reforms.

Mr Jones: The Minister is from County Durham, and presumably knows the area well. I must tell him, however, that when people in my constituency obtain work, it is low-paid work involving short-term contracts. Those people cannot secure the long-term security that they need. For instance, they cannot gain access to credit. The proposal in the autumn statement not to pay jobseeker’s allowance for the first seven days of unemployment will lead to poverty, and people in that position have no savings to fall back on.

Mr Hoban: People who lose their jobs are paid in arrears and the money we are saving by increasing the period from three days to seven is going to be used to provide more support to get more people into work and to get them into work quicker.

The benefit cap is often cited as a cause for referrals. We have decided to cap the total amount people can receive in benefits, and we will restore the incentive for them to move back into work. That is very important. We are working with Jobcentre Plus and local authorities to get people affected by the benefit cap into employment. We have given more money to councils through

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discretionary housing payments. In County Durham, only 200 households have been affected by the benefit cap, but we will work with those families to get them into employment.

Crisis loans were mentioned, so let me say a bit about the reform of the discretionary social fund and support for short-term financial need. From 1 April this year, locally based provision of crisis loans is being delivered by local authorities in England and the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales, because local authorities are best placed to ensure help is targeted at those most in need. Durham county council has delivered support through HAND—Help and Advice Network Durham.

Crisis support is provided in two forms. The first is settlement grants, where the applicant must have applied for a budgeting loan or advance from DWP if they are eligible to do so and have been declined. This aims to help people to remain in the community or move back into the community after a period in supported or unsettled accommodation. Awards are only available for items such as beds, bedding, furniture, white goods and kitchen equipment. The second is daily living expenses, to help to meet immediate short-term needs for goods or services that arise because of a disaster or unforeseen circumstances. Awards are available only for food, baby consumables, clothing, heating and travel, and for a maximum of seven days’ support. At a meeting last week County Durham local authority confirmed it was receiving about 50 to 60 applications a week, much less than the 250 to 300 per week it had anticipated. National provision is also available in the form of advances of benefit delivered by DWP for those awaiting first payment of benefit.

Provision is therefore available for those who have had a delay. The hon. Member for Sedgefield might want to ask Durham county council why it thinks it is getting far fewer applications for support than it expected.

Phil Wilson: I am still waiting for the Minister to get to the main point of my comments. What he is saying is all very well, but there are still half a million people using food banks for three main reasons, and other reasons as well. Are the Government going to do any analysis? Are they going to look at why people are using food banks, to see whether there is any way they can close the holes in the safety net that people are falling through? We should continue to reform welfare, so it is the state that is doing this, not charities.

Mr Hoban: We are making reforms to welfare. The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of people on low incomes using food banks, and I am saying that we are introducing universal credit, which will support people

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on low incomes and increase their earnings. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is doing a review of food aid. That is in the public domain and it will be reporting shortly.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of benefit delays. The Trussell Trust has said that benefit delays are accounting for an increase in referrals to food banks, from 18.6% to 32.8% over the last year. However, our figures show that since April 2010 we have speeded up our processing of benefit claims by almost 5%. It is therefore hard to square the argument put by the Trussell Trust and the hon. Gentleman with what is happening in benefit centres.

The hon. Gentleman asked what is happening locally in benefit centres. In the Sunderland benefit centre, there has been a delay in processing jobseeker’s allowance claims. It is below the national average, but he will be reassured to know that it is back on an upward trajectory, so we are clearing work faster. The national target is 90%, and we hit that. In the year to date, we have hit 79.5% in Sunderland, with the figure for May being 81.4%, so we are improving.

On employment and support allowance clearance rates, hon. Members will be pleased to know that in the Sunderland benefits centre, which covers County Durham, we exceed the national target of 85%. [Interruption.] Nationally, the argument the Trussell Trust is making is that the situation is down to benefit delay, but the point I am making is that we have speeded up the processing of benefits, so there is a mismatch. There has been an issue to address in the Sunderland benefits centre, but that has been tackled in respect of jobseeker’s allowance. In the north-east, the Sunderland benefits centre is processing claims faster than the national target, so there is a disconnect at a local level between what is being said by the Trussell Trust and others, and what the statistics show. We publish the figures for processing times and for sanctions, so that hon. Members can see them.

In conclusion, we are seeing a process of benefit reform that is helping the north-east; it is getting people off benefit and into work. We see that in the Work programme, in the falling levels of incapacity benefit claims and in what is happening with JSA claims. We are trying to tackle a processing backlog in County Durham, but what we are seeing generally is that we are processing benefits far faster than we were in April 2010, and Labour Members should welcome that. Our reforms are the long-term solution to the welfare issue, as they ensure that we give people the dignity and self-esteem that comes from being in employment.

7.36 pm

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).