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The system is riddled with injustices and cruel perversities for those affected by this tax, such as those who need space for special equipment, as described by my hon.

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1466

Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), and couples who cannot share a room. Those whose homes have been adapted are also affected: 35,000 such houses have been adapted, at an average cost of £6,700. The £234 million cost to local authorities is now in danger of being written off because those families are being forced out of their homes. That is another example of Tory welfare waste.

Children with high or moderate care needs are exempted from the bedroom tax, but not those with high-rate mobility. The Minister for Disabled People said that overnight carers have been exempted. That is true for overnight carers for adults, but it is not true for overnight carers for children, or for resident carers.

Despite all that, the Prime Minister said in the House on 6 March last year that disabled people were protected from the bedroom tax. That is simply not the case. As hon. Members have mentioned, nor are separated families; non-resident parents with their children visiting, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North West (John Robertson) mentioned; those at risk of domestic violence; or the bereaved, who enjoy a 12-month so-called period of grace, which will be reduced to three months under universal credit.

It is not just individuals who are suffering. Registered social landlords are experiencing a loss of rent and are left with arrears and voids, as my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) pointed out. That means that their credit rating and their ability to borrow cost-effectively, and therefore to build the new homes that we need, are damaged. It is an utterly illogical policy.

Government Members said that the situation was the same as for the local housing allowance in the private rented sector. That point was made first by the right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), and then by the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng), who might want to stop playing “Candy Crush” now, and a number of other Members. Let us be clear about the differences between the two markets and about how long the situation has pertained. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) rightly pointed out, we have had size criteria in the private sector since 1989, so they were not first introduced under Labour as Government Members suggested.

In the social sector, housing is allocated based on need. That is not the case in the private sector, in which, without criteria, people could theoretically rent any property at all. As many Opposition Members have pointed out, the local housing allowance was not introduced on a retrospective basis, and it covered pensioners. Ministers have chosen to exclude pensioners from the bedroom tax, and they have to recognise that pensioners under-occupy the majority of stock. The policy is therefore doomed to fail, and the local housing allowance is not directly comparable with it.

The Minister mentioned discretionary housing payments, but they are clearly not the answer. They are temporary, and by definition they are discretionary. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg), the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, pointed out, for some families the idea of a discretionary payment is completely perverse given that they are living in circumstances that they simply can do nothing about. What is more, as the Chartered Institute of Housing has pointed out, discretionary housing payments

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1467

are not always properly advertised, and some local authorities are discouraging people from applying or appealing. Some are treating disability living allowance, for example, as income when calculating entitlement, which hits the people affected doubly hard.

Larger cities have had to apply for additional funds for discretionary housing payments—so, it would seem, has South Derbyshire—or had to use their own resources. Some authorities that had apparently underspent now say that they need more money. Redbridge wants to carry forward its underspend, Barking says it will spend in full by the end of the year and Harrow says it will spend £41,000 more. Eight councils account for £1.2 million of failure to spend, and Wandsworth for nearly half of that. Some £30 million more than originally planned has had to be allocated through DHPs to cover the cost of foster carers, and the administrative costs to local authorities alone amount to £1 million.

How are people responding to the pressures? I heard it argued today, but without the basis of any evidence, that the bedroom tax was encouraging people to get into work, but there is no evidence that it is doing that, or, if it is, that it is getting them off housing benefit. One reason for that is self-evident: given that two thirds of those affected are sick, disabled or carers, it is very difficult for them to get into work or increase their hours. What is more, Ministers have previously suggested that people could take in lodgers, but people might not feel safe taking a stranger into their home—I know I would not—and many landlords will not allow lodgers at all. It is not possible for people to move, because there are no suitable homes in many parts of the country and many landlords will not allow people to be rehoused if they are in arrears.

The Kafkaesque proportions of this policy are beyond what we would have imagined even from this Government. It is perverse, cruel, unfair and unworkable, and it is time that it was scrapped. That will be the first action of a Labour Government, and for half a million households it cannot come soon enough.

4.9 pm

The Minister for Pensions (Steve Webb): Unlike the shadow Secretary of State I have listened to every speech in this debate in the hope that three questions would be answered—this is a Labour motion, and Labour Members have three questions to answer. First, how they would pay for this motion, which we recognise would cost in the order of £0.5 billion a year? The Minister for Disabled People completely demolished the hon. Lady’s argument about where the money would come from. The Leader of the Opposition said that Labour would not make any unfunded promises, but we have one before us today. The bulk of the money to pay for this motion will allegedly come from “ensuring that the building trade pays tax”, from which Labour claims we will get £380 million. It does not seem to be aware, however, that we have done that already. In the autumn statement 2013, measures to take effect in April 2014 will raise £400 million a year, so the bulk of that money has already gone.

The second point that was mentioned is reversing the stamp duty reserve tax charge, which is money from pension funds and savers. It is true that we can get

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1468

money by taking it from pension funds—indeed, Labour has quite a record of taxing pension funds—but I am not convinced that that is the place to find money for welfare. The third measure Labour proposed is ending the employee shareholder scheme which, given that it wants to implement the policy in 2015-16, is rather puzzling as the policy costs nothing in 2015-16. In other words, the whole £0.5 billion is either raided from pension funds or does not exist at all.

The second question that we hoped would be answered is why it is fair to apply this principle to the private rented sector and not to social tenants. In other words, during all its time under the local housing allowance scheme, Labour was perfectly content for private sector tenants to pay for extra bedrooms, but not social tenants. When the shadow Secretary of State was briefly in the Chamber and we intervened to ask that question, she gave two reasons. The first was that the local housing allowance was not retrospective. On that basis, do Labour Members think it is okay to say that people in new social tenancies should pay for a spare bedroom? They are not saying that at all, so clearly they are inconsistent.

The hon. Lady’s second argument was absolutely bizarre. She said that people in social housing tend to have secure tenancies while those in the private rented sector tend not to. That presumably means that private rented sector tenants are more vulnerable than social tenants, yet Labour is willing to ask private tenants to pay for a spare bedroom, and not social tenants. Utterly incoherent.

The third thing I waited for in the hon. Lady’s speech—just like her leader who forgot the deficit, she forgot to say how Labour would pay for this policy—was a word that never passed her lips: overcrowding. She did not mention the plight of overcrowded people once, and we heard case studies of people affected by these measures during the debate—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. People seem to be talking about all sorts of things around the Chamber. The Minister ought to be heard.

Steve Webb: Case studies were mentioned, including one from the shadow Secretary of State who then forgot to tell the House that discretionary housing payments were covering the shortfall. Let me share an example of a previously overcrowded family. Suzanna lived in a four-bedroom home in south Yorkshire when this measure was introduced, and decided to downsize. She joined the HomeSwapper scheme to find a more appropriate property and said:

“I was impressed with the quantity of matches that HomeSwapper provided…the lady I swapped with…had needed to move for a long time but her landlord had been unable to move her. She desperately needed the space for her overcrowded family.”

That is the sort of thing this policy is helping to achieve, but the voice of overcrowded tenants is not being heard in this debate.

Lilian Greenwood rose—

Steve Webb: I will give way to the hon. Lady because she mentioned the situation in her constituency. Perhaps she will explain why Nottingham applied for extra cash from the Government, was given an extra £0.5 million, and did not spend it.

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1469

Lilian Greenwood: The Minister is wrong. Nottingham city has spent the whole allocation that it was given by the Government, and is having to find extra resources to help people. The Minister mentioned HomeSwapper, but that existed before the bedroom tax was introduced. His Government cut money and funding for local authorities that were pursuing projects to encourage people to downsize, including £75,000 that supported Nottingham’s projects.

Steve Webb: Nottingham was allocated discretionary housing payment and was given an additional £0.5 million, and of that combined amount it spent 78%. On the question of HomeSwapper, this policy has prompted more people to look to downsize and swap. That is an entirely good thing, as it makes better use of the housing stock.

I want to respond briefly to some of the contributions to the debate. The Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg), initially made the claim that the spare room subsidy measure was forcing people into the private rented sector. When my hon. Friend the Minister for Disabled People pointed out that the rate of moves into the private rented sector had fallen, she then said in response that people are not moving to the private rented sector because rents are unaffordable. Well, it cannot be both. It has to be one or the other.

The hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) referred to the position of foster carers, but we have recognised this particular need and provided an exemption for foster carers. The hon. Member for Glasgow North West (John Robertson) referred to his constituents as the most affected by the policy, whereas the policy—

John Robertson: I never said that.

Steve Webb: Yes he did. The policy is bought out in Scotland.

John Robertson: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you could protect this Back Bencher from a Minister making a statement that I never made. I never said we were the worst area of all. I said we were one of the worst. That is completely different. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not strictly a point of order. He wished to correct the record and he has done so. He has also taken up more time in this short debate.

Steve Webb: I give way.

Dame Anne Begg: Will the Minister tell my Select Committee when we can expect the Government’s response to our report on housing costs, which was published in April?

Steve Webb: Even as we speak, officials are working on it and the hon. Lady will have it shortly.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) suggested that the comparison with the private rented sector was something of an afterthought. Uncharacteristically for her, she had not read the impact assessment we published in 2012, in which we made that very point.

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1470

We heard from some of my hon. Friends about how their local authorities have been very proactive in this area. We heard how, in Henley and in South Derbyshire, local authorities had substantially reduced the number of people affected by working with tenants. That is exactly the sort of thing that we want to see.

My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George), to whom I pay tribute on this issue, raised whether further mitigations were needed. Let me come to that point. We have a second motion before us, the Government’s amendment, which sets out the areas on which we agree. The areas where we agree are clear: we agree that it is unfair to say to private tenants and low-paid workers not on benefit that they have to pay for a spare room, but that for social tenants there should be a blanket exemption. The coalition parties also agree that the blanket application of the policy would not have been fair. That is why we have exempted pensioners, foster families, serving personnel living at home and disabled children who cannot share a room. In addition, we accepted that further mitigation would be needed. That is why large amounts of discretionary housing payments have been found. That is why an additional fund to bid for was found in 2013-14, and why additional money was found for rural areas. There is agreement between us on that.

In the light of the summer report that indicated the impact of the policy, the Liberal Democrats took the view that further mitigation was needed. Our view is that mitigation is needed for disabled people, adults who cannot share a bedroom, and those who do not have an alternative offer of accommodation. That point is made very clearly in the amendment. I hope my hon. Friends will support the amendment.

It is very easy to put down a simple motion saying, “Let’s have some free money. Let’s spend half a billion pounds reversing a policy, with no idea where the money will come from. Let’s not address the issue of overcrowding. Let’s not address the issue of the welfare budget. Let’s simply promise the voters more money and hope that they will buy it.” Evidence shows that they will not buy it. I therefore urge the House to accept our amendment.

Question put (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the original words stand part of the Question.

The House divided:

Ayes 266, Noes 298.

Division No. 120]

[

4.19 pm

AYES

Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, rh Mr Gordon

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Carswell, Douglas

Caton, Martin

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Galloway, George

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Kane, Mike

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McInnes, Liz

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme

(Livingston)

Morris, Grahame M.

(Easington)

Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Paisley, Ian

Pearce, Teresa

Percy, Andrew

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Weir, Mr Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Wood, Mike

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Tom Blenkinsop

and

Nic Dakin

NOES

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, rh Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, rh Sir Tony

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Blunt, Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, rh Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, Neil

Cash, Sir William

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clappison, Mr James

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, rh Stephen

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.

(Monmouth)

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, rh Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Glen, John

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, rh Matthew

Hancock, Mr Mike

Hands, rh Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Sir Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunter, Mark

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, rh Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Sir Edward

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Luff, Sir Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, rh Esther

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, rh Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Osborne, rh Mr George

Ottaway, rh Sir Richard

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, rh Mike

Penrose, John

Perry, Claire

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Randall, rh Sir John

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, rh Sir Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rosindell, Andrew

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Thornton, Mike

Thurso, rh John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, rh Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Webb, rh Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, rh Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Harriett Baldwin

and

Dr Thérèse Coffey

Question accordingly negatived.

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1471

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1472

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1473

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1474

Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the proposed words be there added.

The House divided:

Ayes 300, Noes 262.

Division No. 121]

[

4.32 pm

AYES

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, rh Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, rh Sir Tony

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Blunt, Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, rh Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, Neil

Cash, Sir William

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clappison, Mr James

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, rh Stephen

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.

(Monmouth)

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, rh Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Glen, John

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, rh Matthew

Hancock, Mr Mike

Hands, rh Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Sir Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, rh Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Sir Edward

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Luff, Sir Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, rh Esther

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, rh Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Osborne, rh Mr George

Ottaway, rh Sir Richard

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, rh Mike

Penrose, John

Perry, Claire

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Randall, rh Sir John

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, rh Sir Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rosindell, Andrew

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Thornton, Mike

Thurso, rh John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, rh Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Webb, rh Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, rh Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Ayes:

Harriett Baldwin

and

Dr Thérèse Coffey

NOES

Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, rh Mr Gordon

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Galloway, George

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Kane, Mike

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McInnes, Liz

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme

(Livingston)

Morris, Grahame M.

(Easington)

Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Paisley, Ian

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Weir, Mr Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Wood, Mike

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Noes:

Tom Blenkinsop

and

Nic Dakin

Question accordingly agreed to.

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1475

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17 Dec 2014 : Column 1478

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1479

Resolved,

That this House regrets that the Government took over a housing benefit bill which was out of control, and without reform would have been more than £26 billion in 2014-15; notes that the reforms the Government has implemented have brought housing benefit spending under control and helped to tackle over-crowding and better manage housing stock; further notes that the Coalition has protected vulnerable groups through £165 million of discretionary housing payments in 2014; notes that, following the interim evaluation of the policy, the part of the Coalition led by the Deputy Prime Minister has proposed reforms to introduce other formal exemptions to the policy, including where claimants have not been made a reasonable alternative offer of accommodation; and believes that the Opposition’s failure to support the Government’s wider welfare reforms, including the wholesale abolition of this policy, is financially unsustainable, and would put at risk savings of nearly £50 billion over the present Parliament, as well as leaving people languishing in over-crowded accommodation.

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1480

Food Banks

4.43 pm

Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House notes that the number of people using food banks, according to the Trussell Trust, has increased from 41,000 in 2009-10 to 913,000 in 2013-14, of whom one third are children; recognises that over the last four years prices have risen faster than wages; further notes that low pay and failings in the operation of the social security system continue to be the main triggers for food bank use; and calls on the Government to bring forward measures to reduce dependency on food banks and tackle the cost of living crisis, including to get a grip on delays and administrative problems in the benefits system, and introduce a freeze in energy prices, a national water affordability scheme, measures to end abuses of zero hours contracts, incentives for companies to pay a living wage, an increase in the minimum wage to £8 an hour by the end of the next Parliament, a guaranteed job for all young people who are out of work for more than a year and 25 hours-a-week free childcare for all working parents of three and four year olds.

I welcome the Minister for Civil Society to his place in what is, I think, his first debate from the Front Bench, but I note that the Environment Secretary is not taking part in this debate. She transferred a question about food poisoning away from her Department just this week. She does not want to talk about food aid today, but she is—[Hon. Members: “Welcome!”] I would like to welcome the Environment Secretary to her place. She transferred a question about food poisoning away from her Department last week. This week she does not want to take part in a debate about food aid, yet hers is the lead Department. I just wonder what part of food policy she thinks she is responsible for.

Since the last Opposition-day debate on food banks a year ago, things have worsened. Over the past six months, there has been a 38% increase in the number of people seeking food aid from the Trussell Trust’s 420 food banks. The Trussell Trust expects the full-year numbers to be over 1 million. The report of the all-party parliamentary inquiry into hunger in the UK, entitled “Feeding Britain”, published last week, said that 4 million people are at risk of going hungry, 3.5 million adults cannot afford to eat properly, and half a million children live in families that cannot afford to feed them.

Nobody would choose to go to a food bank if they had any other option. Let us be clear about that. Research conducted by Oxfam, the Child Poverty Action Group, the Church of England and the Trussell Trust and published in November, entitled “Emergency Use Only”, indicates the truth of what many of us who have visited our local food banks have seen. People are acutely embarrassed to have to go to a food bank. They feel ashamed to have to accept such help, but the research is clear: people turn to food banks as a last resort, when all other coping strategies have failed.

The Trussell Trust says that 45% of people who visit the food banks that it operates do so because of problems with the social security system, a third because of delays to determining their benefit claims, and the rest because of benefit changes and sanctions, often unfairly applied, which have left them with no money.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not only people on benefits, but what we would call the working poor, who have to use food banks? That is where the increases are.

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1481

Maria Eagle: My hon. Friend is correct. I know that the two Trussell Trust food banks in my constituency have figures similar to the national average, which show that over a fifth—22% in my constituency—of people who resort to food banks for an emergency food package are in work.

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): My hon. Friend will be aware of the statistics from the Big Help project in Knowsley, which covers her constituency and mine: 23% of those who receive vouchers to go to the food bank are in work—in other words, the working poor. Even more alarmingly, 45% of the vouchers issued involve children.

Maria Eagle: My right hon. Friend is correct. The figures for the Knowsley food bank, which cover his constituency and mine, are pretty similar to the figures for the south Liverpool food bank: benefit delays 28.8%, benefit changes 14.5%, and low income—in other words, poverty pay—22%. This is a problem that he and I recognise from our constituencies, and it needs to be addressed.

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): How are those figures collected?

Maria Eagle: The Trussell Trust collects figures from the vouchers which one has to have to obtain the food aid. They are filled in by the professional or the person who refers the individual to the food bank. That is how they are collected.

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware of a worrying trend that I am now seeing in my advice surgeries, which the local citizens advice bureau also told me is a problem—people are not going to the food banks because they do not have the means to cook any food as they cannot afford the gas or electricity?

Maria Eagle: My hon. Friend is correct. His experience is similar to mine. I know of people who go to food banks in my constituency who hand food back that has to be cooked, and ask for food that can be prepared without the necessity for cooking. That is anecdotal; I do not know what the percentage is. There is no tick on the food voucher for that, but that is indeed happening, in my experience and that of my hon. Friend.

It is truly shocking that, according to the Trussell Trust’s figures, 45% of the ever-increasing need for food aid—or 60% according to the numbers in “Feeding Britain”—is caused primarily by the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions, yet the Department has done nothing since our debate last year to tackle the benefit delays and changes that are causing so many of the problems. I notice that no DWP Ministers are on the Front Bench today for this debate. Why has the DWP done nothing?

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): The hon. Lady must be aware that the number of claims being processed on time by the DWP has gone up to 93%, compared with 85% in 2010, so action is being taken. She is right to say that delays are the biggest problem, so far as food banks are concerned, but things are improving.

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1482

Maria Eagle: Well, it would be nice if a Minister from the DWP would acknowledge that delays from the Department were the cause of the problem. The hon. Gentleman is referring to—

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab) rose—

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op) rose—

Maria Eagle: I shall just finish responding to the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley), then I will give way. I had not realised that I was quite so popular. The hon. Gentleman claims that the delays are being tackled, but the DWP’s target is to determine a claim in 16 days. If someone has no money and they have to wait 16 days for their benefit claim to be determined, and then wait for the cheque to arrive, they are going to have to go to a food bank. I do not think that those targets, whether they are being met or not, are anywhere near good enough, and nor did the report, “Feeding Britain”, which suggested that claims ought to be cleared within five days.

Why are DWP Ministers not doing something about this? They appear indifferent. The Minister for Employment has said that

“there is no robust evidence linking food bank usage to welfare reform.”

That is because she refuses to collect such evidence. Either the Ministers are indifferent and incompetent, or they are indifferent and venal. In reality, they do not care enough about the problems to take any action.

Andrew Gwynne: Is my hon. Friend also concerned by the Government’s view that food banks should have a degree of permanence? I commend the work of re:dish, which distributes food in the Reddish area of my constituency. When representatives of re:dish attended a meeting with the previous Minister for the third sector, the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark), they were appalled by the view that their voluntary efforts should be there for the long term.

Maria Eagle: We ought to take note of the experience of other jurisdictions where food banks have become part of the social security system. Professor Liz Dowler of the university of Warwick carried out a piece of research—long-delayed, I might add—for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. When she commented on it on the “Today” programme, she dismissed the idea of using surplus food as a solution to hunger, saying:

“There is no evidence from any country that has systemised using food waste to feed hungry people that it is effective. It is better to reduce”

that waste. I am concerned that what has happened in Germany and Canada could happen here—that is, that we could institutionalise dependence on food banks. Policy makers on either side of the House should be very careful before embarking on a policy that institutionalised food bank use in this country.

Mark Lazarowicz: Is it not clear that this is not just about delay and error, and that what is happening is partly a direct result of a deliberate policy? Benefit sanctions in particular have been a major cause of

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1483

people going without food, sometimes for lengthy periods. That is not accidental; it is deliberate and it needs to change.

Maria Eagle: I cannot disagree with my hon. Friend. There is a deliberate attempt by DWP Ministers in this Government to sanction and stigmatise people who are on benefit.

The cost of living crisis means that people are more than £1,600 a year worse off since 2010. Living standards will be lower at the end of this Parliament than they were at its beginning. Prices have risen faster than wages for 52 of the 54 months that our Prime Minister has been in office. There are more working families living in poverty in the UK today than families with nobody in work—for the first time since records began. The cost of some food essentials has gone up in the past six years by as much as 20%. Families on the lowest incomes spent almost a quarter more on food last year than they did six years ago—they were already the families who spent the largest share of their income on food. People are now buying fewer, cheaper calories; they have been forced to trade down to less healthy, less nutritious, more processed foods.

It is not just food that has been going up in price: since 2010, people have been paying £300 more on average for energy to heat their homes and keep their lights on; water bills have gone up, with one in five people struggling to pay them; the cost of housing keeps rising, with renters now paying on average over £1,000 a year more than in 2010; and for those with children, the rising price of child care is making it harder and harder to take on work.

Yet during this time the Government have done nothing to address the cost of living crisis—and they plan much worse. Robert Chote, chair of the Office for Budget Responsibility, said plans in the autumn statement now take

“total public spending to its lowest share of GDP in 80 years.”

The Institute for Fiscal Studies says the Government’s plans would take

“total government spending to its lowest level as a proportion of national income since before the last war”.

This Tory plan to recreate 1930s Britain, along with its hunger, low pay and non-existent rights at work, coincides with changes to the labour market making it tougher to make ends meet, even for someone who is in work. The “Feeding Britain” report says that 25% of food bank users are in work and the Trussell Trust says that 22% are: increasingly, being in work is no longer a guarantee against going hungry in Britain today. David McAuley, the Trussell Trust chief executive, said that

“we’re…seeing a marked rise in numbers of people coming to us with ‘low income’ as the primary cause of their crisis. Incomes for the poorest have not been increasing in line with inflation and many, whether in low paid work or on welfare, are not yet seeing the benefits of economic recovery.”

He is correct.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): My hon. Friend mentioned that the Government have done nothing to address the cost of living crisis that so many people face, and she rightly talks about low pay. Does she agree that the effect of the Government’s policies has been to

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1484

encourage zero-hours contracts, insecurity in the workplace and low pay? That has been the consequence of their policies, leading to more use of food banks.

Maria Eagle: I agree completely with my hon. Friend. The number of people in precarious, low-paid employment is increasing. According to the TUC, since the financial crisis hit only one in 40 new jobs is full-time, 36% are part-time and 60% involve self-employment. Only a quarter of those on zero-hours contracts work a full-time week, and one in three reports having no regular, reliable income. No wonder many of them end up at food banks, despite being in work. This is happening in Britain—the sixth richest country on the planet—in the 21st century. It is a scandal that is only made worse by the fact that our economy is growing again and the number of people in work is increasing. The Conservative party never stops telling us that this is what success looks like—I would hate to see its version of failure.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): The hon. Lady is quoting extensively from the “Feeding Britain” report, but she is missing the key point of that report, which said that it was completely wrong to play party politics with such an important issue. What the people who use food banks deserve is for us all to work together to make sure we can find a lasting solution so that nobody is left behind as we move out of this recession.

Maria Eagle: Some 45% to 60% of people’s primary reason for going to food banks is benefit delays. It is not party politics for Labour Members to ask why DWP Ministers are not tackling this absolute scandal.

Sarah Newton rose

Maria Eagle: I will not give way again.

Can there be a more damning verdict on the indifference, incompetence or venality of Ministers in this heartless Government, who so love to sneer and scapegoat the victims of their back-to-the-1930s ideology, than the hunger that now stalks our land and is increasing? Thousands of volunteers across our nations who help to operate food banks and who donate food to them are outraged about the plight of our fellow citizens forced to rely on food aid. Unlike the Government, they at least refuse to sit idly by and watch the suffering of the men, women and children affected without doing something positive to alleviate it. I thank them all and pay tribute to them for their fantastic effort, but it should not be necessary in this day and age for 1 million people to rely on food aid.

Several hon. Members rose

Maria Eagle: I will give way once more to an Opposition Member, and then to a Government Member.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): Volunteers at my local food bank collection centre in Glasgow told me that the main reason for the surge in the use of food banks in the past year is the number of people on exceptionally low wages. Is my hon. Friend aware that the number of people in Scotland, as in many other regions and nations in the UK, on less than the living wage is rising every month under this Government?

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1485

Maria Eagle: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have already noted the number of people who are forced to rely on food banks even though they are in work. That is not right in this day and age, and he illustrates that very well with his own experience.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): We all recognise the full damage that the Labour Government did to public debt, but there is another area of debt of great concern—household debt, which stacked up radically and significantly during the last years of Labour government. Does the hon. Lady think that that had any impact on what is happening now?

Maria Eagle: The reality is that debt is a reason why people go to food banks—about 13% do so—but 45% to 60% of people go to food banks because of benefit changes, disallowances and sanctions. That is part of Government policy, and something that the Government could tackle if they had the will, which they clearly do not. They refuse to accept any responsibility, despite the fact that their policies are making the situation worse. They refuse to accept that as a Government they have a moral obligation to act to alleviate these problems.

Just look at what Ministers have said. They show no understanding whatever of how a lack of money affects the lives of people struggling to make ends meet. The welfare reform Minister, Lord Freud, said last summer that

“food from a food bank—the supply—is a free good and by definition there is an almost infinite demand for a free good”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 July 2013; Vol. 746, c. 1072.]

Lord Freud appeared unaware of the fact that people cannot just turn up at a food bank and get food: they have to be referred, and half of them are referred by statutory agencies. When pressed on 4 March this year in the other place, he opined that

“clearly nobody goes to a food bank willingly. However, it is very hard to know why people go to them.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 4 March 2014; Vol. 752, c. 1215.]

From ignorance to indifference in a few short months—and he is the Minister for welfare reform. If he really does not know why people go to food banks, I can tell him: it is because they are desperate and have no food to eat and no money to buy it.

The Chancellor, meanwhile, suggested that increased awareness explained the relentless rise in food bank use. He told the Treasury Committee in July last year:

“I think one of the reasons that there has been increased use of food banks is because people have been made aware of the food bank service through local jobcentres.”

The Government Chief Whip last September preferred to suggest that it was the fault of poor people themselves:

“There are families who face considerable pressures. Those pressures are often the result of decisions they have taken which mean they are not best able to manage their finances.”—[Official Report, 9 September 2013; Vol. 567, c. 682.]

Baroness Jenkin was forced to apologise just last week for suggesting that increased use of food banks was because:

“Poor people don’t know how to cook”.

Perhaps the most revealing quote is from the sneerer-in-chief himself, the Work and Pensions Secretary, who said in January this year:

“I think it’s a positive thing for people to use food banks”.

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1486

He went on:

“There are complex reasons why people use food banks but I think it’s excellent.”

So there we have it: it is part of this Government’s strategy to replace the social security safety net, which the Work and Pensions Secretary is demolishing. He is doing this in pursuit of the ambition of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to take us back to levels of public service spending and provision not seen since the 1930s. It is part of this Government’s ideological obsession with shrinking the state to replace social security with charity. What a disgrace!

Only by tackling the cost of living crisis can we begin to see the numbers of people relying on food banks decline. If things are going to change, the country needs a Labour Government. We will legislate to freeze energy prices and reform the market to stop energy companies from ripping people off.

Mr Jeremy Browne (Taunton Deane) (LD): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Maria Eagle: No. The hon. Gentleman has only just walked into the Chamber.

Mr Browne rose

Maria Eagle: No! He has not even had the courtesy to be here for the beginning of the debate.

We will introduce a water affordability scheme to support customers who are struggling, and we will give the regulator tough new powers to curb the excesses of the water companies. We will abolish exploitative zero-hours contracts and incentivise companies to pay the living wage. That will also help to increase income tax receipts and boost economic growth.

Labour will take action on low pay by raising the minimum wage to £8 an hour. We will introduce a compulsory jobs guarantee to get young people and the long-term unemployed off benefits and into paid work. We will help get parents back into work, too, by guaranteeing 25 hours of free child care a week for three and four-year-olds, paid for by an increase in the bank levy.

Labour will abolish the bedroom tax, address the huge delays in benefit payments and ensure that there are no more targets for sanctions in jobcentres. We will make housing affordable by increasing supply, building 200,000 homes a year by the end of 2020. We will support renters by introducing longer-term tenancies and banning rip-off letting fees.

That is how to tackle the cost of living crisis. That is how to build an economy that works for everyone instead of just a privileged few. That is how to reduce the number of people relying on food aid, and that is what the next Labour Government will do.

Several hon. Members rose

Stephen Barclay (North East Cambridgeshire) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I understand from the Table Office that it has had notice that the Government intend to publish tomorrow their much-delayed anti-corruption plan, which was due in June, and that the plan has been shared with third parties

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outside the House, but not with Members. Given the Christmas recess and the fact that Members might be leaving this evening, could you give any direction as to why Members are receiving the document after those outside the House?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very reasonable point. Of course, I have no responsibility for the actions of the Government, but I am quite sure that those on the Treasury Bench will have heard what he has said. If it is indeed the case that something that should have been reported first to the House has been published elsewhere, I am sure that Mr Speaker will take a very dim view of that. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that it has not been published, but sent to others. If Mr Speaker has an opportunity to make a ruling on the matter, I am quite sure that he will say that matters that ought to be reported to the House ought to be reported first to the House, as a matter of courtesy not only to the House, but to the people we are elected to represent.

5.8 pm

The Minister for Civil Society (Mr Rob Wilson): I welcome the opportunity to debate this motion and thank the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) for welcoming me to the Dispatch Box, if not for her good luck wishes. We are fortunate indeed to be informed by the report published last week by the all-party group. The members of that inquiry, including the Bishop of Truro and Members from both sides of the House, have stressed the need to ensure that partisan politics are put to one side.

Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Mr Wilson: I have barely started. Let me get into my speech a little more, please.

Likewise, the Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking at the launch of the inquiry report, stressed that a partisan approach would not work. I want to honour and respect that spirit in my contribution.

Mrs Lewell-Buck: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Minister referred to the all-party group and said we were all in agreement on various matters relating to food poverty. He is wrong. We were not in agreement; I certainly was not. I was very clear that it is problems in the Department for Work and Pensions that are driving people to food banks.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): I appreciate the point that the hon. Lady is making, but it is a point of debate, and I am quite sure that she will have an opportunity during the debate to make it.

Mr Wilson: As I said, I want to honour and respect the spirit of the Archbishop of Canterbury in speaking at the launch.

I especially want to recognise the contributions made by my hon. Friends the Members for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) and for Salisbury (John Glen), and the

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right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field). The Government welcome and value their passionate but measured approach. We recognise that this is an important issue but also a very complex one. As the recent report by the inquiry showed, the reasons for the use of food aid are multi-faceted and often overlap.

It is also important to put the use of food aid in the UK into its international context. The APPG inquiry noted the development of the use of food aid in other western economies. It found that 1,000 food banks are operating in Germany and that one in seven Americans now rely on a food bank.

It is only right to start by highlighting the inspirational work of volunteers, charities, faith groups and businesses in supporting people in need, and the generosity of the public. I pay tribute to their dedication and passion.

This country has a long tradition of selfless individuals providing such help. Much of this support in communities is led by faith groups, and they have played an active role in the APPG report. My predecessors as Minister for Civil Society and I have met a number of regional groups of faith leaders to listen to their views on the use of food banks. The way that communities have pulled together shows us all how we can build a bigger, stronger society.

David Wright (Telford) (Lab): I echo the Minister by thanking Telford Crisis Network for the work that it does on the food bank in Telford, along with a community store. He has moved very quickly on to thanking volunteers, quite rightly, but can I take him back a step? Why does he think there has been such a significant increase in the use of food banks? That is a very simple question.

Mr Wilson: As the report recognised, the reasons people are using food banks are very complex and frequently overlap. There is no one reason that explains the growth in their use in the UK or in other parts of the western world.

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op) rose

Mr Wilson: I will come to the hon. Gentleman in a moment if he will let me make a little more progress, because I want to talk about a personal experience.

Last month, I visited a Tesco superstore in my constituency to thank shoppers and volunteers for all their fantastic efforts in supporting the neighbourhood food collection. The collection was held in conjunction with the Trussell Trust and FareShare, with Tesco topping up shoppers’ donations by 30%.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Wilson: I was struck by the generosity of local people kindly donating items to help others. By that stage, 88 boxes had already been sent to ReadiFood, a food bank in Reading. I have visited ReadiFood and seen first hand the incredibly valuable support that it provides. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the hard work, commitment and passion of everybody involved in providing food aid.

Several hon. Members rose

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Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. Five people are standing and shouting at the Minister. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) will not say that people are not shouting when I say they are. If I say they are shouting, they are shouting. If the House wishes to have a proper debate, the Minister must be able to make his points, and then people can intervene. When he is ready to take interventions, he will make that clear.

Mr Wilson: I am sorry that hon. Members have not listened to my opening comments in trying to make this a sensible and serious debate where, for the sake of all our constituents, we put to one side some of our personal beliefs. However, I will give way to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger).

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): I thank the Minister for kindly giving way. I heard what he said about attending a food collection, which obviously is not the same as visiting a food bank, although he did then say that he had been to a food bank. Will he share with the House how many food banks he has visited and how many food vouchers he has issued to his constituents?

Mr Wilson: I have visited food banks in my constituency, and I obviously hope that all hon. Members have done so in theirs. It is very important that all Members of Parliament know what is going on on the ground in their constituencies, so I advise everyone to take the opportunity to visit their local food bank if they have not already done so.

I was at the launch of the recent “Feeding Britain” report. The report is a serious contribution to this debate. It is absolutely vital to tackle food waste and ensure that surplus food is redistributed. We are determined to support food retailers, the industry and consumers in their efforts to do so. There will always be some surplus in a resilient supply chain, and we support the industry in taking forward its work to make surplus food available to redistribution charities.

On behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Waste and Resources Action Programme led a working group to encourage food redistribution in the industry. The group discussed the barriers to surplus food redistribution across the supply chain, and developed possible solutions. As a result, new research case studies and guiding principles were established in March to enable the industry to redistribute more.

The UK has taken a lead in Europe on food waste reduction through the Courtauld commitment. I am pleased to say that all major food industry representatives have signed up to that voluntary agreement. It includes specific targets for food waste reduction, as well as ones to encourage food redistribution. Real progress has been made. During the first two phases of Courtauld, we prevented 2.9 million tonnes of food from being wasted, worth £4 billion, and annual UK household food waste decreased by 15%, or 1.3 tonnes, between 2007 and 2012.

It is great to see the lead taken by large retailers such as Tesco and Asda. We hope that more will follow their example. I have already mentioned that Tesco is offering support to local communities, and Asda gives its overs—the

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surplus when more stock is received than was expected—directly to FareShare. We need to take that further. This is a moral argument, not just a sustainability issue. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are convening a meeting with leaders of all major food retailers and other industry representatives.

Robert Flello: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I elicit your guidance? The motion does not mention food waste; it is about food banks. Food waste is completely irrelevant.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for trying to help me. When I decide that the Minister is straying from the motion, I will make sure to tell him so.

Mr Wilson: Thank you for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker; thankfully, you are not taking it from Labour Back Benchers.

We will discuss how more surplus food can be put to good use, including by supporting the work of local charities.

Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): May I drag the Minister back to food banks, which this debate is about? From the Government Front Bench, perhaps he can answer this question: why are many food bank users not made aware of the various crisis payments available to them in different circumstances, and why have even fewer got such payments? May we have some fact and less waffle from the Minister, please?

Mr Wilson: As the hon. Gentleman probably heard during the last debate, more than 93% of jobseeker’s allowance and employment and support allowance claims are processed on time—at the moment, that means within 16 days—which is up 7% since 2009-10. When fully rolled out, universal credit will speed that up further. In 2014-15, £94 billion will be spent on working-age benefits to support people who are on low incomes or out of work. That is a significant support network for people who need it.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Wilson: I will give way one more time, to the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin).

Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): I am grateful to the Minister. May I give credit to the Greater Maryhill food bank in my constituency, which does exemplary work? It did not exist in 2009, despite the fact that unemployment in my constituency was much higher than it is now. Can the Minister explain why the use of food banks has gone up by a huge percentage while unemployment is decreasing, which he reminds us about frequently?

Mr Wilson: The reasons for people visiting food banks are complex and frequently overlapping. It is difficult to give one particular reason for the use of food banks increasing at a time when, as the hon. Lady says, unemployment is dropping rapidly in constituencies all around the country.

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That brings me to an important part of my speech, on the economy. Our broad policy approach is that economic growth and employment offer the best route to give people a better future and to reduce poverty. Our country has been through the deepest recession in living memory, and the Government inherited a tough fiscal and economic situation, including the highest structural deficit of any major advanced country.

The Government have a long-term economic plan to secure Britain’s future, and sticking to it is the best way to improve living standards. Although there is more to do, that plan is working, as the Chancellor made clear in his autumn statement. There are now more people in employment than ever before, and I hope Opposition Members will welcome that fact. The economy is growing faster than any other in the G7, and we have cut income tax for 26 million people and are freezing fuel duty, cutting child care bills and providing funding for councils to freeze council tax. It is working—disposable income per capita is rising, and income inequality is down. I welcome the news this morning that not only are jobs being created and unemployment falling, but wages are rising significantly above inflation.

However, we are not complacent. There are still hard-working families facing challenging circumstances, which is why we continue to spend £94 billion a year on working-age benefits to support millions of people who are, for instance, unemployed or on low income. More than 93% of jobseeker’s allowance and employment and support allowance claims are now processed on time, within 16 days, which as I said earlier is up 7% since 2009-10. Universal credit will further speed up that processing, and the Department for Work and Pensions will do more to raise awareness of short-term benefit advances. That work will include providing more information about such advances to claimants both online and in jobcentres. We will also update staff guidance on those advances and remind staff of the process for considering them.

Fiona O'Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): The Minister spoke about the complexity of the reasons for the increased use of food banks. I know that he has studied the report in great detail, so can he tell the House what the top two reasons were?

Mr Wilson: As I said, the reasons are complex and frequently overlapping. If the hon. Lady has read the report herself, she will know what was in it, so I will leave her to cogitate on what the top reasons were.

We acknowledge that there is concern about prices. Following Ofwat’s 2014 price review, water bills across England and Wales will reduce by up to 5% before inflation, which is equivalent to about £20 a customer. I hope that Opposition Members will welcome that cut. As I have noted, we are freezing fuel duty, and road fuel prices are falling—they are at their lowest level since the end of 2010. It is also welcome news for consumers that year-on-year food prices have fallen, with an annual rate of inflation for food and non-alcoholic beverages of minus 1.7% in the year to November 2014.

Several hon. Members rose

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Mr Wilson: We are taking action to help hard-working families with food costs. For example, all infant children in England’s state schools are now entitled to a free meal at school every school day. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. I have already made it clear that if the Minister says he is not giving way, he is not giving way, although he has given way several times. It does not help the debate if hon. Members shout at the Minister, because then nobody can hear the arguments. The hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) made some excellent and clear arguments, which were heard, and the Minister must have the chance to do the same.

Mr Wilson: It is disappointing that Labour Members are trying to drown out my remarks, but I return to the point that I made at the start of the speech: we need to engage with this issue in a proper, sensible debate, and I am happy to take interventions, as indeed I have done.

The Government are taking action to help hard-working families, and disadvantaged children are eligible for free school meals throughout their time at school and college. The Healthy Start scheme provides a nutritional safety net for pregnant women, new mothers and low-income families throughout the UK, and it is helping half a million families to buy milk, fruit, and fresh and frozen vegetables. The school fruit and vegetables scheme provides a daily piece of fruit or some vegetables on school days to children in key stage 1 in primary schools and nurseries attached to eligible primary schools in England.

I thank the inquiry for its hard work in preparing the recent report. This is an important issue, and the report contains a series of recommendations that should be carefully considered by the Government, the food industry, civil society and others. We will continue to engage with the inquiry as it takes the proposals forward. As Minister for Civil Society, I acknowledge once again the inspirational support provided by volunteers, charities, faith groups and businesses to help people, because too often such support goes unrecognised. The use of food banks understandably generates passion and debate from Members across the House, but all will join me in recognising the selfless dedication of everyone involved in providing food aid.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. It will be obvious to the House that a large number of colleagues are attempting to catch my eye and limited time is available. I therefore put a limit of four minutes on Back-Bench speeches.

5.27 pm

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): When I was elected to this House four years ago, no food banks operated in my constituency. Now there are two. Every fortnight at my advice surgery I meet people who are struggling to make ends meet and who find it hard to pay the bills, cover the cost of school trips, and pay the rent. When I became a Member of Parliament I knew that many of my constituents had tough lives, but the level of poverty experienced by some in one of the richest cities in the world is shocking and should shame

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us all. I am appalled that in 21st-century London some people cannot put food on the table; I am appalled that some children go to bed hungry.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend struck, as I am, by the fact that often people have jobs and are working as hard as they can, yet they still cannot put food on the table?

Heidi Alexander: I totally agree with my hon. Friend.

I am also appalled that some politicians claim that the increased use of food banks is somehow a symptom of more food banks being around. In recent weeks, the Education Minister in the other place told us that those who use food banks need to prioritise their spending more effectively, and the Chancellor helpfully suggested that the increased use of food banks is due to the Government advertising them more. That is out of touch and insulting. When I hear such comments, I ask myself whether those who have uttered them have ever spoken to a mum who is struggling to feed her children, because I have.

About two years ago, I started to make referrals to the Trussell Trust. I remember one woman who came back to my advice surgery a second time, asking for a second food bank voucher. She sat across a desk from me, her eyes brimming with tears, embarrassed in front of her children. She was humiliated and desperate. Food banks are not about getting a freebie or an easy option for those who want to save a couple of quid; they are the last resort for people who are often dealing with multiple, complex problems such as losing a job on top of a fluctuating mental health problem, or family break-up coupled with a series of outgoings that are simply impossible to manage.

Food banks are as much about people not being able to pay the electricity bill as they are about not being able to put food on the table. Many of the people I see at my advice surgeries tell me stories that reflect what organisations, such as the Trussell Trust, say are the main reasons for people visiting them: benefit changes and delays, debt, homelessness, unemployment and underemployment. If we want to reduce food bank usage, we have to tackle the underlying causes.

Robert Flello: I was waiting for my hon. Friend to mention sanctions. An older chap came to see me at one of my surgeries. We had just given him some vouchers, because, like her, we also issue food bank vouchers to those in desperate need. He had come to see me because he had been sanctioned again—for the third time. He has profound learning disabilities and it takes him hours to fill in an application form. The Department for Work and Pensions had sanctioned him because it said he was not trying hard enough.

Heidi Alexander: Recent research shows that benefit delays and sanctions are two of the main reasons why people visit food banks. The Minister seemed not to know that, but we all know it from our advice surgeries.

If we want to tackle more and more people going to food banks, we have to get to grips with the underlying causes. We need decent jobs that pay a decent wage; we need to build homes that people can afford to live in; we

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need action on energy prices; and a robust benefits system that treats people like human beings. Until we do those things, we will see food bank use continue to rise.

The two food banks that now operate from my constituency provide much-needed support to many people who are in genuine hardship. They are run by compassionate and inspiring people: Fred Esiri at the Elim Pentecostal Church and Janet Daby at the Whitefoot and Downham Community Food Plus Project. As you know, Mr Speaker, just last month the Food Plus Project won the Paul Goggins memorial prize for best civil society initiative to tackle poverty. At the presentation of the award in Speaker’s House, I was struck by words of the late Paul Goggins, which were shared with us by his son Dom:

“Poverty is an affront to our common humanity. When you see it you need to roll your sleeves up and do something.”

There are people in food banks up and down the country rolling their sleeves up and working to tackle poverty, but we in this House must take our responsibilities equally seriously.

Thousands of people visit food banks each week. There are thousands more in food poverty who never make it, and instead rely on handouts from friends and family or skip meals altogether. Food banks exist to address short-term hunger and to help people out of a crisis, but it is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that people are not routinely having to rely on charity to feed themselves and their family. The alarming rise of food banks in one of the richest countries in the world should not be brushed under the carpet. We in this place need to be honest about that. We need to roll our sleeves up and do everything we can to address it.

5.33 pm

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak under your guidance, Mr Speaker.

Not one person in this Chamber got into Parliament to make people’s lives a misery and not one person in this Chamber agrees that people should be hungry out there on our streets. [Interruption.] Millions should not be hungry, as has been said. What I want to question is the validity of the amendment. I have e-mails from the chief executive of the Trussell Trust telling me that he does not have any valid data. [Hon. Members: “What amendment?”] The motion. [Interruption.] Sorry, Mr Speaker, I am just trying to find the information Opposition Members require and that is wasting my time and wasting the House’s time, because we all know why we are here.

Food banks have been around since 2000 and it is a good job that they have been. They were actually set up under the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown)—a fact that Labour Members seem to forget, and I welcome the fact that they are there. Let me go through some of the figures from the Trussell Trust. In the debate pack, it actually contradicts itself. It states that in 2014-15 there was a 38% increase—to 492,641—on the previous year, but that in 2013-14 the figure was 913,000. Those numbers do not stack up.

I want to read an excerpt from an e-mail I sent to the chief executive of the Trussell Trust:

“The last correspondence I had was with Adrian Curtis”—

a food bank network director—

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“who told me the only figures you held were regional figures on usage and these figures were then divided by the number of food banks in the area. He said you do not hold figures for the number of individuals using the food banks and how often they need to use them and for what reason.”

Are we talking about 1 million people starving or about 1 million meals? I do not want to see any of my constituents starve—not one of them; one person in my constituency starving is one person too many. However, I take great exception to party political ploys, when the Opposition have nothing to say. I have never been invited to a food bank in my constituency, although I would love to go, yet every time this issue comes up, there is always a letter from a staged Labour source saying that MPs should do something about it. Well, I am doing something about it—I am trying to get to the truth, and the truth is that if hon. Members do not have accurate data, they do not have an argument.

As an MP, I want to know why my constituents are starving. I want to know what problems they are facing and where we can help. As the Minister correctly said, we are working with the supermarkets to get food in and to help people in genuine need, but we need accurate data, so we have to be grown up. If Opposition Members do not have accurate data, they have not got an argument. Although I sympathise with them, I do not accept that 1 million people are starving in Britain. If they were, we would be up there with the Chinese and the Indians of this world, which we plainly are not. I implore hon. Members to grow up, get decent and ensure that when they put their choices before the public, they give them the right figures.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know you have just come into the Chair, so I shall be brief. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was here at the start of the debate, but has chosen not to take part, while the Minister who I understand is to wind up the debate was not here for the opening remarks or interventions. Bearing in mind the importance of this debate, that seems disrespectful to me, as it will seem to others listening to the debate, not just us as parliamentarians. Will you give some guidance on the rules governing who should be here and when?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but my understanding is that the Minister had another engagement of a ministerial and parliamentary character elsewhere on the estate—I think in Westminster Hall.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice) rose—

Mr Speaker: I will come back, but first let us hear what the Minister has to say.

George Eustice: I am grateful for this opportunity to explain why I could not be here for the opening comments of the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle). I was indeed representing the Government in a Westminster Hall debate on the welfare of greyhounds called by an Opposition Member, as I explained to Madam Deputy Speaker before the commencement of the debate.

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Mr Speaker: It is a regrettable state of affairs, it has to be said, but the Minister has explained his position with courtesy, for which I thank him. The hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) has put his point on the record, and people will form their own view about the appropriateness of the organisation of matters. We will leave it there.

5.38 pm

Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): In the limited time available, I would like to draw the House’s attention to the activity in my constituency.

In Clackmannanshire, we are fortunate that individuals have committed to establishing food banks at The Gate in Alloa and the drop-in food bank run by Activ8 in Sauchie. I have to say a big thank you for the dedication and foresight of people such as Evelyn Paterson, Val Rose and Sandra Gruar, because without their commitment the situation in Clackmannanshire would be a whole lot worse, while in Kinross-shire and South Perthshire, part of my constituency, people such as Les Paskin, who manages the Perth and Kinross food bank, deserve our gratitude for a venture described by the Daily Record as a “Food lifeline for Crieff”.

I want to put on the record the level of support these operations are providing to my communities. Perhaps the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) can listen and get some of the numbers now. In the first year of its existence, Perth and Kinross food bank provided 1,573 food parcels. That is three days’ food for 2,772 people, including 712 children, and the equivalent of 25,000 meals. The Gate has delivered 214 food packs, feeding 371 people with 7,745 meals between July and September of this year alone. At the end of October, it had supplied 21,700 meals to people in crisis in the preceding 10 months. That equates to a 35% increase in the number of people supported and a 50% increase in the number of meals supplied. The numbers show that 49% are due to benefit delay or sanction, a figure even greater than the 37% due to poverty or debt.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): A constituent came to me on Friday who has been sanctioned for three months—that is three months without a single penny coming in. He showed me evidence that he had applied for 21 jobs on one website alone in the past three days, but because he could not show that he had handed in his CV in one particular place he was sanctioned. That is what we are dealing with. Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment that the Minister will not acknowledge that?

Gordon Banks: I share my hon. Friend’s concern about, and her abhorrence of, what is going on. I am sure that every Opposition Member has had people coming to their constituency surgeries and delivering that kind of message. It is abhorrent and it must stop.

My office in Alloa is the third biggest referrer of those in need to the Gate food bank and my constituency offices in Alloa and Crieff act not only as drop-off points for donations but as collection points for food parcels. Let me take the House back a couple of weeks. We supplied a food parcel from my constituency office in Alloa for someone who had prearranged collection. The gentleman came and collected his food parcel and

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one of my members of staff went out of the office a few minutes later only to find him sitting in the street outside my office eating a cold tin of spaghetti. He was that desperate.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech about what is happening in his constituency. I was shocked to hear from Sarah Sidwell, who runs the food bank in Hull, that she expects a 20% increase in the number of people coming forward for food parcels in the lead-up to Christmas. Is he experiencing the same in his constituency?

Gordon Banks: I have exactly the same expectations as my hon. Friend. Indeed, later this week I will visit one of the food banks in my constituency and I am prepared for what they will tell me and for a horror story.

It was not that long ago that a man walked 7 miles to the Activ8 food bank in Sauchie for a polythene bag of food, only to have to walk 7 miles back home to provide for his family. I can honestly say that when I was first elected to this House I never foresaw a time when my constituency offices would be used for such a purpose and would have such a workload. This is a growing problem and we must do something about it.

We know that a proactive and caring Government could and would confront this shocking situation. They would do that through measures to scrap the bedroom tax, rather than voting to keep it, by growing the number of employers who pay the living wage, through the enforcement of tough sanctions on employers who do not pay the minimum wage, through a fairer approach to benefit sanctions and through a benefit system that does not seem set to make the claimant pay from the outset.

In Scotland, we have a Government who support the policies of the Conservatives in this place by refusing to support a 50p tax rate and who vote against the extension of the living wage in public contracts. In Scotland, we are hamstrung by not one but two Governments with the wrong priorities. We can do something about this, and we must, even if we have to wait until May to begin to right the wrongs.

5.44 pm

Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): I hope that every Member will read the all-party report entitled “Feeding Britain”, which has 77 recommendations, all of which seem eminently practical. I think everyone would agree that we should collectively seek to ensure that benefits can be paid as quickly as possible. I was not sure whether the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) was giving an undertaking that, if a Labour Government were elected next spring, benefits could be paid within five days. We would all want to ensure that benefits are paid as quickly as possible.

I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions announcing earlier this week that the Government were

“looking to new measures committing the Department to raising much more awareness, as was asked for, of the short-term benefit advances. We are doing that through websites, on posters and by providing information in jobcentres…hoping to roll it out at the beginning of the new year”

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ensuring that advisers

“constantly advise those at risk of the availability, should they need it, of interim payments.”—[Official Report, 8 December 2014; Vol. 589, c. 633.]

We should all agree on that.

On sanctions, the report suggests the introduction of a yellow card system. No one has spoken about it as yet, but it seems an eminently sensible idea. We all know as constituency MPs that constituents sometimes get into circumstances where there is not necessarily a fair or black-or-white situation, so introducing some sort of yellow card system might be much fairer.

I caution the Opposition against trying to give the impression that there is some huge new fund of money that can be given for this purpose. Every party, so far as I can recall from when I was in the Division Lobby, voted for the welfare cap, and if the leaders of both parties are also ring-fencing payments to pensioners, it means that benefit payments to working families and so forth are inevitably going to get squeezed. I fully support encouraging employers to pay the living wage and, if we can, to raise the minimum wage, but we are all working within tight conditions.

The report makes recommendations not just to the Government, but to the food industry. Tackling food waste is an important issue, and I was slightly surprised that some Opposition Members would discount it. I was glad that, in Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, Ministers acknowledged that and said that they would meet industry representatives to see how better to deal with food waste. The waste and resources action programme, which is based in my constituency, is already taking a lead on this.

As to the suggestion or implication that the debate is entirely about benefit delays and sanctions, may I read in my remaining time a short extract from the Bishop of Truro’s article in last week’s Church Times?This is just one quote to show the complexity:

“The other force at work is the addiction that many individuals and families have, but which particularly sharply affects the budgeting of low-income families. A family earning £21,000 a year, for example, where both parents smoke 20 cigarettes a day will spend a quarter of their income on tobacco.”

He went on to talk about the need to address the

“circle of addiction fed by debt, at the expense of being able to put food on the table.”

These are complex issues, and I suggest that pre-election soundbites are not worthy of them. It is a pity that this evening’s debate has sometimes degenerated into a pre-election soundbite debate.

5.48 pm

Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab): I am absolutely outraged that people are going hungry in one of the richest countries in the world. We have nearly 1 million people attending food banks and over 13 million, including children, the disabled and elderly, living in poverty. Worse still, a high percentage of those 13 million people are in work, working day-in and day-out, with low pay and rising living costs.

Members will know that I was part of the all-party parliamentary group inquiry team that spent most of this year touring the country taking evidence from charities and food bank users, and also know that I sit on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee,

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which is holding an inquiry into food security. While this does not make me an expert, it does mean I have a broad knowledge of the growing hunger problem this country faces and the causes of it.

Mr Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde) (Lab): Has my hon. Friend seen in her constituency as much as I have seen in my Inverclyde constituency, the distribution not only of food, but of power cards to enable people to cook the food that has been distributed to them?

Mrs Lewell-Buck: What I have seen is an increase in the number of soup kitchens in my constituency, because people do not have the equipment in their homes to cook any food.

No matter where in the country we took evidence, we heard the same stories time and again. People were using food banks because of poverty pay, welfare and benefit changes, unfair sanctions and benefit delays.

Mr Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): My hon. Friend has rightly mentioned the problems caused by benefit changes. I recently initiated a debate in Westminster Hall about the change from disability living allowance to personal independence payments. When I telephoned my local benefits office in Bellshill, I was told that a man had been waiting for 14 months for a decision. Will she encourage the Government to accept their responsibilities, especially their responsibility for the mess at the Department for Work and Pensions?

Mrs Lewell-Buck: I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend, and I shall say something about the issue that he has raised later in my speech.

In the past, we had a welfare state with a supportive safety net. When I was unemployed, and when members of my family and I fell on hard times, I was proud to live in a country in which they and I would be able to get help. Sadly, that is no longer the case. I remain proud of my country, but not of the people who are running it. The fact is that the safety net no longer exists. Since the coalition introduced its welfare reforms, we have experienced a harsh and punitive regime. We have a culture that no longer talks to people about their circumstances or tries to understand their hardship, but sanctions them without hesitation and cuts them off from any means of financial support without a care.

Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mrs Lewell-Buck: I want to make some progress.

That is not just my view, but the view of the brave people and selfless organisations that gave evidence to our inquiry. Time and again, people cited the changes in the welfare state as a primary driver to the food bank. It would be a total injustice not to acknowledge that. It is a national disgrace that food banks have become a part of the fabric of our society, but I thank God that they are there, for the truth is that, if the food banks and the faith groups were not plugging the gaps left by the state, people would be starving. There is no common sense or humanity in the system any more.

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We heard from a number of agencies about the culture change at the Department for Work and Pensions. The system now exists to catch people out, not to help them. That culture change has been led by those at the top, those in the Government who want to scapegoat the poor. We see that attitude when Ministers deny that welfare reform has led to people going hungry, which completely ignores the experiences of all our constituents. Ministers accuse critics of welfare reform of playing politics. I wonder whether they would have the gall to face some of the hungry people in my constituency and tell them that. It is not playing politics; it is the reality of life in our country nowadays.

People are going hungry, and, with each passing day of this terrible excuse for a Government, more and more are falling into poverty, with little or no chance of escape. There are no second chances in Britain today. Food poverty is a clear consequence of the Government’s ideological assault on the social safety net and the people who rely on it. One hungry person is a complete disgrace, but thousands of hungry people are a national disaster. I want us to try to consign this age of hunger to the history books. I know that that can best be achieved under a Labour Government.

5.53 pm

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): Two or three weeks ago I had the honour of co-chairing the launch of a report entitled “Emergency Use Only”, compiled by the Trussell Trust, Oxfam, the Child Poverty Action Group and the Church of England. It is a balanced and thoughtful report and chimes very much with my own experience as a constituency Member of Parliament.

As time is short, I shall outline just some of the points made by those organisations. They began by considering what had caused the increasing use of food banks and they concluded that it was due to an acute income crisis. There could be a number of reasons for that crisis. The word “complexity” has rightly been used a great deal today. The income crisis could be due to factors connected with employment, or unemployment. It could be due to a change in family circumstances. But it could be due to the benefits system, and it clearly is in a number of cases. The system is complex, people have had to experience long waiting times, and there has often been a lack of clear information about why people have been sanctioned and what they must do to remove those sanctions.

Pamela Nash (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): I have had to sign on myself, and I remember waiting until I was in dire straits financially before I went and did that. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that 16 days is far too long for someone to wait before receiving jobseeker’s allowance?

Jeremy Lefroy: I would agree that in many circumstances it is probably too long. Circumstances will be different for different people, but for some people it most certainly is too long.

I want to consider what we should be doing about this situation. There has been criticism of the Department for Work and Pensions. I want to make it clear that most staff in DWP do an excellent job, and most DWP staff in my constituency really do try to help the people who come before them—not everybody, but we are all human beings.

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First, we should improve access to short-term benefit advances. I think the Government recognise that. I hope they will do something about it and make it clearer how people can access those advances more readily. Secondly, we should look at sanctions policy and practice. Some of the instances that have been highlighted to me of how people have been sanctioned seem, frankly, to be over the top and in some cases ridiculous—in some cases perfectly justified, but in many cases I have questioned that.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman may be aware that the Work and Pensions Committee has decided to conduct an inquiry into inappropriate sanction use because of our significant concerns about that.

Jeremy Lefroy: There have been cases where people have had medical appointments, for example, which they cannot avoid, and so could not go to sign on, so there needs to be a bit more flexibility, while not taking nonsense from people who try to get away with things. Most of these people are not trying to get away with it at all, however.

Thirdly, the report recommends that we should improve the employment and support allowance regime, ensuring that claimants are not left without income for long periods. Fourthly, the local welfare assistance scheme is currently under review after a challenge. I urge the Government to ensure that the funding is ring-fenced, and that local authorities are not required to absorb it into their budgets, as many will find that difficult. We need that money to be ring-fenced locally for the coming financial year. I hope the Minister can respond on that, or at least indicate when we are going to hear about that.

I agree that food banks should not become a readily accepted part of formal provision. Clearly, there will always be people who get into difficulties. Being the son of a vicar in London, I remember that people would frequently come to the doorstep and ask for food. That is always the case—people do get into difficulties—but food banks should not be part of a readily accepted formal system for the long term.

The report chimes with the report presented last week which colleagues wrote. The Government should take the evidence and the recommendations seriously. Some of the recommendations should not be difficult to implement; it should merely be a matter of instructing DWP offices what they should, and should not, do in terms of sanctions.

This debate is extremely important. I am very glad that it has taken place today. I hope that Members on both sides of the House will do their utmost to ensure we improve the current situation, but ultimately it is up to the Government to look at the ways in which they can do that.

5.58 pm

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): I want to start by saying that it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) and that I agreed with so much of what he said. I also want to say that, to be fair, the Minister is right to acknowledge, as we do on this side, that some of the problems that are propelling people in this country to food banks have deep roots and a long

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history that goes back beyond the time his Government have been in office. However, we simply have to acknowledge the explosion in the scale of the problem in recent years.

We cannot have a sane and sensible debate about how to resolve the problem if Ministers refuse to acknowledge that over the past four years the number of people relying on Trussell Trust food banks alone—there are many other food banks around the country—has gone up from 41,000 in 2010 to nearly a million now, and that in those years we have seen food banks such as the Brick in my constituency springing up to fill need and demand.

Many people are too frightened or humiliated to go and ask for help, and the British Red Cross—more used to working in countries torn apart by war, famine and disaster—is launching its first-ever emergency appeal in this country, one of the richest countries in the world, to feed and clothe our children. We should be ashamed of ourselves. We have to start by acknowledging that and the heartbreaking reality, as all my hon. Friends who have visited food banks in their constituencies will know, of a nation that will not feed its children.

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a very good speech, as always. There is agreement across the House about how well food banks are performing, how well organisations such as Tesco are doing and how generous our constituents are in giving money and food to food banks. Does my hon. Friend agree that what is missing on the Government Benches is the anger at the fact that we have food banks in this country? That is what I saw when I was collecting at Tesco in Brook Green—that people are so concerned.

Lisa Nandy: The Minister’s warm words and praise for many of the charities running those food banks would be a lot more convincing if his Government had not just tried to gag them to prevent them from speaking out by passing the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014, which we will repeal.

One of the reasons why we have such a problem is that the safety net that those charities campaigned for and that we built during the previous century has been allowed to collapse in this century. What was provided once as a right is now provided as charity. That, in the end, is what lies behind the humiliation facing many of the people forced to walk miles to go to food banks and the gnawing anxiety that they live with daily, not knowing where their next meal will come from.

Robert Flello: Is my hon. Friend as shocked as I am by a recent case, typical of so many, of a couple who told me that their mother—an elderly woman who had been feeding them because they could get no support—had had to go into hospital suffering from malnutrition?

Lisa Nandy: Indeed. My hon. Friend is right.

In the short time available to me, I want to talk about the solutions to these problems. The first solution, which tackles a long-term trend, is that work must pay. Far too many people have been forced into work that is low-wage and zero or small-hours. One of my constituents wrote to me before this debate and said that she was forced into a job where she was given, on average, only 15 minutes of work a day over the course of a week, and that £1.10 a day did not even cover the cost of her bus

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fare. When she left that job she was sanctioned, got into debt and ended up having to go to a food bank. The solutions are obvious: raise the minimum wage and encourage firms to pay the living wage.

When the Minister went to Tesco, did he ask that company why it does not pay all its staff a living wage? I would be interested to know. Those who claim to be part of the solution can also be part of the problem. It is the Government’s job to set the tone of what we expect from our major employers. In communities such as mine, there are real issues about the number of jobs available. If the Government do not invest to create jobs, it is no use telling people to get on their bike and go and get a job.

The second thing that Ministers must do is rebuild the safety net. I do not know whether the Minister understands how much damage the bedroom tax has done to people in communities such as mine. It must be scrapped immediately. The benefits delays that my hon. Friends have mentioned are so important. I have people in my constituency who are waiting six months just to get an assessment for employment support allowance. On top of that, the universal credit has been introduced. In principle I support it, but many people are now managing budgets that they never had to deal with before, and it has propelled many of them not just into debt, but into the arms of payday lenders—payday lenders that this Government refuse to do anything about.

If Ministers were at all interested in the experiences of my constituents, which they do not appear to be as they seem to be talking together, they would learn that the culture in the jobcentre—

The Minister for Disabled People (Mr Mark Harper): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Lisa Nandy: No, I will not give way. It is about time Ministers listened, rather than trying to tell us that there is no problem in this country.

The cultural change that is needed in the jobcentre, which routinely strips people of their rights and their dignity, will come from getting rid of the unofficial targets for sanctions and restoring adviser discretion so that organisations can work with people, not against people, in their search for work.

I will say this to the Minister, now that he is finally paying attention to what I am saying about the experience of my constituents: what a waste this all is! He talks about food banks. Well, I will tell him something. There is a growing recognition across all the political parties that in the current economic climate we desperately need to harness the talents, the passion and the energy of people in every community, to make this country fairer, stronger, better and more sustainable. Instead, we have charities—cancer charities and children’s charities. Instead of supporting people at the hardest time of their lives, we can do little more than feed and clothe the children in one of the richest countries in the world. What a tremendous waste it all is!

6.5 pm

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I have visited the new food bank in my constituency and the one in Sparkhill, just outside my constituency. Both are

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Trussell Trust food banks and both do excellent work. I congratulate the people who work in them. I have done welfare rights for about 25 years, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to send people in crisis somewhere where they can get emergency food aid.

The Trussell Trust website tells us how the trust was founded in 1997 and how food banks were born in 2000. It tells how the founder, Paddy Henderson, received a call in 2000

“from a desperate mother in Salisbury saying ‘my children are going to bed hungry tonight—what are you going to do about it?’ Paddy investigated local indices of deprivation and ‘hidden hunger’ in the UK. The shocking results showed that significant numbers of local people faced short term hunger as a result of a sudden crisis.”

This problem is not new, but the fact that there are now food banks is a positive thing.

David Wright: I think we would all acknowledge that there has always been a problem with people and families going hungry in this country. It is nothing new, but how does the hon. Gentleman explain the huge increase in the number of people presenting at food banks in recent years?

John Hemming: One aspect of that is that people such as myself who were unable to refer anyone to a food bank before can now do so. I have always seen people in a state of crisis—[Interruption.] No, I have seen people in a state of crisis, and the Trussell Trust also confirms that this was happening in 2000.

Let us look at an example involving habitual residency. I think that the House is united in not wanting benefit tourism. However, when people leave this country to go and live abroad for five or 10 years and then come back, they do not qualify for benefits because they have not been habitually resident here. They then come to see me and I tell them that, in such an emergency, I can send them down to the food bank. I have handed out vouchers to four people. It is true that some people end up in such a state that they cannot afford to cook the food, and that is something that we need to be aware of. They often do not want to go to the food bank for that reason. Similarly, the cost of the bus fare to the food bank can also be an issue. We have to recognise, however, that the habitual residency rule is not new. It has been around for some time. The Trussell Trust refers to “hidden hunger”. We all agree with the policy of having habitual residency qualifications for means-tested benefits.

Sanctions give me cause for concern. I have sat down with senior civil servants who have told me that there are no targets for sanctions, but I have also had confirmation from people working in the Department for Work and Pensions that they are under pressure for not having issued enough sanctions. I also see people who are being wrongly sanctioned. To me, that is very wrong. The safety net should be fair but, as I have said on a number of occasions, it is not operating properly at the moment.

The hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) made an excellent speech, and I support everything he said, but I would also like to emphasise the point made by the right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) about the yellow card system. The sanctioning system was originally designed to be punitive, but under the universal credit system, it is supposed to be less so. The Government have gone wrong in not having moved

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towards a compliance-oriented sanctions system and waiting for universal credit to bring that in. We should have changed how the system was initially set up under the previous Government. It was initially set up as a punitive system, but it should have been moved towards compliance. I would support the yellow card system, which the Trussell Trust also supports.

Again, the Labour party has to think carefully about its policy proposals. It proposes to increase the number of years someone has to work to qualify for contributory jobseeker’s allowance from two to five years. The effect of that will be to reduce the number of people who get contributory JSA, which is why the Labour party is suggesting it, but the families involved will then face exactly the same sort of crisis that will drive them to a food bank.

Let us consider what happens to a couple who are both in low-paid work and then one of them loses their job. Under Labour’s new proposals they will find themselves having an income crisis that they would not find under the Government’s current legislation. This is a complex issue of detail, and some of the Opposition’s proposals would make more people go to food banks. We need to look at how to deal with it in detail and protect people from hunger—hidden or unhidden.

6.10 pm

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) talked about Members of this House who have been around for some time. Well, I have been around for some time and I have never known a situation like this.

Last Saturday, I attended a Christmas lunch for pensioners at the Trinity House community centre in my constituency. It was a lovely occasion, but I did ask myself what kind of lunch some of the people would have been having if they had not been there. I went to a school and the head teacher told me that the meal provided for children there was the only proper meal they had all day; I had to ask myself what happens during holiday periods.

I went to the New Covenant church for a carol service last Sunday in another part of my constituency. I had a chat with the pastor and I was told of the things that were done at that church. He told me about its food programme and its food bank. He told me that the church has volunteers who work there and in the community but cannot find jobs when they have left the volunteer period.

That night, I went home and saw on television a commercial that said, “Help Unilever and Oxfam fight hunger in the UK”. I found it utterly shaming that a commercial such as that had been made, where people were saying that there was so much hunger in this country that action against it had to be organised. Despite the damage done by this Government, this is one of the richest countries in the world, and it is utterly humiliating that people should have to go to food banks to get a meal.

Kerry McCarthy: I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has yet had a chance to visit the excellent FoodCycle Manchester. I am a patron of the organisation and was at FoodCycle Bristol on Sunday. It uses food

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waste—surplus food—to provide meals for people who cannot afford them. For the 60 or so people I met there on Sunday, it was probably the only nutritious cooked meal they were going to get that week. I urge him to visit.

Sir Gerald Kaufman: My hon. Friend has got it right, because one sees this again and again. Why? It is because of poverty. The figures show that in my constituency 42% of children live in poverty. Mine is the 10th worst constituency for that in the whole UK. The city of Manchester is fourth in Britain for poverty, and that is according to the Department for Education’s own definition. Children are said to be living in relative poverty if their household’s income is less than 60% of the median national income.

Manchester is a target for this Government. They have taken away more Government funding from my city than from anywhere else in the country, whereas in other parts of the country, such as Surrey, they are actually increasing the amount of Government funding. It is a cynical political trick. They know that they cannot win seats in Manchester, so why make life comfortable for people there? By contrast, in Surrey they do have some hope of winning constituencies. It is a political manoeuvre and my constituents suffer because of it.

The Government’s policy can be summed up:

“For whosoever hath, to him shall be given…but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.”

Benefit sanctions are spoken of again and again. Heaven knows I have a case load, as the Secretary of State knows from his correspondence with me, but people should not look for benefits other than those to which they are entitled by family circumstances. They should be able to have jobs. In Manchester, we have the Manchester living wage, but it does not prevail. If people do not have incomes or jobs they cannot buy food. It is terrible that we have in this country—a progressive western European country—hunger that is categorised by Unilever and Oxfam. The people who provide food banks are fine, decent people. They are good people—valuable people—but we should not need them.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: A very large number of colleagues are seeking to catch my eye, as a result of which I have to reduce the time limit on Back-Bench speeches to three minutes with immediate effect.

6.16 pm

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): It is a pleasure, Mr Speaker, to follow the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), who represents the city where my husband grew up. I am familiar with the type of poverty that he described, as my husband grew up in a two-up, two-down council house in a neighbourhood very similar to the one that he represents. Like many Government Members, we are absolutely able to relate to and represent the sort of community that he represents. I am sure we all share the horror and shock at the fact that many people need to go to food banks in the 21st century in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. We are united in our desire to help people out of poverty and help them stand on their own feet to secure a sustainable life.