Tory MP Defies Minister By Saying Benefits Crackdown Forces People To Food Banks

Andrew Percy:
Andrew Percy:
Parliament TV

A Conservative MP has said stopping payments to benefit claimants is forcing people to food banks - contradicting a Government minister overseeing the crackdown.

Andrew Percy, who represents Brigg and Goole on Humberside, went on to criticise the "consistency" of the benefits sanctions regime and called for a review.

His comments in the House of Commons came minutes after Employment Minster Priti Patel argued there is "no robust evidence that directly links sanctions and food bank use".

Benefit claimants can have their payments suspended or docked if they break the rules, but critics claim many of the breaches are trivial. The Work and Pensions Committee of MPs has twice called for an independent inquiry.

The Trussell Trust charity says a record one million packages were given out by food banks last year.

Mr Percy's intervention followed the Labour frontbench and two SNP MPs berating the Government for fuelling the need for hand-outs of food parcels.

Shadow minister Helen Goodman said sanctions are "cited as one of the top reasons for people to visit food banks", labelling the policy "vicious and arbitrary".

Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, claimed it is "absolutely clear from all independent evidence that the sanctions regime is having a heartbreaking effect on people".

She cited a constituent who lost payments after missing a Job Centre appointment - despite recovering from a serious heart attack in hospital.

Chris Law, who represents Dundee West, said 2,500 people were sanctioned in the Scottish city, leading to a 51% increase in referrals to the Dundee food bank.

Addressing the minister, the MP said: "Does she not accept that there is an intrinsic link between the two, and that it is an absolute disgrace to have rising food poverty in the 21st century?"

Ms Patel said the Government has "looked at the issue extensively", adding it agrees with the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into hunger that found the reasons for food bank use are "complex and overlapping".

She added: "There is no robust evidence that directly links sanctions and food bank use."

Priti Patel: "There is no robust evidence that directly links sanctions and food bank use."

But Mr Percy begged to differ: "All I know is that those at Mission Trinity, an excellent independent non-political food bank in Goole, tell me that benefits sanctions are driving people to use it.

"I support the benefit sanctions system, but one issue that seems to be a problem is the consistency with which sanctions are applied.

"May we have a review of this and ensure that the recipients of the sanctions properly understand the consequences?"