All-party Parliamentary Group on Hunger and Food Poverty

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 26 January 2015.

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Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 2:30, 26 January 2015

What plans he has to respond to the recent recommendations of the all-party parliamentary group on hunger and food poverty.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The report is a serious contribution to an important debate, which recognises that the reasons behind the demand for emergency food assistance are complex and overlapping. I have already responded and will continue to review the recommendations and engage with the inquiry as it takes its proposals forward. That is an undertaking I gave at the last Question Time. My Department has already agreed to do more to raise awareness of short-term benefit advances, including advertising in jobcentres so that everyone can see it.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The report showed that about a quarter of a million people last year used food banks because of benefit sanctions. I have a constituent who showed me evidence that he applied for hundreds of jobs, but, because he applied for one by handing in a CV in person rather than through the website, he was sanctioned for three months without money. Does the Secretary of State agree that that is completely outrageous?

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I am afraid I simply do not recognise the kind of case the hon. Lady raises. She knows that if she wants to raise a case directly with me or with the Minister for Employment, my right hon. Friend Esther McVey, she should do so, but there is no such rule in jobcentres or in respect of sanctions. [Interruption.] Yes, I am very happy to see the hon. Lady, but let me bring her to the wider issue, which is simply this: the report made it very clear that there are multiple issues. What the Opposition have tried to do non-stop, as they have with the spare room subsidy and other matters, is try to scare everybody up and down the country into believing that there is a magic wand. Let me remind her that under her Government the number of food banks doubled. The reality is that long before the coalition came to power, they were already delivering a failed economy and forcing people out of work and into difficulty beyond whatever we may have done.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry The Second Church Estates Commissioner, The Second Church Estates Commissioner

One of the reasons for using food banks—a reason given by those who use them—is delays in benefit payments. Am I right in thinking, however, that the average time for sorting out benefit payment disputes has been reduced to under two weeks?

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My right hon. Friend is correct. The reality is that delays in benefit payments have fallen under this Government. There are now fewer delays. The Opposition say that we need to speed up the payment of benefits. I remind them that under Labour benefits were not paid until two weeks after the claim, so unless they are now saying that benefits should be paid earlier than that, I really have no idea what the Opposition’s policy is on this. We pay benefits as quickly as possible. There is no determination to delay payment.

Jobcentres and benefit offices do their level best to ensure that people get money when they need it, and hardship funds are available if anybody has any difficulty.