A Conservative councillor has caused uproar after saying that food banks are visited by unemployed people who get “really good benefits”.
Conservative councillor Dawn Barnett called for tighter restrictions on food banks after claiming the system is being abused by benefit claimants who are “not in need”.
The Argus reports that Councillor Barnett, who represents the Hove ward in Brighton and Hove, said she knows of local residents who visit food banks while being comfortably off living on benefits.
The number of food banks in the city has doubled from six to twelve since 2012 – supporting 270 households per week with food parcels, compared to 220 in 2012 – with more set to open soon.
Cllr. Dawn Barnett told the Argus: “I know of people who are getting really good benefits that are going to charity food banks and coming out with big bags of food.”
“These people are not in need of these handouts.
“I think these charities need to find where the genuine need is. There are a lot of people who don’t go along to food banks who are in much more need than these people I have seen use the service.”
A furious spokesperson for the Trussell Trust, who runs one food bank in the city and will be opening a second soon, said:
“Everybody who comes to the Trussell Trust is referred by a frontline professional such as a social worker, health visitor or doctor to ensure that the need is genuine.
“These workers are much more likely to come across people than we would be able to find working with them and they can make people in crisis aware of food banks.”
She added that people have to be referred to the service and will receive up to three food parcels before the charity returns to the professional who referred them. This may include a health care expert, Job Centre, local authority or other professional person or organisation.
Labour Councillor Emma Daniel blamed benefit cuts for the increase in food bank users and called for more food collection points in the city.
She added: “I regularly come across mothers who I can see are clearly not eating enough and look malnourished.
“Free school meals help their children, but it is painful to see that they are struggling to afford food for themselves.”
Figures from the Trussell Trust show that 30.93% of people are referred to food banks nationwide due to benefit delays, while 16.97% are referred because of welfare reforms.