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Christian charity refutes Government criticism

The Government's been accused of 'sidestepping the issue' of the number of people using food banks.

The Trussell Trust which runs over 400 centres across the country says the increased demand can be linked to benefit cuts and changes to the system. But the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith is reported to have accused the Christian charity of 'scaremongering' and being 'too political'. Bosses of the organisation say they've requested several meetings with Mr Duncan Smith but the offers have been refused each time.

Earlier this year the charity claimed there was a 170% rise in the numbers of people turning to food banks in last 12 months.

It said the rising cost of living, static incomes, changes to benefits and unemployment mean more and more people were becoming hungry. Demand for support from the Trussell Trust has risen dramatically since its inception.

Between 2012 and 2013, 346,992 people received a minimum of three days emergency food from Trussell Trust food banks. That compares to 128,697 in 2011-12 and up from 26,000 in 2008-09. But the Government rejects the link between demand and changes to the welfare system.

A spokesperson said: "The Government has taken action to help families with the cost of living, including increasing the tax-free personal allowance to £10,000 which will save a typical taxpayer over £700, freezing council tax for five years and freezing fuel duty.  

"The Trussell Trust itself says it is opening three new food banks every week, so it's not surprising more people are using them. They also agree that awareness has helped to explain their recent growth."  

"The benefits system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed and there is no robust evidence that welfare reforms are linked to increased use of food banks.   

"In fact, our welfare reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities with the Universal Credit making three million households better off - the majority of these from the bottom two fifths of the income scale."

The Trussell Trust Executive Chairman Chris Mould's told Premier's Marcus Jones on the News Hour that the figures speak for themselves.

In response to the comments from both sides, Andrew Selous - the Christian MP and Parliamentary Private Secretary to Iain Duncan Smith said a meeting would take place between the Department of Work and Pensions and the charity in the New Year. Meanwhile the Bishop of Warrington - who's looking after the Diocese of Liverpool - has been raising concerns over changes to the benefits system in his Christmas message.

Rt Revd Richard Blackburn said: "It's clear from conversations with churches in Warrington and Wigan, where Universal Credit is being piloted, that there are grave concerns as to whether we are losing the safety net that the benefit system should provide. 

"The main reason that people seem to be coming through the doors of the many food banks, largely run by the local churches, is due to delays receiving benefits. I can see several good reasons for bringing in the universal credit system but I fear that the needs of the individual may be lost in the process. 

"We must put the needs of the least able to cope first. 

"But with the onset of the bedroom tax and benefit reforms it feels very much that the burden is placed on the most vulnerable in society. This, I fear, increases their vulnerability making it easier for the pay day loan companies to operate and people's lives to be further undermined."

The charity Church Action on Poverty is also launching a campaign which claims thousands are going without food because of benefit changes. In a poster similar to the Conservatives election advert which said 'Labour isn't working', it reads 'Britain isn't eating' with a queue of people heading to a food bank.

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