DWP boss: 'Food bank users want something for nothing'

THE increase in the number of people using food banks is, according to a DWP boss, down to poor people responding to an incentive to get something for nothing.

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Links between benefit sanctions and food banks were denied by the official, who said the poor, like the rich will "respond to things they can get".

The Department of Work and Pensions official, who appeared before the Scottish Parliament Welfare Reform Committee explained people welcomed the "jolt" that sanctions gives them to becoming a more active jobseeker.

Neil Couling, Work Services Director of the DWP, told MSPs the increase in people seeking help was down to more food banks being available which he said was an "evangelical tool" by the Trussell Trust.

Mr Couling defended the use of sanctions, and denied there were quotas to be met.

When asked, by Deputy Committee Convener Jamie Hepburn, if he agreed sanctions were driving more people to food banks, Mr Couling said: "The Trussell Trust has an objective of a food bank in every town. Is it demand or supply? For me it is supply.

"Why would poor people respond differently to rich people to incentives to things you can get."

He said that he expected food banks to continue to grow whatever path welfare took in the future adding: "We live in a country of rich and poor and people will maximise their economic opportunities."

Kevin Stewart, SNP MSP said Mr Couling's response was "complete and utter nonsense".

He said: "Go and speak to people at food banks."

Labour MSP Ken Macintosh asked if food banks were becoming institutionalised in the UK welfare system.

Mr Couling said food banks were a community response which the Government applauded, but they were outwith the state sphere.

He said "With the Trussell Trust it started out as an evangelical device to get in touch with people."

Responding to Mr Hepburn, who questioned his statement sanctions were a positive measure and asked if claimants saw it that way, Mr Couling said: "Many welcome the jolt sanctions can give them.

"Some respond very badly, others recognise it as the wake up call they need and helps them get back into work."

stewart.paterson@eveningtimes.co.uk

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