Editor’s Column: Let’s back the Church in calling for a review of the benefits system

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The rise in the number of foodbanks across South Yorkshire is one of the scandals of modern times.

If you turned the clock back the clock 50 years to the post-war boom and asked local people what one of the defining features of life at the start of the 21st century would be, food banks would not have even crossed minds.

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‘Disgrace’ of poverty-stricken families relying on South Yorkshire foodbanks

A return to Victorian poverty would be the last thing a generation enjoying a higher standard of living than they had in decades would have thought of.

Yet here we are, living in a county with 60 foodbanks - at least - feeding hundreds of families a week.

The Diocese of Sheffield this week called the situation a disgrace and the bishop, the Right Reverend Dr Steven Croft, has called for politicians to act on this scandal.

If anyone doubted that welfare reform and the tightening up of the benefits system would have an effect, then here is the proof.

The diocesan survey found that across the county it is problems around the benefits system that has led to the explosion in food poverty, throwing families at the mercy of food banks that were unheard of a decade ago.

The diocese makes three recommendations in its report, all of which centre on improvements to the system.

It wants delays in payments to be minimised, seeks a system of crisis loans and hardship payments and is urging Government to hold a review of the benefit sanction policy.

Tightening up the benefits system - whether you agree it was necessary or not - was never going to be straightforward and fears were expressed by groups across our society that the changes were too much, too quickly and would result in greater hardship for people who were not the intended targets of such a clampdown.

This includes children and the vulnerable, for they are among those whose bellies are filled at the foodbanks.

Whatever your views on the benefits system, most people would agree that a safety net for those in greatest need is a requirement of a civilised society. We should not stand by and watch people, including innocent children, frail elderly people or those unable to work through illness, starve. Our church leaders are right; it is unaccceptable.

And if it is the changes to the benefits system that are causing the problems, then it is right too that the system is reviewed as a matter of urgency.

These people have no rainy day fund: delaying payments or witholding benefits, even for days, to people who have nothing is devastating.