Failures in Britain's benefit system are leaving vulnerable people without enough money to survive on, a representative from the UK's largest network of foodbanks says.
The director of Kingston Foodbank in London, Paul Pickhaver, on Wednesday said the local welfare system was "cruel and devoid of compassion". A statement said he had heard numerous stories of "people being left with no money over the Christmas period with some still waiting in the hope of a payment".
"There is no other way to describe it – it's cruel," said Pickhaver, who also leads The Community Church.
"Grown men who have worked all their lives but find themselves unable to work due to a health condition have told me that the lack of help has left them in tears. In contrast, the people of Kingston have shown overwhelming compassion by the gifts of food that have poured into the collection points to support those in need over the last few months. The support shows that local people understand, do care and want to help."
Pickhaver said a majority of the more than 350 referrals from the DWP Job Centre in Kingston to the Foodbank in 2016 were due to changes in the type of benefit a claimant was to receive, not a question of their entitlement.
"Often people are referred by Job Centre staff to the Foodbank because a payment of Employment Support Allowance has been stopped after a medical assessment. A claimant is either forced to claim for Job Seekers Allowance, even if evidence states that they are unable to work or to appeal. No benefits are paid while an appeal process runs which can take months."
The statement said some families and individuals have been left without money for 6-8 weeks, and Pickhaver called for more to be done to make emergency payments to people in crisis.
"DWP guidance to staff at Job Centres is clear – if a claimant is due benefit it should be paid. That is not happening in Kingston," he said.
"Answers have been given in Parliament to state that every DWP source of support has to be exhausted before referring to another local source of help. It's a pretence – if there were any meaningful safety net in place in Kingston Job Centre we would not be seeing hundreds of referrals from them each year."
Adrian Curtis, acting Head of External Affairs at the Trussell Trust, told Christian Today: "Kingston Foodbank's experience that people are going hungry over Christmas is mirrored by our network of foodbanks, who had an incredibly busy December helping thousands of families.
"More can be done to help people before they get to the stage of needing a foodbank, and one of these things is to ensure people are made aware of local authority funds for people in crisis."