A Christian MP has exposed the scale of hardship caused by delays in benefit payments.
Frank Field, the Labour MP for Birkenhead, has revealed more than 154,000 people in the last year waited more than 10 days for their benefit claim to be processed. Of this figure, more than 44,000 waited for longer than 16 days.
Field chairs the work and pensions select committee which scrutinises the department's work. He acknowledged progress had been made to reduce the waiting time. However he said: "For people with little or no money in the bank, to survive even a day, let alone two weeks, without an income is almost an impossible task.
"We therefore need further action to restrict the supply routes into hunger. If the department could deliver all new claims more swiftly within five working days it would immediately reduce by a third the numbers of people needing to rely on food banks."
The all-party parliamentary group on hunger, which Field also chairs, has reported on the causes of food bank use in the UK. It found "delayed payment of benefit remains the most common event triggering the need for an emergency food parcel".
One option available to claimants is the short-term benefit advance, which offers emergency support in the case of a delay. However Field said today that more than half of new claimants applying for emergency payments were unsuccessful.
A spokesman for the department for work and pensions said the short-term benefit allowance figures were incorrect. "The fact is the vast majority of benefits are paid on time and there are hardship payments and short-term benefit advances available to those who need it," he said.
The spokesman also insisted the process for benefit delays was the best it has ever been. More than 90 per cent of Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) claimants received the payment within 10 days, according to government figures. He added the most common cause of delay was the need to gather more information from the claimant.