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Ministers have secretly drawn up plans to investigate whether the government’s own policies are to blame for the sharp rise food bank use, the Guardian has learned.

Two of the most senior officials at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have been tasked with overseeing the study, according to a draft proposal, which is marked: “Official – Sensitive”.

The four-page document, dated June 2018, says a key objective of the proposed research is “to identify any areas of DWP policy or operational practice that may have contributed to a rise in demand for food bank use services”.

Some of those who will be asked to contribute to the research will be asked to sign non-disclosure agreements.

The use of food bank use has become a toxic issue over the last five years, with Tory ministers consistently refusing to accept that austerity-driven welfare reforms, including the introduction of universal credit, may be directly responsible for the huge increase in people needing emergency help.

The Labour MP Frank Field, chair of the work and pensions select committee, said he hoped the proposed research was “a welcome sign that the government is going to look again at universal credit”.

“This is a problem of the government’s own making. If this research gives the government a chance to get off this self-imposed hook, then it’s a good thing. But God help people in the meantime.”

The blueprint for the study is set out in the leaked document, which is titled: “Update on commissioning food banks research.” It explains that the report will cost £217,000 – and that funding “has now been approved”.

It says the year-long project aims to find out how many people are being forced to seek emergency food aid and why.

The study, due to be published in October next year, will rely on a survey of 600 food bank managers and 500 food bank users, as well as in-depth interviews with a much smaller number of people who regularly use the service.

Under the heading “Factors driving the use of food banks”, the document describes seven objectives. As well as assessing the role of DWP policies, it says the research should look at “how far economic factors have influenced the use of food banks”.

The blueprint also acknowledges the risks in undertaking the research, including “negative results”.

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