Families who rely too heavily on food banks may suffer nutritional deficiencies because so much of the produce is processed rather than fresh, it has been claimed.
Mel Wakeman, a senior lecturer specialising in health and nutrition at Birmingham City University, warned that families forced into prolonged use of food banks may not be eating a balanced diet.
She and students analysed food typically on offer at food banks and drew up menus based on the items available.
“We found that it’s very much processed food being donated, with little fresh produce,” said Wakeman.
“The meal plans we came up with revealed that in the long term there is a real risk of children and families becoming deficient in fibre, calcium, iron and a variety of vitamins.
“We’re not criticising what food banks are doing and, of course, only food that is safe to eat should be available, which limits the handling of perishable food.”
When Wakeman and her students looked at what was available at food banks, they found items such as tinned soup, meat, puddings and pasta sauce dominated.
“I would like to see more fresh produce in there,” she said.
“If levels of poverty continue to rise, then the level of support given to food banks may have to be increased so we don’t have a situation where families are prevented from accessing nutritious food. Over longer periods eating donated food that is often refined could result in nutritional deficiencies.”
In 2013-14 food banks helped feed almost a million people in the UK, about a third of whom were children. Many food banks say their services should be used as emergency stopgaps.
But there is anecdotal evidence that many people use food banks for longer periods. A project in south-west England told last year’s all-party parliamentary inquiry into hunger and food poverty that it was supporting people for up to 12 weeks.
An Oxfam report gives the example of a single mother with three sons surviving for eight weeks with the help of food bank donations, while the user of a food bank in south-east London told researchers from Goldsmiths, University of London, they had been using a food bank for almost a year.
Beyond the anecdotal evidence, however, it is hard to find out how many people are using food banks for long periods. The all-party inquiry said there were a huge number of initiatives in the UK and the “food aid landscape” was difficult to document. In its report, the inquiry “detected some concern among food banks and food assistance providers about an over-reliance on donations; both in terms of the quality and variety of food supplied and the reliability of future supply”.
It also said:
“A large number of food assistance providers told us that barriers around cost and storage prevented them from asking for donations of fresh food.”
The largest of the networks, the Trussell Trust, which runs 420 food banks in partnership with communities and churches, operates a strict policy of providing “nutritionally balanced ambient food” to help out in a short-term crisis and is careful to work with clients to make sure they do not become dependent on the food bank. Some of its centres provide fresh food.
Adrian Curtis, food bank network director at the Trussell Trust, said: “Although we do not place a limit on the length of support we offer to clients, our systems monitor usage with referral organisations to avoid dependency.”
The charity’s Eat Well, Spend Less project aims to teach cooking skills and budgeting.
Wakeman raised the problem of over-reliance on food banks at a conference to discuss child poverty in Birmingham organised by the News in Brum organisation.
A series of meetings are to be held for members of the public to work out ways of helping the tackle the problem. A working group will also be established to help students work with community groups in the city on the issue.
Source – The Guardian, 18 Mar 2015
A Scottish academic has published analysis showing a dramatic rise in the number of people successfully appealing against decisions to stop their benefit payments.
Rising rates of successful appeals have been seen as a sign that the system for penalising those deemed to have broken job-seeker agreements is flawed.
Dr David Webster described the latest figures as “sensational” as they show nearly nine in 10 of those who challenge decisions to stop benefits at a tribunal now have their appeal upheld. However only a few of those who are “sanctioned” by having their payments stopped ever appeal.
Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures reveal that over the period from October 22, 2012 until September 30 last year, 58% of those sanctioned successfully appealed against the decision.
However Dr Webster, of the Urban Studies School of Social and Political Sciences at Glasgow University, said the most recent quarter has seen a more dramatic rise. In the three months to September 30, the figure has risen to 87%, he says.
“There has been a sensational increase in the success rate of claimants at tribunal. It has been going skywards since May 2012. Tribunals are now upholding almost nine out of 10 appeals against the DWP. But only one in 50 claimants appeals.”
The backdrop to this is an ongoing acceleration in the number of people claiming benefits who are falling foul of rules under the job-seeker’s agreements which tie benefit payments to a responsibility to actively seek work.
Citizens Advice Bureaux and other welfare advice agencies report increasing concerns over decision making which they say is often unfair or arbitrary. While most agree people who claim benefits should be genuinely looking for work if they are able to, anecdotal evidence suggests Job Centres are imposing penalties based on requirements that are unrealistic or unfair.
> Anecdotal evidence ? Like its only a rumour or something ?
There have also been repeated claims that staff are given targets to sanction more claimants, and equally repeated denials from the DWP that this is the case.
Nevertheless, across the UK the number of people sanctioned in the year to September 30, 2013 was 874,850, the highest since Jobseeker’s Allowance was introduced in 1996. More than 75,000 of the these sanctions were in Scotland.
Much of the increase has come under the Coalition government – the figure in the last year of the Labour government was 500,000.
The rate at which sanctions are being applied is also accelerating, Dr Webster’s analysis shows. Under Labour 2.46% of claimants were sanctioned each month, but the average under the Coalition is 4.46% a month so far, and rising.
Figures for the whole of last year show 5.11% of claimants were sanctioned each month last year, Dr Webster says, and over the last three months the figure is 6%.
“These are the highest rates recorded since the start of JSA in 1996,” he explains.
Although sanction figures for those receiving the benefit for sick or disabled job seekers, Employment Support Allowance, are lower, they too are rising.
The new figures show 22,840 sanctions for ESA claimants in the last year, the highest for any 12-month period since sanctions were introduced in 2008. More than 1500 of these were in Scotland.
According to Dr Webster the low level of appeals against sanctions reflects the difficulty of the process. Only 2.44% of those who were penalised appealed in the last three months. “The vast majority of claimants find the process too difficult,” he said.
The reasons why people are given sanctions has also changed markedly in recent years. Dr Webster says the most likely reason for sanctions is failing to participate in an employment or training scheme, or failing to actively seek work.
Historically, leaving a job or being dismissed from it for misconduct were the most common reasons someone might be disqualified from benefit, he says.
“Since the start of the recession, they’ve hardly featured at all. Abundant historical evidence shows that is because people are more careful to hold on to a job when they know it is more difficult to get another,” he says.
Another striking finding from the recent statistics relates to the government scheme to help long-term unemployed people find work.
The Work Programme may be finding work for some, but it is also fuelling the sanctions regime, Dr Webster says. “To date, Work Programme contractors have been responsible for twice as many sanctions on the people referred to them as they have produced ‘job outcomes’ – a job placement which lasts for a certain minimum period.”
The comparison shows that across the UK, the firms contracted to run the Work Programme have delivered 198,750 such job outcomes, but made referrals resulting in 394,759 sanctions, the academic’s figures show. This might be even higher, but the figures also show that about 30,000 sanctions decisions for people on the programme are cancelled every month – most usually because the paperwork for the referral has not been properly completed.
Dr Webster says: “It appears that Work Programme contractors are making mistakes in their paperwork on a big scale – even though one of the things they are supposed to help claimants with is filling in forms.”
There is an irony in this, he says. “Claimants are being given severe sanctions for making similar mistakes.”
A DWP spokesman said: “It’s only right that people claiming benefits should do everything they can to find work if they are able. The rules regarding someone’s entitlement to Jobseekers Allowance are made clear at the start of their claim.
“We will provide jobseekers with the help and support they need to find a job, but it is only fair that in return they live up to their part of the contract.
“Sanctions are used as a last resort and anyone who disagrees with a decision can appeal.”
The fact only a small proportion of sanctions decisions are appealed means decisions makers get the “vast majority” of decisions right, he said.
The Work Programme has delivered 208,000 job outcomes so far, he added, and while nearly 395,000 sanctions have been issued through the work programme, only 208,000 individuals have been sanctioned.
Source – Herald Scotland, 28 Feb 2014