Tagged: benefits sanctioned

Unapologetic Cameron challenged by Andrew Marr over benefits deaths and ILF closure

David Cameron was challenged over the death of diabetic benefits claimant James Clapson and over the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) on Sunday’s Andrew Marr show. Cameron’s unapologetic response was that there are hardship funds available for ‘difficult cases’.

On his programme yesterday Marr asked Cameron if he accepted that the £22 billion of welfare cuts so far ‘has hurt a lot of poor and vulnerable people?’

Cameron replied that it had involved ‘difficult decisions’ but:

“ . . . we have protected for instance the pension, we’ve protected benefits for the lowest paid, we’ve always made sure that we’ve increased spending on disability benefits rather than reduced it.”

On the subject of why one million people now depend on food banks, Cameron argued that:

“One of the things we did was that Labour, because they didn’t like the PR of this, they didn’t advertise or promote the existence of food banks through job centres. We changed that because we thought that was, that was basically sort of selfish and shortminded…”

And when it came to the subject of James Clapson, a former soldier who failed to turn up for a Jobcentre interview, had his benefits sanctioned and died after being unable to refrigerate his insulin, Cameron was entirely unapologetic. His response was:

“Well we have hardship funds and councils have hardship funds for exactly those sorts of tragic cases but if you’re asking me is it right that people who are asked to turn up for interviews or asked to fill in a CV or asked to apply for a job should have to do those things before getting benefits then yes it’s right that we do have that system in place . . .”

When asked about another case involving a claimant with learning difficulties who had his benefits sanctioned for not using a computer, Cameron again relied on hardship funds and entirely ignored Marr’s suggestion that there should be a review of the system:

“I look at all of those individual cases and all of those cases can be addressed by the hardship funds and by the flexibilities that are there in the system . . . People watching this programme who pay their taxes, who work very hard, they don’t pay their taxes so people can sign on and show no effort at getting a job, as I put it on the steps of Downing Street those who can should; those who can’t we always help”

Cameron was equally dismissive of the abolition of the ILF, due to take place in June:

“Well what we’ve done is we’ve given that responsibility to local councils as the last resort and local councils have that funding available to help.”

When Marr pointed out that the funding is only for one year, Cameron replied simply “they have it for difficult cases” before once again reminding listeners how many more people have moved into work under the Coalition.

Cameron’s lack of compassion, apology or understanding combined with a total refusal to actually look into what is going wrong with the benefits system are a powerful reminder of what another five years of Conservative led government will mean to sick and disabled claimants.

You can watch the Andrew Marr show and you can download a transcript of the interview.

Source – Benefits & Work, 20 Apr 2015

http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/3076-unapologetic-cameron-challenged-by-andrew-marr-over-benefits-deaths-and-ilf-closure

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100,000 Children Affected By Benefit Sanctions In 2013/14

A new report from a coalition of major UK Churches has revealed that around 100,000 children were affected by benefit sanctions in 2013/14.

It also shows that in the same period a total of nearly 7 million weeks of sanctions were handed out to benefit claimants.

The new data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, will feature in this evening’s episode of Channel 4’s Dispatches, entitled ‘Britain’s Benefits Crackdown’.

The report, entitled Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions, is published today by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Church Action on Poverty, the Church in Wales, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church. It contains new data on the severity and length of sanctions under Welfare Reform, and on how sanctions affect vulnerable groups such as children and those with mental health problems.

It features the stories of people like James (not his real name) who have had their benefits sanctioned:

“During the first three weeks of my sanction I continued to look for work as I was required to. By the fourth week however I was exhausted, unwell and no longer had it in me. I was not eating as I had no food and was losing a lot of weight. I told the Jobcentre I was unwell through not eating but was sanctioned for another three months for not looking for work properly.

Those who already have the most difficult lives are those most likely to be sanctioned,” said Paul Morrison, Public Issues Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church and one of the authors of the report.

“Sanctions impact disproportionately on young people, care leavers, homeless people, single parents, the mentally ill and those with long term illness. This system causes problems for the very people that most need help.

“But sanctions don’t just have a financial impact. The people we’ve spoken to have told us of the shame, demoralisation and loss of self-worth caused by this system.

“As Christians we believe that everyone is loved, valued and made in the image of God, and we have a responsibility to challenge any structure or system that undermines that dignity.”

The Churches are calling for a full and independent review of the regime and for urgent reform of the hardship payments system to avoid the deliberate imposition of hunger.

In the meantime, they are urging the Government to suspend all sanctions against families with children and those suffering from mental health problems. Most importantly, they say, there needs to be a change of culture, from one of enforcement and punishment to one of assistance and support.

If you commit a crime, no criminal court in the UK is allowed to make you go hungry as a punishment,” added Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty.

“But if you’re late for an appointment at the Jobcentre, they can remove all your income and leave you unable to feed you or your family for weeks at a time.

“Most people in this country would be shocked if they knew that far from providing a safety net, the benefit sanctions policy is currently making thousands of people destitute.

“This policy must be reviewed urgently.”

The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said:

“The findings of this report are disturbing.

“It exposes a system that is harsh in the extreme, penalising the most vulnerable of claimants by the withdrawal of benefits for weeks at a time.

“Most worryingly, it appears from DWP guidance, quoted in the report, that deprivation and hunger are knowingly being used as a punishment for quite trivial breaches of benefit conditions.

“Employers would not be allowed to stop someone’s wages for a month the first time they were 10 minutes late for an appointment, but this is the kind of sanction that is being imposed on some of the most vulnerable people in our society, including those with mental and physical health problems.

“We are concerned that the problem may be even worse in Wales, recognising the higher levels of poverty in this country. No Welsh data, however, is included in the report because despite submitting a Freedom of Information request to the DWP three months ago, we are still waiting for a reply.

“There is supposed to be a 20-day turnaround period for Freedom of Information requests. We are pursuing this.”

Source – Welfare Weekly, 02 Mar 2015

http://www.welfareweekly.com/100000-children-affected-by-benefit-sanctions-in-201314/

Work Programme Makes Mental Health Problems Worse, Says Charity

The coalition government’s controversial Work Programme, dubbed ‘workfare’ by opponents, has been slammed by a leading charity for worsening the health of unemployed people with mental health problems.

Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) reveal how less than 8% of sick and disabled people claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) find work through the Work Programme.

Mental health charity MIND said the figures provide “further evidence that the overwhelming majority of people with disabilities and mental health problems are not being helped by the Government’s flagship back-to-work support scheme”.

Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, added:

“A recent report from Mind found that people with mental health problems are less likely to be supported into employment through the Work Programme than those with other health conditions and are more likely to have their benefits sanctioned”.

 The survey also revealed how the “Work Programme was actually making their health worse, and as a result they had needed more support from health services and felt further from work than previously”.

According to the survey 83% of people who lost their jobs due to mental health problems got worse while on the government’s flagship back to work scheme.

The survey also revealed how 76% felt less able to work, while nearly one in four (24%) were hospitalised or sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of MIND, said: “If someone is depressed and out of work a CV course won’t help.”

Tom Pollard added: “Mind is calling for everyone with a mental health problem who is receiving mainstream support through this scheme to be placed onto a new scheme and offered more personalised, specialist support which acknowledges and addresses the challenges people face in getting and keeping a job.”

Source – Welfare Weekly,  21 Dec 2014

http://www.welfareweekly.com/work-programme-makes-unemployed-people-mental-health-problems-worse-says-charity/

Newcastle church opens clothesbank

Foodbank organisers have opened what is believed to be Newcastle’s first free clothes shop.

Set up in a church in Heaton, Newcastle, the Clothes Store has a stockroom full of warm winter coats, baby and children’s clothes and mens and womens outfits.

After the success of the East End Foodbank, which helps around 70 people a week, religious leaders have said people in the community are still in need and have now turned their attention to making sure people have enough warm clothes to get them through the winter.

> the success of the East End Foodbank – you might think that the very need for a foodbank is very much a lack of success.

Vikki Gosling from Walker, said:

“I have come to the church before to get two winter coats for my kids after a teacher at school mentioned it. A lot of people say they would dare, and ask how can you ‘embarass yourself’ but if it’s for your kids you’ll do it.”

The region’s first clothes bank, mirroring the way a foodbank runs, was set up in Durham City in October.

 

Senior pastor Julia Lawton, of the Elim Pentecostal Church on Heaton Road, said she was really keen to set up the store to help people in a time of crisis after running a successful ‘coats for kids’ scheme locally.

She said:

“For the clothes store we are trusting people. They will get a voucher and they will be allowed three items per person. If someone says they have a family of six people, then we would need to meet all six people.

“Some people don’t always qualify for things like the foodbank or official help, but they might be out of work. I’ve got one man whose has got two jobs and is struggling to make ends meet. We gave him a coat for his one year old son, and a whole sack of toys because he couldn’t afford them himself.

“There’s no need for anyone to be embarrassed. Most people at some point in their lives need help. It might not always need to be financial.”

The clothes are all of good quality and have been donated by church members and the local community and have been washed before going on display.

A toybank is also being set up after a local man put out an appeal on Facebook and collected dozens of second hand toys in good condition from people living in Heaton and Byker.

Vikki, who has had her benefits sanctioned with just weeks until Christmas, was able to pick up some gifts for her two young children.

“They will be absolutely buzzing to see what they’ve got,” said Vikki, who said she has struggled to find a job.

When they told me what they wanted this year, I had to just say ‘you know you won’t get all that’. In the past they have asked a lot for presents at Christmas, but they know now that I just can’t afford it.

“I’ll be back with my own donation though, I’ll bring my size 8 clothes down from before I had my children to see if anyone else can use them.”

The Clothes Store will run on the third Thursday of every month between 2.30pm and 4.30pm at Elim Pentecostal Church in the former Heaton bingo hall on Heaton Road. The first one however opens today to give people a chance to have a look before Christmas.

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  10 Dec 2014

Gateshead library staff shouldering the burden of welfare changes

Library staff are shouldering the burden of helping job seekers and benefit claimants deal with new welfare demands, a council leader has claimed.

Staff in Gateshead libraries are allegedly spending hours helping people to carry out job searches and fill in the online forms they are now required to complete by the Jobcentre Plus.

Today leader of Gateshead Council, Mick Henry, is asking his fellow authority leaders across the North East to unite in lobbying Government to demand payment for the work they’re doing to help people cope with the digital changes to the welfare system.

It’s possible the job shop isn’t involving itself to the level of job search. Maybe the Government needs to think about paying us for that,” said Coun Henry.

“The libraries are there to provide a service to Gateshead residents. We aren’t complaining about that but we do think that maybe if our budgets are being severely cut then perhaps there is an argument that we are getting to be good at [helping with online tasks] and we have the facilities but perhaps not the resources to fund it.”

Changes to the welfare system mean that more people are now required to carry out and record their online job searches and fill in forms to process welfare payments over the Internet.

However, with Gateshead the 47th worst borough in the UK for digital skills, Coun Henry said the assumption that most people now have laptops and smart phones is misguided.

He said there was a growing sense Gateshead’s libraries and staff are being used to carry out functions the Job Centre Plus should be assisting with.

“It’s very easy to think that everybody has a computer but that is just not the case. We are finding that more and more people are actually using the library service to access job searches from what the statistics are showing us,” said Coun Henry.

If we are trying to address what future needs might be and if there’s evidence that job search has a lot to do with that, then we would like to make sure that other Government agencies that are meant to be primarily involved with job search are doing it properly and working with us.”

Speaking at a meeting of Gateshead Council’s cabinet yesterday morning, councillor for Bensham, Catherine Donovan, said:

“We couldn’t have imagined how the focus of libraries has changed. People are very easily having their benefits sanctioned and the excuse that you couldn’t get to a computer doesn’t wash.

“We do need to be challenging the Jobcentre Plus on the amount of hours our staff are putting in to help these people.”

Unison branch secretary Dave Smith said the roll out of the Universal Credit trial in Manchester had led to people flooding to libraries to use computers and the situation in Gateshead was following the same trend.

He said: “Around 45,000 people used libraries in Gateshead last year and we know that people using it for ICT has increased. Libraries are being flooded by people on Jobseekers Allowance as they have got to upload CVs.

“Gateshead is the 47th digitally excluded neighbourhood in the country and libraries are key. Gateshead is investing in broadband but even if you have broadband there is a lack of skills and confidence. There is a huge amount of work and support needed to get people to use that connectivity as it comes to their houses.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  08 Oct 2014

Coalition wages war on disabled with 580% increase in ESA sanctions

The coalition’s war against sick and disabled claimants is becoming ever more intense. The latest statistics show that sanctions against employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants have risen from 1,104 in the month of March 2103 to 7507 in March 2014, an increase of 580%.

The massive increase in sanctions is even more marked when looking just at the first three months of 2014, the most recent dates for which statistics are available:

January 3,750

February 4,698

March 7,507

The figures show that sanctions against the sick and disabled have doubled in the space of just three months.

Sanctions are only applied to claimants in the work-related activity group of ESA and the vast majority are aimed at sick and disabled claimants who have been forced onto the work programme and then failed to carry out a mandatory work-related activity.

In March 2014 7,108 claimants were sanctioned for failure to participate in work-related activity and 395 for failure to attend an interview.

Very often the reason for failure to participate in work-related activity is that the claimant was too unwell to carry out the activity or had not had it clearly explained in the first place. More than 60% of ESA claimants who are sanctioned have a mental health condition or learning difficulty.

There has been no explanation from the DWP for this massive rise in sanctions, but given that sanctions against ESA claimants are an easy way to cut benefits costs when the coalition is already in danger of breaching its self-imposed welfare cap, it’s not hard to understand what is driving the increase.

You can download the latest sanctions statistics from this link.

Source – Benefeits & Work,  13 Aug 2014

http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/2865-coalition-wages-war-on-disabled-with-580-increase-in-esa-sanction

 

No Relationship Between Benefit Sanctions And Food Banks, Say DWP

 Department For Work And Pensions Director, Neil Couling, has claimed that there is no relationship between the increased used of benefit sanctions against unemployed jobseeker’s and the rising number of people turning to food banks.

According to the Scottish National Party (SNP), the claim was made during a Scottish Welfare Reform Committee session, where Mr Couling was standing in for the conservative Employment Minister, Esther McVey MP.

The SNP also claim that Mr Couling ‘took issue’ with existing evidence showing there has been a 209 per cent increase in the number of sanctions handed out against benefit claimants in Scotland since 2006, and Mr Couling joked that sanctioned benefit claimants were bringing ‘Thank You’ cards to his office.

Figures suggest that the number of instances where a benefit claimants has had their benefits cut or stopped completely, as a result of having their benefits sanctioned, more than tripled between 2006 – 2013, from 25,953 to 80,305.

 The coalition government toughened the existing benefit sanction regime in 2012 and has recently introduced the ‘Claimant Commitment‘. Charities fear this could increase the number of sanctions being dished out against unemployed jobseeker’s even further.

Under the new system benefit claimants who fail to adhere to tough new requirements could find their payments being docked for four weeks, increasing to up to three years for repeat offenders.

A growing number of politicians, charities and benefit claimants themselves are drawing attention to instances where unemployed people have had their benefits slashed for long periods inappropriately.

These include not applying for enough jobs in a single week, even though the unemployed person has evidence that they had applied for dozens of job vacancies, as well as instances where jobseeker’s have had their benefits sanctioned for failing to turn up to a jobcentre appointment, despite having informed their adviser that they were attending a hospital appointment or the funeral of a family member.

Speaking after the committee session at the Scottish Parliament, Kevin Stewart MSP said:

“Mr Couling should visit the food banks in Scotland to speak to the people who have had their welfare benefits sanctioned and now face huge difficulties feeding themselves and their families.

“Perhaps if Mr Couling listened to the expert evidence the committee heard today from the Head of Policy at Barnardo’s Scotland; Citizens Advice Scotland; the Head of Oxfam Scotland and others including Dr John Ip, GP of the British Medical Association, then he might have had a better understanding of the reality of the situation.

“Mr Couling may have been joking when he claimed that Welfare sanctions were bringing  ‘Thank-you’ cards from benefits claimants to his office but there is nothing funny about people who have to line up in order to receive vital food parcels for their hungry children.

“Amidst Mr Couling’s contradictory claims he did concede that ‘the chances of having a sanction is going up’ and that is the grim reality of people unable to find work – which means they have no income and are forced to use food banks.

“As Labour MSP Ken Macintosh pointed out, the Scottish Government has indeed given a further £1million towards food banks – but as Mark Ballard from Barnardo’s highlighted, the Scottish Government hasn’t the powers to totally mitigate the harmful Westminster benefit cuts.

“Instead of people in Scotland being forced to rely upon a Westminster welfare system that is being aggressively cut and sanctioning thousands people who need support, we need a system that truly reflects Scotland’s values.

“With the powers of an independent Scotland we can build that kind of system and ensure that the priorities of people in Scotland are truly reflected in our welfare system.

“It is only a Yes vote in next year’s referendum that will secure that opportunity for Scotland and restore people’s faith that they will receive the support they need from the rest of society when they are facing difficult times.”

Source – Welfare News Service    30 April 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/relationship-benefit-sanctions-food-banks-say-dwp/

635,000 Sign New ‘JSA Claimant Commitment’ As Arbitrary Sanctions Continue To Hit Jobless

Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and collated from the Labour Market System (LMS), show that a total of 635,000 jobseeker’s signed the new Claimant Commitment pledge between 14 October 2013 and 11 April 2014.

The Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) Claimant Commitment was launched by the coalition government in October 2013 and described as “the start of a redefinition of the relationship between the welfare state and claimants”, by the then Employment Minister Esther McVey.

Under the new regime jobseeker’s are required to sign a claimant commitment, or work plan, to “agree regular specific tasks and training opportunities and the penalties claimants could face for failing to meet their responsibilities to get into work will be clearly spelt out”.

These ‘tasks’ could include agreeing to apply for a certain number of jobs each week, taking part in ‘training opportunities’, furthering their education and other ‘tasks’ set out in a personal work plan.

The DWP say that a total of 26,300 Jobcentre staff have been trained to deliver the new JSA Claimant Commitment with the majority of those being in central England and London area’s.

Unemployed people on Universal Credit are also required to sign a claimant commitment as a means of supporting them back into work ‘at the earliest opportunity’.

The new JSA Claimant Commitment has been partly blamed for a shocking 60 per cent rise in the number of jobseeker’s having their benefits sanctioned; where a claimant can see their benefits cut or stopped completely for weeks, months or even years for failure to adhere to the jobseeker’s agreement.

Far from helping unemployed people back into work, the Citizens Advice Bureau say benefit sanctions can create  barrier to employment.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said:

“People need a system that can take into account their situation, set suitable work search requirements and where necessary apply sanctions at a level that won’t limit their chances of employment.

“Whilst it is vital that people receiving taxpayers’ support do their utmost to find work, the model needs to work and not make it harder for claimants to find a job.”

> I do wish people like the CAB would remember that everyone receiving benefits is also a taxpayer – be it Council Tax, Bedroom Tax, or VAT, being on benefits does not exempt anyone from paying taxes.

Young people have been hit particularly hard by the new JSA Claimant Commitment and subsequent benefit sanctions.

Despite only making up 27 per cent of all JSA claimants, young people have received 43 per cent of all benefit sanctions dished out by sometimes overzealous Jobcentre staff.

Perhaps even more shocking are the DWP statistics which show 38,969 of these decisions were later overturned following an appeal.

Many jobseeker’s, particularly young people, say they do not understand why their benefits were sanctioned, despite having signed the JSA Claimant Commitment.

Some sanctions have been for what most people would regard as ridiculous reasons: such as failing to turn up for a Jobcentre appointment despite already informing staff that they were attending a job interview.

Benefit sanctions, and the JSA Claimant Commitment, have also been blamed for a 163 per cent surge in the number of people turning to food banks in the past year.

Around 31 per cent of those who had been referred for food parcels from the Trussell Trust say their benefit payments had been delayed, mainly due the draconian sanctions regime introduced by the coalition government.

The Trussell Trust Chairman, Chris Mould, said:

“In the last year we’ve seen things get worse, rather than better, for many people on low-incomes. It’s been extremely tough for a lot of people, with parents not eating properly in order to feed their children and more people than ever experiencing seemingly unfair and harsh benefits sanctions.

“Unless there is determined policy action to ensure that the benefits of national economic recovery reach people on low-incomes we won’t see life get better for the poorest anytime soon.

A more thoughtful approach to the administration of the benefits regime and sanctions in particular, increasing the minimum wage, introducing the living wage and looking at other measures such as social tariffs for essentials like energy would help to address the problem of UK hunger.”

Source – Welfare News Service  24 April 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/635000-sign-new-jsa-claimant-commitment-as-arbitrary-sanctions-continue-to-hit-jobless/

Benefit Sanctions Pushing Unemployed Further Away From The World Of Work

Minimum length benefit sanctions are ‘setting people up to fail’ and pushes unemployed people further away from the world of work, figures released by the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) suggest.

Figures released by the CAB on Tuesday, show that unemployed people who have had their Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) sanctioned under the current system are left ‘distracted from job-hunting as they have to focus on putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their head’.

Benefit sanctions are also pushing people into debt, which in-turn is having a detrimental impact on their health and making it even more difficult for them to spend time looking for a job, the CAB say.

> Who’d have guessed that would happen, eh ?

 The charity claims to have spent over £7 million in supporting their clients in appealing JSA sanctions decisions at tribunals and have witnessed a sixty per cent increase in problems caused by the tough new benefit sanctions regime, which was introduced by the coalition government in October 2012.

According to the CAB, of the 100,000 food bank vouchers handed out by the charity last year, sixteen per cent were due to people having their benefits sanctioned.

The CAB has called on the government to implement the ‘more responsive sanctions model’ used in Universal Credit, which the charity claims is ‘more focused on getting claimants back on track with their job-hunting rather than the often more punitive approach of the current system’.

Under the new benefit sanctions system in Universal Credit, Jobcentre staff would be able to use a more ‘proportionate’ approach to sanctioning claimants, rather than the often disproportionate minimum four-week period currently in use. Benefits could be sanctioned for as little as a week under the new system, the CAB say.

> But do benefits need to be sanctioned at all – surely that’s the real question? The current surge in sanctions isn’t because claimants are acting worse than before, its because Jobcentre staff are trying to hit targets, so that they don’t lose their bonuses.

If anything, the surge is because jobcentre staff are acting worse than they used to !

Some of the CAB’s key findings include:

  • 1 in 4 Citizens Advice clients with a JSA sanction problem had dependent children
  • 1 in 4 identified as being disabled of suffering from a long-term health condition
  • 1 in 6 also had a debt problem
  • 1 in 10 had issues with rent arrears or threat or reality of homelessness

Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said:

“The minimum four week sanction is setting people up to fail and creating a barrier which can stop them from looking for work. Four weeks is a long time to go without money to get by and people are struggling to make ends meet.

“The success rate of sanction appeals reveals a culture of ‘sanction first and ask questions later’. This is not only ineffective and a huge waste of money but also has a devastating effect on thousands of people’s lives.

“People need a system that can take into account their situation, set suitable work search requirements and where necessary apply sanctions at a level that won’t limit their chances of employment. Whilst it is vital that people receiving taxpayers’ support do their utmost to find work, the model needs to work and not make it harder for claimants to find a job.

“To date, Work Programme contractors have been responsible for twice as many sanctions on the people referred to them as they have successfully helped people find work. Combined with Citizens Advice’s latest figures this paints the strongest picture yet that the system is not working as it should.”

Source – Welfare News Service   18 April 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/benefit-sanctions-pushing-unemployed-further-away-from-the-world-of-work/

DWP Advising Jobcentres On Sending Claimants To Food Banks – Documents

This article  was written by Rowena Mason and Patrick Butler, for The Guardian on Tuesday 11th March 2014

The Department for Work and Pensions is advising jobcentres on how to send people to food banks, official documents show – despite ministers’ claiming the charitable support forms no part of the welfare system.

Ministers insist jobcentres “do not refer people to food banks or issue vouchers” and that food banks are “absolutely not a part of the welfare system because we have other means of supporting people”. They say jobcentres only “signpost” the existence of food banks and dispute the link between welfare changes and a surge in their use.

However, documents obtained under freedom of information laws show there is a “high level process” written by the DWP to be followed when benefit claimants say they are in hardship because of government policy and need food.

A six-step flowchart for jobcentre staff shows that the four reasons to recommend a food bank when claimants ask for help are hardship caused by benefit changes, benefit payment delays, a benefit advance has been refused, or the advance is not enough to meet their needs.

Jobcentres that choose to offer a food bank referral “service” are told to do a health and safety assessment before sending people to a particular charity.

As part of the process, Jobcentre Plus staff fill in a slip with the claimant’s details but another document orders them, in bold letters, not to describe this as a “food voucher” – apparently so as not to erode the argument that they are not part of the welfare system.

The documents show each jobcentre is told to write down how many people have been sent to food banks on a “slip record sheet”, even though the DWP has said: “Food banks are not part of government policy and, as such, the Department for Work and Pensions does not hold or collect information on their usage.”

The latest statistics from the Trussell Trust, which oversees a network of more than 400 food banks in the UK, show 614,000 adults and children received food parcels from its food banks in the first nine months of 2013-14, compared with 350,000 for the whole of 2012-13.

Benefit changes and delays – including instances where claimants had their benefits sanctioned, or stopped for breaches of conditionality – accounted for 49% of referrals to trust food banks to the end of December. In 2012-13 these categories accounted for 43% of referrals.

Although the DWP says it does not refer people to food banks, one of the documents obtained by the Guardian is entitled Foodbank Referral Service – High Level Process. The DWP said the guidance had mistakenly been issued by staff dealing with the freedom of information request. It said all guidance to Jobcentre Plus had now been modified to change the word “referral” to “signposting” – even though the process for directing those in need of aid to food banks appears to be exactly the same.

DWP officials say people are “signposted” to food banks only if other options are exhausted, as local authorities now have responsibility for emergency food aid. However, the official DWP food bank guidance for jobcentres makes no reference to alternative help from local authorities.

The DWP added: “The benefits system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed and there is no robust evidence that welfare reforms are linked to increased use of food banks. Our reforms are fair and mean the welfare system will remain what it was always intended to be – a safety net for people at times of need.”

Labour said the DWP’s arguments that the government is not relying on food banks to fill a gap in the welfare system were unravelling. “Last year ministers said, ‘food banks are absolutely not part of our welfare system’, yet these official DWP documents show a system for referrals has been established,” said Luciana Berger, shadow public health minister. “If ministers cannot answer the simplest of questions about their department, how can we have any confidence they will tackle the rising number of people who are having to access emergency food aid?

“As the queues at food banks grow with hundreds of thousands of people forced to use food banks to survive so too do the costs to our public health and wellbeing. Food banks have become a truly shameful symbol of Britain under this Tory-led government.”

Esther McVey, the employment minister, had refused to release the guidance to Berger, saying: “It is not common practice in DWP to publish internal guidance.”

Chris Mould, the executive chairman of the Trussell Trust, said despite the guidance, jobcentre practice on charity food support varied across the country.

A small number of jobcentres had good relationships with local food banks, some ignored food banks altogether and others referred claimants to food banks “indiscriminately and without thinking”.

The Trussell Trust and the DWP agreed in 2011 after months of discussions that jobcentre staff should be able to send claimants to food banks. However, ministers continued to insist this only amounted to “signposting” in the right direction.

Last year, officials unilaterally changed the referral forms to remove the reasons why someone may have been sent to a food bank. Critics said this move made it harder for food bank staff to identify whether clients had been referred as a consequence of welfare reform.

Mould said: “The debate about whether food banks are part of the welfare state is a bit of a red herring. The real issue is about why people go hungry”.

Source – Welfare News Service,  12 March 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/dwp-advising-jobcentres-sending-claimants-food-banks-documents/