Food insecurity and malnutrition in the UK is a much wider problem than has been recognised, according to experts from the University of Manchester. They also found that the main reason for referring a person to a foodbank was a delay in benefit payments.
Dr Kingsley Purdam says the demand for foodbanks is underestimated with large numbers of people thought to be at risk of malnutrition in the UK. Many older people also face food insecurity. The rapid growth in the number of foodbanks and food donation points in supermarkets suggests a ‘normalisation’ of food aid.
The Government spends an estimated £13 billion on disease-related malnutrition each. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has identified better nutrition as one of the key cost-saving initiatives for the NHS.
Dr Purdam said: “In political and media debates foodbank users have been variously described as being: ‘opportunists’, ‘not able to cook or budget’ and ‘living like animals’. Yet evidence from the Citizens Advice Bureau suggests that the main reported reason for referring a person to a foodbank was a delay in benefit payments.
“Moreover, the research suggests that people using foodbanks have a clear understanding of the costs of food and are limited in how they could change their financial circumstances. Many people were reluctant to use a foodbank because of the stigma and embarrassment. Grandparents and parents reported skipping meals so their children could eat, and also stated that they were not able to afford to have their children’s friends around for tea.”
Extracts from the case studies:
The foodbank users’ accounts demonstrate that they had concerns about the social stigma of asking for food aid:
“It throws your pride out of the window…I am doing it for my kids, I am not going to make my kids suffer just because of my pride.” (Female, 34).
“I was nervous coming here, I thought I had done something wrong…having to ask for food your ego takes a battering.” (Male, 40).
A mother described how she had collected a food parcel on behalf of her grown-up daughter who was too embarrassed to come. She stated: “My daughter doesn’t want to be seen as a scrounger.” (Female, 55).
Many of the people visiting the case study foodbanks were vulnerable and in urgent need:
“I was willing to turn to prostitution if I did not get help from the foodbank.” (Female, unknown age).
“I need to make sure my kids have full bellies.” (Female, 40).
“We say to my mum make sure you eat but she says she’s not hungry…she’s just making sure we eat first.” (Child visiting foodbank with her mother).
Dr Purdam said there seems to be an inevitability to the scale of food insecurity given the economic recession and the present welfare reforms.
He said: “Many of the foodbank users we spoke to seemed to be surviving from week to week even day to day. Some of the older people in need of food aid were not able to collect food parcels themselves and were having parcels delivered. Moreover, many people in need of food aid may not live near a foodbank. We also found that some of the foodbanks were running low on food supplies.”
“Whilst local authorities have provided some funding, food aid is predominantly reliant on volunteers, food donations and the support of supermarkets and food manufacturers.”
He said: “It can be questioned why the levels of food insecurity and malnutrition are so high in the UK and whether the government’s reliance on food aid is economically and politically efficient given the impact on people’s health and well-being”.
Source – Benefits & Work, 03 Oct 2014
One in six GP’s say they have been directly approached by patients facing poverty and malnutrition asking to be referred to a food bank.
Pulse Magazine surveyed 552 family doctors. 16% said they had been asked by their patients, who were unable to afford feed themselves and their families, to be referred for food aid.
GP’s claim that the increased demand for food bank referrals from those who are in genuine need of assistance, particularly in the wake of welfare cuts and stagnant wages, is creating an “enormous workload issue”. This is in-turn is resulting in a “knock-on effect” in the ability of other patients to obtain appointments to see their doctor, GP’s claim.
Former Chair of the Royal College of GP’s, Professor Clare Gerada, said that poor people were being forced to jump through hoops to get help. She added:
“Poverty is an enormous workload issue and, again, it’s the inverse care rule because it creates more work for GPs in poorer areas who don’t get resourced for it so you end up with more work and less time.
“People do naturally turn to their GPs, they don’t know where else to go, so they come to you. And because we get so much criticism, I get so fed-up.
“We’re there trying to sort out everybody’s problems and meanwhile the posh middle classes are complaining because they can’t get access to us.”
Editor of Pulse Magazine, Steve Nowottny said:
”That a significant number of patients are now going to their GP asking to be referred to a food bank is clearly a concern – both because of the extent of need it suggests among patients, but also because of the knock-on impact on general practice, which is already stretched very thin.
“GPs often feel as though they are asked to do everything, and increasingly that includes acting as a support agency for patients who may be struggling as a result of the recession.
“Every GP is committed to doing whatever they can to help their patients – but with finite resources, this kind of work inevitably diverts GPs from the rest of their job and leaves them less time to spend with other patients.”
Chris Mould, Chairman of the food bank charity Trussell Trust, said:
“GPs should have the ability to refer to a food bank when they come across a patient who they believe needs a food bank for health reasons, especially as levels of malnutrition are reported to be increasing.
“Some GPs are contacting food banks to ask them to help people visiting their surgeries who are suffering various sicknesses caused by not eating.
“GPs should not, however, be placed in a position to assess whether someone needs a food bank when the crisis is not health-related and they do not have enough information to make an accurate assessment of a patient’s situation.
“Food banks work hard to partner with a whole range of relevant professionals in the community who can refer people to food banks.
“If a doctor is asked to refer a patient to a food bank for a reason that is not health-related, such as debt, it is better for the GP to suggest that the patient speaks to a relevant agency, such as a debt advice charity, who can help address the underlying cause of the crisis and who will also be able to refer to a food bank.
“Over 23,000 professionals nationwide are registered as food bank voucher holders, enabling them to refer to their local Trussell Trust food bank.”
Doctors have also reported a 21% increase in the number of patients requesting help in support of a sickness benefit claim. Many GP’s are now refusing to help sick and disabled patients in their benefit claims (such as writing a letter to the DWP), because no matter how much they would like to be in the position to help and support their patients, GP’s claim that they simply do not have the time.
Source – Welfare News Service 18 Feb 2014
This article was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 28th January 2014
Jobcentre staff should no longer be given incentives according to how many benefit claimants they get off the dole but instead should be rewarded for how many they get back into employment, according to a critical report published on Tuesday by a committee of MPs.
The work and pensions select committee said claimants were in many cases wrongly losing their benefits and that a “haphazard” approach to assessing claimants meant that individual needs or problems were often misunderstood.
> Or just plain ignored.
The select committee report claims jobcentre staff refer many claimants for a benefit sanction inappropriately, or “in circumstances in which common sense would dictate that discretion should have been applied”.
The committee also said the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) needed to take urgent steps to monitor the extent of financial hardship caused by claimants losing their benefits – including the collection and publication of data on the number of claimants “signposted” to food aid by jobcentres and the reasons why these claimants were in need of assistance.
The report added that a current government review into sanctions was too limited. The review has been made more urgent by the minister for employment Esther McVey’s admission that the number of sanction referrals made by jobcentre advisers is part of a “variety of performance data” used to monitor their work.
Academic research cited in the report found that 19% of all jobseeker’s allowance claimants in the period from April 2008 to March 2012 were sanctioned – a total of 1.4 million people.
Sanctioning rates in the year to October 2012 were 4.2% of all jobseeker’s allowance claimants per month. For claimants aged 18–24 the rate was 8% per month.
But the latest release of official data, covering the period from the introduction of tougher regimes in late 2012 to June 2013, shows that sanctioning rates have increased further to around 5% each month.
In total 553,000 jobseeker’s allowance sanctions were applied, an increase of nearly 11% on the same period in 2011-12. The number of sanctions in the year to 30 June 2013 was around 860,000, the highest number in any 12-month period since statistics began to be published in their present form in April 2000.
The committee challenged claims by DWP ministers that staff were not disciplined for failing to meet targets to get claimants off the dole. It also asked if it was sensible that jobcentre staff should be regarded as having succeeded if jobseeker’s allowance claimants simply no longer received benefit.
The committee chairwoman, Dame Ann Begg, said the current DWP incentive system took no account of whether the claimant was “leaving benefit to start a job or for less positive reasons, including being sanctioned or simply transferring to another benefit. We believe this risks JCP [Jobcentre Plus] hitting its targets but missing the point. JCP must be very clearly incentivised to get people into work, not just off benefits.”
Begg said: “The processes by which JCP currently establishes claimants’ needs are haphazard and prone to missing crucial information about a person’s barriers to working, including homelessness and drug dependency. A more thorough and systematic approach to assessing claimants’ needs is required.”
The all-party select committee said a broader review into benefit sanctions should also investigate whether, and to what extent, the policy was encouraging claimants to engage more actively in jobseeking.
The MPs on the committee said they “strongly believe that a further review is necessary and welcome the minister’s commitment to launch a second and separate review into the broader operation of the sanctioning process”. The DWP was not able to confirm that it had committed to a separate formal review.
Begg said: “An unprecedented number of claimants were sanctioned in the year to June 2013. Whilst conditionality is a necessary part of the benefit system, jobseekers need to have confidence that the sanctioning regime is being applied appropriately, fairly and proportionately and the government needs to assure itself that sanctioning is achieving its intended objective of incentivising people to seek work.”
The report also questions whether the DWP has the resources to carry out its work, pointing out it is subject to large funding cuts at a time when its workload is increasing.
It noted that in future there would be weekly signing on for half of all jobseekers, and daily signing on for a third of claimants. It also noted the introduction under Universal Credit of an “in-work conditionality” regime – meaning people in work can be subject to benefit sanctions if they do not for instance increase their skills to get a better-paid job – widely expected to apply to more than 1 million low-paid Universal Credit claimants.
The DWP was not able to provide any figures to the select committee on the numbers of people that would be attending jobcentres as a result.
Begg said: “The government has no clear idea about how working with both employed and unemployed claimants will affect demand on jobcentres because it has not yet formulated plans to deliver its ‘in-work conditionality regime’. It must address this as a priority.”
> SNAFU (Situation Normal, All Fucked Up). Still, at least they’ve accurately identified the problem… now what are they going to do about it?
Source – Welfare News Service 28 Jan 2014