Tagged: social services

Exposed: Jobcentre Benefit Sanctions Culture Revealed – Whistleblower

I worked for DWP for many years, in various roles including management and adviser positions, and can verify that Jobcentre Plus did and do talk about benefit sanction targets/expectations.

Benchmarks did exist, but there was no pressure to meet them until around October 2010. Prior to 2010, sanctions were rarely discussed and staff from my experience did not feel under pressure to make referrals to the Decision Maker.

A benchmark is “a standard by which something can be measured or judged” so does not precisely imply a target. A benchmark level is not a target directly, but indirectly policy to meet a benchmark level is a target that is set to meet the minimum standard.

Performance expectations” serve as a foundation for communicating about performance throughout the year. They also serve as the basis for assessing employee performance. When a business and an employee set clear expectations about the results that must be achieved and the methods or approaches needed to achieve them, you establish a path for success.

Report to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith (pdf).

CAB staff reported that their caseloads began to increase significantly to year ending 2011; this was during the same period when the 6% benchmark/target was enforced.

Ruth Owen said at the time, “targets create perverse behaviour” and hence the reason targets/benchmarks were removed from staff appraisal objectives.

However, targets were still discussed, despite staff being informed there were no Stricter Benefit Regime measures. In my district the target/benchmark at the time was 6% of the live load of unemployed people on the office register.

Furthermore, initiatives were introduced that were not always intended to help people, but to achieve the 6% target. I felt this behaviour was unethical and I decided to resign from a job I once enjoyed, because I was extremely unhappy with the new ethos and the welfare agenda. The situation has worsened since my departure.

Following the Guardian’s DWP whistle-blower story sanctions took a dip from July 2011, but they began to rise again during 2012 and have continued to rise significantly ever since.

This can only happen if staff are being encouraged and are expected to make more and more referrals to the Decision Maker (870,793 claimants were subject to an adverse decision to lose their benefit during an 8 month period in 2013); the highest level since the Baldwin government’s campaign against the unemployed in the 1920s, which saw disqualifications of over 2 per cent per month for the very similar, not genuinely seeking work from October 1928 to March 1929 and in April-May 1929. This reason for disqualification was ended by a Labour Party backbench revolt resulting in abolition in March 1930.

> Labour Party backbench revolt – there’s something you don’t hear nowadays… especially not on behalf of the unemployed.

In all my years as a public servant, I have never witnessed the bureaucratic excessiveness which currently exists within the welfare system today.

The impact of the harsher regime, which also includes longer sanctions (which range from 1 month to 3-years), is devastating for claimants who are already under enormous financial pressure and emotional strain; claimants must now contribute to Council Tax, which has resulted in a circa 4% cut in a claimant’s income and in some cases there is the Bedroom Tax to pay too, resulting in a further 19% cut on average.

In addition, benefits have not increased in line with the cost of food and utilities. The EU advice to the UK is, benefits are inadequate.

The sick, the unemployed and those on low incomes are now paying for the failures in the banking system.

The system was and can never be perfect, due to the ever-changing demands of ministers. However, I believe it is now failing many of the people it is intended to help and support, particularly the vulnerable. The support on offer is often insensitive to a claimant’s needs and many people are referred to multiple courses inappropriately at the tax papers’ expense.

To cite one example, an older claimant with arthritis (which Jobcentre Plus knew about) was referred by Jobcentre Plus to attend an unpaid work opportunity that entailed travelling on 3 buses for 90 minutes each way and then to spend up to 30 hours per week picking up cans.

It is, therefore hardly surprising that claimants find the current regime bewildering, frightening and confusing. The professionals, including claimant representatives, are frequently dismayed by the irrational and insensitive treatment our clients are subjected to by, Jobcentre Plus as well as the private contractors delivering the welfare programme.

The reason I initially became involved was due to my family and friends being hurt by the system; I felt I had to assist and things snowballed from there.

The current regime has led to my increasing anger and lack of confidence in the organisations administering the current welfare policies; the people I help feel the same. A number of vulnerable claimants I assist physically shake and/or perspire with fear when they cross the threshold of the Jobcentre or the Work Programme provider premises.

It must feel like a cruel game of Russian Roulette – “will I, won’t I get my benefit stopped today” and for those people who have had their benefit sanctioned wrongly for doing more than is required of them by law, their anxiety is further heightened.

In my view and from experience sanctions do not work; they create excessive anxiety, which is not conducive to productive job search. When I assist a claimant achieve a more relaxed agreement and fairer treatment, they tell me they feel less stressed and undertake more productive and quality job search; many with several disadvantages have found work.

Furthermore, there is a shortage of sufficient and suitable employment opportunities available for everyone. Therefore, a proportion of the population will be unemployed at any given time and no government has successfully eradicated this problem, despite the billions of pounds that has been spent trying to tackle this particular issue.

This leads me to conclude, that most people will take responsibility for their own affairs and require little intervention from the state.

I believe the cost of poverty and administering the sanctioning machine is a further drain on the public purse, due to the wider impact on society; the associated crime such as food theft, increasing debt plus child poverty.

The additional cost to service providers must be taken into consideration too, namely; social services, welfare/debt agencies, food banks, schools, the police, HMCS and the NHS who must pick up the pieces. A number of claimants I help feel suicidal and there has been a recent death reported in the media as the consequence of sanctions being applied.

I am shocked by the very poor treatment of vulnerable claimants. However, more recently I have been assisting professionals who have been sanctioned repeatedly without any justification; these cases have been overturned because the decision was unlawful and/or natural justice, human rights as well as EU law were not applied in many cases.

Other welfare workers mirror my concerns; some of these issues may be addressed by the Mathew Oakley review, but in the absence of the immediate removal of sanctions altogether the process as a whole needs to be examined and in particular the quality and accuracy of decision-making. Examples of poor as well as perverse decision-making are littered all over the Internet by MPs and welfare agencies.

DWP has a duty to get their decisions right first time (pdf) and this must start at the coal face by, the adviser preparing a reasonable and lawful agreement and establishing all the facts fully before raising a doubt. The evidence I have collected indicates that Jobcentre staff and Decision Makers’ fail to follow their internal quality and training manuals too frequently.

“Things done well and with care, exempt themselves from fear.” William Shakespeare

Discretion must also be applied for those claimants who are clearly vulnerable and/or are not wilfully refusing or failing to fulfil their responsibilities.

A client agreed to a Jobseeker’s Agreement (re-named Claimant Commitment) that required them to take 9 steps to seek work; they took more than 40 quality steps, but a sanction was still applied.

Clients have had their benefit stopped indefinitely on the basis that they were not available for work due to the withdrawal of their telephone number and email address from the Jobcentre computer system.

There is no requirement in legislation to provide a telephone number or email address to Jobcentre Plus or the Work Programme to prove availability for work. I have since discovered via Freedom of Information, that this is happening in more than one area.

Claimants are being informed by some Jobcentres and Work Programme providers that everything is mandatory and they are being directed indiscriminately to carry out all activities under a threat of a sanction.

Some claimants are also being mandated to give access to their Universal Jobmatch account or to provide their login details; this is unlawful.

Mandates for non-mandatory activities were only ever issued as a very last resort.

A 57-year-old client who has worked all her life recently told me; “she feels Jobcentre Plus treats her like a school child who cannot be trusted to do her homework without the threat of a severe punishment.” This oppressive regime will not inspire or motivate her to find work more quickly, but it does make her feel angry, stressed and humiliated.

It appears that respect, fairness, reasonableness as well as proportionality have been thrown right out of the window.

The public are told that claimants can access the Hardship fund, but this is not accessible to everyone and many claimants are not made aware of it, because they are not issued with the appropriate paperwork or even told their benefit has been stopped.

If a four-week sanction is applied, most claimants who are over 25 year of age* and not in a vulnerable group (people with health issues, children or expectant mothers) will have nothing to live on for 2 weeks and then only circa £43 for the remainder of the sanction period. This money must cover all their bills, food and travel costs to the Jobcentre, which can exceed £5 in many areas; it simply is not possible.

* JSA rate £72.40 for claimants 25 years and over, £57.35 for 18-24 year olds.

The consequences are several fold; debt which may lead to high interest lending and/or theft not to mention the physical and mental impacts that can significantly affect a person’s ability to seek work effectively or to find the energy or confidence to appeal.

Who would decide to inflict this pain upon themselves, let alone others?

I am also aware some claimants are not receiving travel expenses on their non-signing days, which creates further hardship and more so if they are being forced unreasonably to attend the Jobcentre daily.

These are typical remarks that I read and hear in the course of my voluntary activities to assist claimants:

I am poverty-stricken. I have no electricity; food and no friends or family close by, can you assist me?”

“I was sanctioned for not doing enough job searches even though I have been told my job search activity is good.”

“I am being forced to participate in an activity that does not support me back to work and makes my health condition worse, but Jobcentre Plus/the private contractor refuses to listen to me.”

There are some good people administering the welfare system, but I believe from the available public evidence that they are being placed under pressure (reference: PCS conditionality questionnaire) to implement the very harsh conditionality regime and, as a consequence a perverse culture is cultivated.

A personal Freedom of Information request can reveal improper behaviour. Further, there are several research papers that counter the government’s view about the effectiveness of benefit sanctions.

Poor treatment and service can also result in Jobseekers claiming sickness benefit (Employment Support Allowance) to escape the stress of attending the Jobcentre or the private contracted provision; this outcome is classified as a positive off-flow and during the period of a sanction Jobseekers are not counted as unemployed, because they are not in receipt of

I would urge all claimants to appeal every sanction and make a complaint to their MP at the same time about their poor treatment. I would also urge the unemployed, the sick, low paid and the agencies that witness first-hand what is happening to come together to stop this merciless treatment.

British people are in the main, compassionate and civilised. I also believe most people would be as horrified as I am if, they witnessed first-hand the consequences of the punitive measures being meted out to fellow citizens in order to attain performance measures and/or to frustrate people off the unemployment register.

When I talk to people about welfare many people are in favour of the government’s tougher stance via enhanced conditionality.

However, when I explain how the welfare policy is being administered and the human impacts, they are shocked.

I also find it very distressing that poverty related diseases are also on the rise in the UK, placing further pressure on the NHS. I am sure many readers of this story will be equally disturbed by these findings.

The UK ‘is the first country to face UN inquiry into disability rights violations‘.

I am not politically motivated and made a conscious decision not to vote in the past 2 elections. I am simply a very concerned UK citizen who is struggling to comprehend why fellow human beings are being treated so appallingly and why the gap between the haves and have-nots is continuing to widen. The current regime simply cannot be allowed to continue in a society which claims to care for the welfare of all its’ citizens.

It makes me want to weep the depths which have been plunged. The increasing volume of very poor quality decisions made by local Jobcentre staff and DWP Decision Makers’ is of great concern.

If everyone appealed and complained many more sanctions would be overturned, thus making their very existence unjustifiable.

> I agree wholeheartedly with that last sentiment. It’s not always easy, barriers will be put in your way, but from personal experience the mere fact of winning an appeal against an unjust decision is a real boost.

Sender has requested anonymity.

Source –  Welfare News Service,  02 Sept 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/exposed-jobcentre-benefit-sanctions-culture-revealed-whistleblower/

Starving British children are looking for food in rubbish bins

Vox Political

Who said it could never happen here? Children are starving on the streets of Britain as the Tory-led Coalition's hate policies bite ever-more-deeply into the poor [Image: Stoke Sentinel]. Who said it could never happen here? Children are starving on the streets of Britain as the Tory-led Coalition’s hate policies bite ever-more-deeply into the poor [Image: Stoke Sentinel]. British children are sifting through bins left outside houses in search of scraps of food because they are starving, it has been revealed.

But Tories and their supporters in rich London won’t have to look at them – because they are in Labour-held Stoke-on-Trent.

The Stoke Sentinel reported that “Youngsters have been searching through bins in the Hollings Street and Brocksford Street area of Fenton before eating any leftovers.”

It said, “Dozens of hungry families are referred to Fenton’s food bank for help every week.”

What’s really sad about this story is that some of the people interviewed seemed to think the problem was with the mess left behind by these children – youngsters who are, remember, so hungry that they…

View original post 424 more words

Food bank referrals in the North East rise 463% in one year

Nearly 60,000 people sought emergency food from the Trussell Trust in 2013-14 compared with just 10,510 in the previous financial year.

Across the country 45% said problems with benefits had driven them to claim, while 20% cited low income. And since April 2010 the total number of referrals in Britain has risen from 61,000 to over 900,000 – up by a factor of fifteen.

Trust chairman Chris Mould called the figures “shocking” and warned things were getting “worse rather than better” for the Northern poor.

He said: “This figure is just the tip of the iceberg of UK food poverty. It doesn’t include those helped by other providers, people who are too ashamed to seek help, or the large number who are only just coping by eating less and buying cheap food.

“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 any time soon.”

The figures do not exclude repeat visitors but simply record the number of people cited on vouchers given by jobcentres, doctors and social services to claim food.

They are likely to inflame controversy over the link between food banks and the government’s welfare reforms. Critics claim organisations like the Trussell Trust are becoming an unacknowledged and unpaid part of the welfare system.

Changes since 2012 include raising the minimum jobseekers’ sanction from one to four weeks and the start of the so-called ‘bedroom tax’.

Margaret Nelson, the Trust’s North East spokeswoman, said benefit sanctions were behind much of the rise and that many food bank users were “suicidal” when they came in.

She claimed some had benefits stopped for missing appointments even when they had phoned and been given permission.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We’re spending £94bn a year on working age benefits so that the welfare system provides a safety net to millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed so they can meet their basic needs.

“The OECD say there are fewer people struggling with their food bills compared with a few years ago, benefit processing times are improving and even the Trussell Trust’s own research recognises the effect their marketing activity has on the growth of their business.

“The truth is that the employment rate is the highest it’s been for five years and our reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities by promoting work and helping people to lift themselves out of poverty.”

He cited an ONS survey which found fewer people saying it was “difficult to get by” in 2012 than 2010 and claimed benefit clearance times are “improving year on year.”

And he said: “There is no robust evidence that welfare reforms or benefit administration are linked to increased use of food banks.”

> ?????  How can they not be ?

Tory peer David Freud told the Lords last year that food bank use was driven by “supply”, saying more people were going because the food was free and available.

But a three-year study by Sheffield University this month argued rising demand was to blame, with benefit cuts and sanctions seen as a major cause.

The DWP insists it does not “refer” people to food banks but merely “signposts” them – a distinction not made by the banks themselves.

Meanwhile over 35 Anglican bishops and 600 church leaders will call for “urgent action” from the three main party leaders.

Reverend Mark Bryant, the Anglican bishop of Jarrow, praised food banks’ efficiency and kindness but said society had “seriously got something wrong” to need them at all.

He said: “Something in a region of a third of the people they are helping are simply people whose benefits have been delayed.

“These are not people who are trying to work the system or anything like this. These are people who are entitled to benefits and the benefits system hasn’t delivered on time.

“You go to places like this, and you hear the stories, and you simply come away thinking ‘something isn’t right’. We have seriously got something wrong when people who for a whole variety of reasons are very vulnerable cannot afford either to feed themselves or to feed their families.”

Mr Bryant spoke at Gateshead Food Bank while on a joint visit with the Catholic Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, Seamus Cunningham.

Source – Newcastle Journal   16 April 2014

More Sanctions – And Some Ideas For Fighting Them

> Received via email…

I am a keen follower of your blog and thought you may be interested in this
story…

*I have recently helped a Jobseeker (I’ll call him John) to win an appeal
at the First Tier Tribunal after his benefit was stopped for allegedly
failing to ‘actively seek’ work*.

*About me *

I am a semi-retired business woman and I initially got involved in helping
benefit claimants due the significant and negative impacts of the new
Welfare reforms on some of my family and friends.  My deep concern led to offering my services as a volunteer at the CAB and now as a ‘Welfare
Champion’ on a part-time basis.  I do this work mainly on a private basis
and receive referrals from various sources.  I could not cope with lots of
readers contacting me (I am easily traceable), so for this reason I will
refer to myself as ‘Mary’.

*About John*

John has worked from the age of 15 and for over 24 years with a few short
breaks, so no-one could ever describe him as a “skiver” or a “shirker”.
However, due to the economic downturn he found himself unemployed for
longer than expected and could no longer afford to run his car; regretfully
he has had to turn down a number of job offers due to the lack of transport.

> I’ve noticed an increasing number of vacancies – usually shiftwork – require the applicant to have their own transport. 
At the beginning of 2013 a new Jobseeker Agreement was imposed on John; it required him to take at least 14 steps to look for work – it previously stated 3 as per the current legislation.  It also required him to seek work on-line 7 days per week and to register with the DWP Universal Jobmatch site, which incidentally is not mandatory, nor is it a condition for receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance despite what Jobcentre Advisers might tell claimants.

*Jobcentre errors in law and procedure!*

John took 10 strong steps, which included applying for 4-5 jobs to help him
secure employment each week during the period in doubt, but the Jobcentre thought this was not good enough and his benefit was stopped for 4 weeks!

From my experience unless a claimant fulfils every detail of their
agreement the majority will be sanctioned.  This is wrong, both legally as
well as procedurally!   In this particular case I uncovered numerous
procedural, policy as well as legal mistakes.

*The impact of the Jobcentres mistakes!*

John was completely stunned and bewildered by the sanction; the impact was immediate and significant.  He had no money and was unable to source a food parcel or any assistance from Social Services, so he was completely
destitute for 2 weeks.

The regulations do not allow access to an immediate hardship payment if you are not in a vulnerable group I.e., you are sick or, have dependent
children.  The hardship payment he received after 2 weeks was £43.02pw (his usual payment is £71.70pw) for the remainder of the sanction period.

He was already struggling financially and feeling low due to being unemployed for over a year and Christmas was on the horizon.  Those feelings darkened and he felt suicidal at times, due to his mistreatment by Jobcentre Plus.

He could not pay his bills or afford to eat properly and he certainly could
not afford to buy his children any Christmas gifts.

And, to this day he has still not recovered from the loss of his benefits
(his arrears are pending).  The sanction has not made him any more
motivated than he was previously; it has just made him very angry and
mistrustful of Jobcentre Staff, hence the reason he was keen to help others
by sharing this story.

*Sanctions are only used as a last resort!*

The government keeps claiming sanctions are only applied as last resort and if a Jobseeker wilfully does not to keep to their side of the bargain (the
Jobseeker’s Agreement).  This certainly is not true in John’s case, so what
is the real reason for the sanction….performance expectations (targets to
you or I), reducing the unemployment count, saving money or all 3?

*Jobseekers being set up to fail by Jobcentre Plus!*

An ex DWP employee has confirmed:

“But the truth is that benefit claimants are being deliberately set up to
fail in order to achieve sanction quotas without regard for natural justice
or their welfare . Staff are being asked to behave in a manner that is against the department’s values of integrity and honesty.”

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/dec/09/iain-duncan-smith-dwp-stop-benefits-whistleblower

Suspected criminals are treated more fairly in this country than the sick
and the unemployed; they are innocent until found guilty, receive swift and
free legal assistance, a bed, food, water and a roof over their heads.

In my view all these sanctions are unjustifiable and certainly do not match
the offence. A low level sanction of 4 weeks sanction incurs a c£200
penalty for people over 25 years of age like John, who is already living
well below the bread line according the EU

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jan/29/uk-benefits-inadequate-council-of-europe.

A speeding ticket is £60 to people who can generally afford to run a car
and the offender is given time to challenge the penalty *before* it is
imposed.

*What the law says…. *

The *duty to actively seek work* *is not to be found in the job seekers
agreement* but in S7 of the jobseeker’s Act. S7(1), which provides:

*“a person is actively seeking work if he takes in that week such steps as
he could reasonably be expected to have to take in order to have the best
prospects of securing employment.”*

More detail is set out in regulation 18 of the Regulations. Regulation
18(1) provides that:

*”… a person shall be expected to have to take more than two steps in any
week unless taking one or two steps is all that is reasonable for that
person to do in that week.”*

Mr Commissioner Williams held at para 10 & 14 of CJSA/1814/2007 (case law)

*”**That is illustrated by this appeal. C was required by his Agreement to
take 6 steps each week and several other steps from time to time. That is
clearly more steps than the regulation requires of him to meet the test of
“actively seeking work”. And it is more steps than the Agreement asked him to record. On the facts, the secretary of state’s representative now
accepts that C took four steps in the week and that those four steps met
the test in section 7(1).”*

*”Further, there is nothing in the Act or the Regulations requiring that a
claimant must comply with everything in the Agreement. The reverse is the case. The agreement must comply with the law. To be valid, a jobseeker’s agreement must comply “with the prescribed regulations in force”: section 9(1) of the Act. The pattern of the legislation is that a jobseeker’s agreement must comply with the test of actively seeking work in sections 1(2)(c) and 7 of the Act and regulation 18 of the Regulations and not the other way round.”*

*The Outcome of this case – Success!*

Using this piece of case law the appeal was allowed, because the judge
determined John (the appellant) was actively seeking work as per section 7
of the Jobseeker’ Act 1995 and he took *significantly more than 2 steps to
in order to have the best prospects of seeking work *(Reg. 18 JSA Regs
1996)!

*What does this outcome mean?*

This result confirms that Jobseeker Allowance claimants are unwittingly
agreeing to unreasonable, thus unlawful Jobseeker Agreements (soon to
become JSA Claimant Commitments) and, as a result 1000s are being
sanctioned unfairly.

*However, this achievement is a hollow victory for the thousands of
Jobseekers expected to comply with their Jobseeker’s Agreements.*

This Tribunal ruling does not set a precedent for DWP to follow. As far as
DWP are concerned “it will be business as usual“.  DWP’s position will
remain that if an individual claimant wishes to challenge their Jobseekers
Agreements on the basis of this Tribunal ruling they will have to jump
through all the various hoops.

Most will decide it is not worth their while and I know from my own experiences how difficult it can be.  Further, the claimant must have the capacity to do so (many claimants are vulnerable) and they must also know that their Jobseekers Agreement is unlawful. The majority will not and as for the handful of claimants that do, DWP will cope with these people.

*What we appear to be dealing with here is, maladministration by the DWP on a grand scale affecting 1000s of individuals.  *

*What can people do?*

I would strongly urge those who have been affected to get in touch
with their MP to raise this important issue.

And, you *must* appeal.

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-work-pensions/about/complaints-procedure

*Read the recent news reports about unfair sanctions….*

“70,000 job seekers’ benefits withdrawn unfairly, says think-tank”

*I believe it is significantly higher.*

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/mar/03/70000-job-seekers-benefits-withdrawn-unfairly-thinktank

And:
*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.*

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/successful-benefits-appeals-soaring-says-scots-academic.23532954

Regards

Mary

 

> Thanks, Mary. My own Jobseeker Agreement battles are chronicled on this blog (Jobseekers Agreement section) but need  updating. I’m a bit behind because some of the things that have been happening need unravelling and making sense of – I start to think that every individual DWP worker has their own set of rules !

But suffice to say, I’ve been fighting my corner for 4 months now,  still haven’t been sanctioned and am now on my second adviser – I’m wearing them down slowly.

Mary has provided more ammo here, some that I shall certainly being firing in the next battle. And I agree that everyone who can appeal, should – after all, what have you got to lose, and if nothing else you’ll help stretch the system a little nearer to breaking point.

Conservative warns that benefit changes are making more use North foodbanks

> Yes, you did read that headline correctly…

A broken benefits system is causing people to turn to food banks, an aspiring Conservative politician has said.

In comments more normally seen from Labour politicans, Berwick Tory Anne-Marie Trevelyan has said the number of people needing handouts to eat may be as a result of changes to the benefits system.

Mrs Trevelyan is bidding to take the seat from Sir Alan Beith when the Liberal Democrat steps down in 2015.

Much of her campaign has focused on the jobs potential of dualling the A1 north of Newcastle.

But last night she said that after visiting a Northumberland food bank, the evidence put to her was that those dependant upon benefits were suffering the result of changes to the system.

The Conservative-led coalition Government has come in for criticism from a variety of sources over its cuts to benefits.

Reductions in benefits have been criticised as indiscriminate while changes to the way benefits are handed out has seen delays as a result.

Mrs Trevelyan said: “All users of food banks in Northumberland have been referred by social services, Citizens Advice Bureaux or other groups like Sure Start. The reasons given are often delays in benefits being paid or other financial pressures leaving families with no money to buy food.

“I am concerned by the recurring message from the volunteers who run our local food banks, that the majority of those who come to them do so because the benefits payment system is not working.

“It should be there to support those who need a safety net while they find work or arrange long term support.

“There seems to be a serious breakdown in the effective management of the payments system. I am going to be talking in more detail with our job centre teams to try to find out what they need to solve this issue effectively.”

> Oh bugger – don’t ask them ! They’re  a major part of the problem.

The Conservative candidate said that a rapid rise in the number of food banks began under Labour in 2006 when there were 3,000 nationally. This rose to more than 40,000 by 2010.

In addition to this leading food bank provider the Trussell Trust has been expanding, inevitably leading to more hard-pressed families making use of their services.

Mrs Trevelyan’s comments are similar to many of those expressed by Northern Labour MPs, though of a far less critical nature.

Also adding their concerns to the growing number of food banks was former Bishop of Durham Justin Welby. Now Archbishop of Canterbury, he has called for a greater level of awareness from the Government on the causes behind the growing number of food banks in the UK.

Senior Tories have tried to play down the rise of food banks.

Education Secretary Michael Gove came under fire for saying that financial mismanagement was the reason many people were going to food banks.

And Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, the man ultimately responsible for changes to the benefit system, refused to meet the Trussell Trust and accused it of being politically motivated.

Source – Newcastle Journal  15 Feb 2014