The DWP has been accused of ‘covering up’ the scale of food bank use

A food bank and the DWP logo
Steve Topple

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has repeatedly said it does not hold records of, or research, the number of people it sends to food banks. But a writer has uncovered information that he believes shows the DWP intentionally ‘covering up’ the number of people it refers to food banks.

The DWP: a “cover-up”?

Alex Tiffin is a writer who runs the Life of a Universal Credit Sufferer website. He’s a Universal Credit claimant. He writes about his experiences with the DWP, and what it’s like to be reliant on welfare.

In a post on Thursday 26 July, he claimed he’d unearthed a “Cover-up by [the] DWP”, and alleged that “staff [are] told to destroy evidence of food bank referrals”.

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Tiffin’s claim relates to a Freedom of Information request (FOI) from January. The FOI asked the DWP for a copy of the “operational instructions” relating to its “signposting” service for claimants asking about food banks. A signposting slip is a form issued by the DWP which a claimant can take to a food bank to show they’re entitled to use it. As the Guardian reported in 2014, the DWP claims that signposting slips are only issued when “other options are exhausted”.

‘Hiding hardship’

The crucial part of the FOI is the DWP’s instructions to its staff. Specifically, it says that:

There is no… requirement to record the issue of signposting slips. However, if the foodbank has specifically asked that Jobcentre Plus authenticate the issue of a signposting slip, the Foodbank Sign Posting Slip Record can be used for this purpose. Note that this record… is not to be used for any other purpose, including to count/monitor the number of signposting slips issued

Tiffin says this shows the DWP:

are intent on covering up the scale of foodbank referrals made by jobcentres in an effort to hide the hardship they are causing.

In my opinion this should be a national scandal. A government agency for the most vulnerable in our country is telling staff not to keep records of the amount of people that are starving.

These statistics could be used to help improve the system or identify areas most in need of assistance. Instead they are covering up what we now know to be a massive problem facing people of all walks of life in the UK.

Essentially, the DWP has the mechanisms to record how many people it sends to food banks. It clearly instructs its staff not to do this.

Repeated denials

DWP ministers have repeatedly said they do not have records of the number of food banks referrals. For example, parliamentary under-secretary at the DWP Justin Tomlinson said on 24 July:

We do not record the number of people using food banks or other types of food aid.

On April 24, Tomlinson’s predecessor Kit Malthouse said:

no data is held on the number using the signposting to food bank service at Jobcentres. Jobcentre Plus does not make direct referrals to food banks but has offered a signposting service since 2011…

The DWP does have record-keeping abilities. But it’s directly instructing its staff not to use them.

The Canary asked the DWP for comment but had received no response by the time of publication.

“Anyone else would call it lying”…

Tiffin summed up:

Esther McVey has a track record of attempting to conflate the facts. It is now clear that this is becoming a widespread Department for Work and Pensions policy.

Anyone else would call it lying.

With the Trussell Trust reporting a 13% increase in food bank demand in 2017/18, Tiffin believes the DWP is covering up what he calls the “amount of people that are starving”. The 660,000 people who used a food bank last year could well think the same.

Get Involved!

Read more from Alex Tiffin’s blog and support his work.

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Featured image via Channel 4 News – YouTube and UK government – Wikimedia

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