The DWP’s latest savage move could leave more people starving

Food bank store
Fréa Lockley

New evidence has emerged to show that the DWP has enacted yet another savage move. A job centre in East Sussex refused to give people foodbank referrals. If replicated in other areas, the implications of this are devastating for some of the most vulnerable people in the UK.

“Destitute”

On 5 February, Lewes Eye reported that the DWP “banned local job centre staff from referring people to foodbanks for emergency food supplies” in Lewis, East Sussex. It printed a leaked email from Lewis job centre that stated:

We have been advised that DWP policy does not permit Jobcentres to refer customers to food banks by issuing vouchers or referral forms.

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The email said that the job centre would “verbally signpost” people to other agencies. According to Lewis Eye, the job centre told people “to go to the Citizens Advice Bureau or similar agencies”. As it pointed out, the implications of this are huge, because people claiming benefits could be “left destitute” if payments are delayed. As Universal Credit rolls out across the UK, foodbank use is soaring. Since September 2018, over “1,000 people” now receive the controversial benefit in Lewes. As the Trussell Trust reported:

On average, 12 months after rollout, foodbanks see a 52% increase in demand, compared to 13% in areas with Universal Credit for 3 months or less.

According to Lewis Eye, foodbanks in the area confirmed that referrals stopped. It formed a clear conclusion about this, alleging:

the DWP is doing this because the government is frightened that campaigners will be able to show that benefit cuts and the new Universal Credit are driving people into destitution.

“Slipping through the net”

The Independent also spoke to foodbank volunteers in Lewes. They confirmed these allegations. Debbie Twitchen from Landport Foodbank in Lewes said:

she believed it was a way for the DWP to “hide that people are going hungry and needing food banks” due to “failures in the system”, and added: “I know that it’s an obvious ploy – if you can’t show figures for something then it’s not happening is it?

Twitchen said she feared this situation meant some people would start “slipping through the net”.

According to the Independent, a DWP spokesperson claimed that foodbank referral policy “had not changed”:

Jobcentres will signpost people to food banks and other services according to their individual circumstances, as part of their support to help people manage their finances and get into work.

Deeper issues

Thankfully, this doesn’t (yet) seem to be national policy. However, The Canary contacted national foodbank network Trussell Trust about this issue. Its response suggests that this might not be an isolated incident. It said:

There is still a very mixed picture reported by food banks about their relationships with jobcentres,

As a result, the foodbank network is working “to gather more information” about the picture across the UK. Trussell Trust told The Canary its two main concerns are:

How do we make sure that someone facing hunger right now is able to access the best possible support as quickly as possible.

How do we move towards a future where people don’t need to be referred to a foodbank in the first place.

Hunger games

Yet under the Conservatives, it seems unlikely that foodbank use will drop. As The Canary previously reported, the impact of austerity alongside the rollout of Universal Credit is devastating, forcing more people than ever to use foodbanks. In 2018, demand rose by 13%.  

As The Canary also reported, in January, a Commons select committee report condemned the Conservative government’s failure to “recognise and respond to the issues of hunger, malnutrition, and obesity in the UK”. Pointing to rising levels of food poverty – particularly for children – it made a damning recommendation: to appoint a minister for hunger to deal with the spiralling crisis.

If this does become national policy, it also poses another serious issue. Foodbanks work with “frontline professionals, such as doctors, health visitors, social workers and the Citizens Advice”. These are the “other agencies” who can also make foodbank referrals. But nine years of Tory-led austerity means that these services are stretched to breaking point already. Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) for example, first reported on the impact of funding cuts in 2011. By 2017, a government response stated that 68 CAB branches had closed since 2012.

It’s shocking that people need to use foodbanks in the first place. But for the DWP to make it even more difficult for vulnerable people to eat is simply unforgivable.

Featured image via Fréa Lockley

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  • Show Comments
    1. The job centre in my area is 4 miles away from the nearest CAB, council offices etc that can refer claimants to a food bank, so in effect, after likely walking to the job centre, the hungry, destitute person must then have to walk a further 4 miles…and as the CAB here closes at 12 noon daily due to cuts that means if a person has an afternoon appt, that means they’ll have to walk home, they will have to go hungry for another 24 hours and then walk another 4 miles at least just to receive a referral then god knows how many more miles to the nearest food bank! I Just pray they’re not a diabetic as all that walking needs fueling somehow! It’s despicable and I just don’t see anything changing sadly. Many thousands of claimants dying of illness that assessors deemed not “ill enough” to be considered for ESA/PIP etc. Its truly horrifying

    2. My job centre is 3 miles away and as I found out when I was looking for advice about housing benefit, there is no CAB office in my area, the nearest one doesn’t serve my postcode and the second nearest is only open one day a week for about 3 hours and has massive queues, i sorted my housing benefit out before I managed to see anyone at the CAB office over 4 miles away, it took 3 months.

      This evil government want people dead rather then be an embarrassment on the figures, foodbanks will have to accept people without referrals because who is going to refer?.

    3. What goes around, comes around in DWP policy. When faced with a crashed JSA claim in 2013, which left me with no income for eight weeks, I was forced to seek emergency help from the LA.
      With that I was able to power up my electric long enough to find a food bank in my area. JobcentrePus (sic[k]) wasn’t allowed to tell me anything…even though I used to be an Employment Adviser before the Thatcherists destroyed “the best public employment agency in the world”.
      Three months later, management did a 180° and began insisting that vouchers, directions and opening hours be provided….. I was told that the local (Labour) MP has been overwhelmed with complaints.
      Now, I suppose, the sheer scale of Tory social cleansing has cast such a long shadow that they’ve decided to switch the lights off.
      This is just as they did when the stats showed thousands of vulnerable people dying prematurely due to HB caps, Bedroom Tax and switching HB payments direct to tenants which effectively cut off the private rental sector: landlords not wanting benefit claimants any more due to likely arrears caused by all of the above. And UC was still a germinating virus inside IDS….

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