The DWP (1) has banned local job centre staff from referring people to foodbanks for emergency food supplies.
Benefit claimants can often be left destitute because their money is not due to be paid for another month, or because their claim has not yet been decided or for other reasons, so a referral can often be vital if people are to keep body and soul together.
Now they will not be referred. Instead they will be told to go to the Citizens Advice Bureau or similar agencies that may be able to refer them. This means further delay and some difficult journeys for people in outlying parts of the district.
A SECRET CHANGE OF POLICY
No one has told the foodbanks. Lewes foodbanks only found out this week when one bank asked users to get new referral letters to check that they still qualified. When the Lewes Eye phoned the SCD(2) which runs the Newhaven food bank today they had not heard about the new policy.
Nor does anyone appear to have told the Citizen’s Advice bureaux, , or any of the other bodies that will have to take up the slack
However the DWP did email Lewes District Council’s tenant participation team to confirm what they were doing at the end of January. The email is reproduced below.
DWP ENCOURAGES FRAUD
Food banks in Lewes town do not normally give out food to people without a referral to stop fraud.
Referrals to from the job centre have been important to foodbanks because they know that the DWP knows all about the financial situation of claimants and will not make referrals (however described) for people who do not need the service. Other bodies don’t have access to that information so it is hard for them to know whether to make a referral or not.
It is no good jobcentres just telling (signposting) people about a food bank, as the DWP suggests it can do, because this does not provide any evidence that they are in need. Some jobcentres have come to an agreement with foodbanks only to “signpost” people in genuine need. It is this agreement that has now stopped.
Hungry people will have to try to get referrals from an advice centre, a social worker, a teacher, a housing worker or similar and need to work out who they will ask before they are in an emergency
The DWP nationally got in touch to say that their policy had not changed and that “Jobcentres signpost people to food banks and other services according to the individual circumstances”. You can compare this statement with the email and information above.
WHY IS THE DWP DOING THIS?
The Eye says that 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. Last August the DWP told job centre staff not to record the referrals they made. Now they are going even further to stop the obvious link being made
Never mind that it will be harder for people to get emergency food and for food banks to ensure that the food gets to those who need it most, the DWP is off the hook.
The Eye has asked other foodbanks what their experience is. Already Eastbourne foodbank has said that referrals have stopped. See below. The Eye will post further confirmations when they arrive
1)Department for Work and PensionsSussex Community Development
2) Sussex Community Development trust