Jobcentres make official referrals to food banks despite government denials

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 12:54 -- nick

Jobcentres are using an official process for referring unemployed people to food banks - despite the government's denials that these facilities form part of the welfare state.

A freedom of information request by The Guardian has uncovered a six part flowchart called 'Food Bank Referral Service - High Level Process', an official Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) document that leaves Iain Duncan Smith with huge questions to answer.

Previously, ministers have said that jobcentres "do not refer people to food banks or issue vouchers" and that food banks are "absolutely not a part of the welfare system because we have other means of supporting people".

They have claimed that claimants are only 'signposted' to the facilities, and the story is likely to lead to officials and party representatives debating the meanings of of the terms.

A government spokesperson said their guidance has now been changed to refer to 'signposting' rather than 'referral', although with the rest of the process remaining the same this will not provide much cover for the deception.

The flow chart gives reasons for sending claimants, including hardship caused by benefit changes, benefit payment delays, a benefit advance being refused, or an advance that is not enough to meet their needs.

Ministers have denied a link between benefit problems and food bank use, and this official confirmation will cause embarrassment to the government.

Usage has been climbing since the coalition came to power, with the Trussell Trust showing a doubling of the numbers referred to it in the three months after the major benefit reforms of April 2013.

Another deception the government has been caught out using is the recording of numbers sent to food banks by jobcentres.

The Guardian says:

"The documents show each jobcentre is told to write down how many people have been sent to food banks on a "slip record sheet", even though the DWP has said: "Food banks are not part of government policy and, as such, the Department for Work and Pensions does not hold or collect information on their usage."

A DWP spokesman responded to the article by saying: "The benefits system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed and there is no robust evidence that welfare reforms are linked to increased use of food banks. Our reforms are fair and mean the welfare system will remain what it was always intended to be – a safety net for people at times of need."

This denial in the face of overwhelming evidence from the government's own records may be one of the last.

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