This graph is now out of date. It only runs to April 2014 but the message is clear.
Iain Duncan Smith has indicated that he considers food banks to be a permanent part of the benefit system now, while answering questions posed by the Commons Work and Pensions committee.
He said he was “fully in support of food banks” and added that, “where people go to food banks because of problems with the department, the department tries to pick up those problems.”
He also said he was visited by representatives of a food bank before the summer break, who said some individuals had a problem with benefit payments.
He said he tried putting a benefits adviser in the food bank when it is open, so he or she can look into these cases. If the initiative works, it will be rolled out nationally.
Robert Devereux, the permanent secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions, also giving evidence, said this is happening at a food bank at Manchester where two advisers attend on one day a week. There is also a phone line.
So, after blaming the rise of food banks on the Labour Party (wrongly – they proliferated under David Cameron), and after accusing food bank operators including the Trussell Trust of political campaigning against the Conservative Party, the Conservative Government now seems determined to see food banks become a fixture of British society.
Their efforts would be better spent eliminating the need for food banks altogether.
Actors demonstrate how DWP officials have reacted to calls for a full, independent review of their sanctions regime.
Churches and charities have attacked the Department for Work and Pensions’ refusal to undertake a full review of the benefit sanctions system.
The DWP has issued a response to the Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into benefit sanctions – four months overdue – but has failed to commit to a review as recommended.
The Select Committee, the Government’s own advisors, the Social Security Advisory Committee, charities and Churches have all called for a full, independent review of the regime [along with This Writer and his colleagues]. These groups have highlighted the extreme hardship caused, the inconsistent and unjust application of sanctions and the lack of evidence that they encourage people into work.
The Baptist Union, Church in Wales, Church of Scotland, Methodist Church, United Reformed Church and charity Church Action on Poverty have called for an immediate suspension of sanctions against families with children and people with mental ill-health. They say the DWP’s response does not go far enough and have called again for a review.
“In refusing to undertake a full review, the DWP is stubbornly ignoring the calls of parliament, expert advisers, Churches and charities. Most importantly, it is condemning people, many of whom have also spoken out eloquently against the inhumanity of the current practice, to unjust and pointless punishment,” said Paul Morrison, public issues policy adviser for the Methodist Church.
Responding to the DWP’s announcement that they will try a ‘yellow card’ system, Mr Morrison added: “If a court is working to a bad set of laws for a bad set of reasons and making bad and unreliable decisions, it’s not the sentencing policy you look at. ‘Yellow cards’ will reduce the number of sanctions, which is welcome, but won’t address the fundamental problems that occur long before the decision to sanction has been made. That’s why we need a full independent review”
Even if a benefits claimant is able to demonstrate that they cannot afford food due to being sanctioned, most people will still not become eligible for a hardship payment or loan for a further two weeks and, once eligible, it will take a further three days before payment actually arrives.
Dr Richard Vautrey, a GP in Leeds and deputy chair of the BMA’s General Practitioners Committee, said: “GPs are increasingly seeing people who are suffering serious consequences as a result of the current benefit sanctions system. Vulnerable people can be left with no money to pay for essentials such as food and heating and this can then have a damaging impact not only on their physical and mental health but also the health of family members, including children, who depend upon them. Government policy directly puts the health of patients we care for at risk. Immediate action should be taken to end these punitive actions.”
In March this year, the Churches published a report showing that nearly 100,000 children had been affected by sanctions in 2014 alone and that people with mental health problems were being sanctioned at a rate of more than 100 per day. As a result of their campaign more than 2,000 people wrote to their MPs asking them to support a review of the system.
The report told stories like that of Martin*, aged 60, who missed an appointment with the job centre because his wife died suddenly. He was sanctioned for six weeks, leaving him with nothing to live on and in a state of confusion as his wife had previously handled most of their joint paperwork. He came to the local church for help and charity Acts435 helped him with his living expenses until he could come to terms with the new shape his life had taken.
“The Government claims that sanctions help people into work, but the evidence for this claim is practically non-existent,” added Mr Morrison. “However, there is plenty of evidence that sanctions cause hardship, suffering and hunger.
“Any system that seeks to ‘change people’s behaviour’ by using hunger as a weapon is immoral.”
It is a testament to the ineptitude of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain ‘Sunken’ Smith that his flagship scheme has been sent back to square one – listed as “reset” by the government organisation responsible for grading its progress.
Mr… Smith (otherwise known as RTU or Returned To Unit, in tribute to a lifetime of failure) is determined that Universal Credit – which rolls all the major benefits into a single payment which the government can manipulate to make life extremely uncomfortable for claimants – will be his legacy; the achievement that marks him out for posterity.
Well, it will certainly remind us all of the man’s nature. Universal Credit has been beset with one false start after another and remains capable of handling only the simplest of tasks while promising miracles – and when it fails to deliver, its faults are explained away with implausible excuses.
The latest is that the Major Projects Authority (MPA) assessed the project last September and its judgement is out-of-date because there has been progress in implementing the scheme through pilot projects in Job Centres.
That seems about as plausible as RTU’s claim that the scheme has not written OFF £140 million of taxpayers’ money; instead the cash has been written down (meaning, it seems, that the value of the investment has been downgraded in the same way your computer is worth less now than the amount you paid for it – “the amortisation of cost over a period of time”). That’s not an acceptable answer as the money has still been spent.
Alternatively, you may wish to consider cabinet colleague Francis Maude’s claim that UC implementation has been “pretty lamentable”. The Secretary-in-a-State said this was a reference to a time before he made emergency changes to the project; changes that he did not mention to anybody – even the Commons Work and Pensions select committee, when it was investigating the project, maintaining that all was well.
In fact, this latest excuse is also among the oldest in Mr… Smith’s arsenal; it was used last year in response to the rating UC had received at the time.
The MPA rates major schemes according to a ‘traffic light’ system – green, amber or red. Universal Credit was previously marked as amber/red, meaning it was in danger of failure.
The organisation’s new report, released yesterday (Friday), possibly in an attempt to bury bad news, states: “This time last year, we rated 31 projects red or amber/red. Of these 31 projects, more than half did better this year and only one has got worse.”
You won’t get any prizes for guessing which one!
The bad news is that, despite everything, Universal Credit remains an ongoing project and will therefore continue to haemorrhage taxpayers’ pounds – that’s your hard-earned shekels – by the million.
The good news is that we can look forward to more media humiliation for Smith himself.
The man has caused more misery than anybody since Margaret Thatcher; it is right that he should face a little suffering of his own.
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