The minister responsible for making sure everybody who is entitled to state benefits knows what benefits they should have has claimed that people are using food banks because they don’t know what benefits they should be getting.
Amber Rudd, who had to resign as Home Secretary over the racist Windrush scandal, appears to be trying to prove she can’t function as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions either.
She told BBC Five Live: “Sometimes I discover when I go to visit the food banks there are people in there who don’t know what access to benefits they had, which is why it’s important that there’s a good relationship between us and the food banks, which generally there is.”
This makes no sense at all.
If there is a good relationship between the DWP and food banks, and the reason for that is to ensure that people visiting food banks know what benefits they can access, then nobody visiting a food bank should be unaware of the information they need… unless the DWP isn’t doing its job properly, of course.
Let’s consider an alternative theory. The Trussell Trust published information showing that food bank use as increased by 52 per cent in areas where Universal Credit has been in place for at least a year, compared with 13 per cent where it had not been, and Ms Rudd admitted in February that “the main issue… could have been the fact that people had difficulty accessing their money early enough”.
Perhaps that is because the DWP, in fact, didn’t inform claimants of the difference between the benefits they had been getting and the amounts they would receive in the future.
There is evidence to support this. A report on the transition from tax credits to Universal Credit shows nearly half of claimants were not aware their tax credits would stop when they claimed universal credit, and 56 per cent felt they did not receive enough information.
More than a third were in financial difficulty – of whom six in 10 said their troubles started after they began claiming Universal Credit.
Now, here’s the punchline: The release of this report was delayed for 18 months. It was made available to Ms Rudd’s forerunner David Gauke (and, presumably, to his replacement Esther McVey before coming into the hands of her replacement, Ms Rudd) and to Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and they immediately decided not to publish it.
That is the question asked by the chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions committee, Frank Field, in a letter to both (current ministers), sent on Monday (April 15).
His letter points out that the delay came at a time when pivotal decisions about Universal Credit were about to be made, and asks what actions the ministers took after reading the report, other than ordering that it be shelved.
On April 16, the Work and Pensions committee published new figures showing that the DWP had “serially botched” payment of the sickness benefit Employment and Support Allowance, meaning it is likely that hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people were underpaid.
How many of them ended up having to visit food banks because of the DWP’s errors?
How many Universal Credit claimants had to visit food banks because they were not properly informed of what it means to go from tax credits to UC – making a mockery of Ms Rudd’s claims about users being ignorant of their entitlements?
While we’re thinking about those questions, let’s all remember that these issues were all current at a time when Conservative MPs were visiting food banks for photo opportunities, arranged to make it seem these super-rich Tories actually cared about the poverty-stricken people they had sent there.
It seems clear that the only people using food banks who didn’t need them were those Conservative MPs.
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