The DWP is lying to us about Food Banks

Words by Marco Biagini

Today I saw this article shared a number of times on social media.

Priti Patel, the Employment Minister of the Department for Works & Pensions, has officially declared that there is no link between the enormous increase in UK food banks (and users) and cuts to the Benefits & Welfare system imposed by the incumbent Conservative Government.

 

pritipatel

The Right Honorable Priti Patel MP

 

The Right Honorable Priti Patel MP, who has an interesting history in the spin doctor industry, as well as some colourful although relatively recent contributions to politics, has made headlines in the past due to her tough stance against immigration (despite being a refugee from Uganda following Idi Amin’s genocides) and her belief that the death penalty should be re-instated in a civilised country like the UK.

Her most recent statement regarding Benefit Sanctions appears to completely ignore the annual statistics published by the Trussel Trust which clearly show the year-by-year increase in Foodbank users in the UK from 2011 (128,697 users) to present day in 2015 (estimated 1,084,604 users).

 

The Facts

This is a 742.75% increase in 4 years, and yet Patel insists that, “There is no robust evidence that directly links sanctions and food bank use.”

This statement appears to be inconsistent with the Trussel Report, which suggests that almost a full third of crisis referrals to food banks pertain to Benefit Delays or Sanctions.

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 14.20.22

Trussel Trust data on Primary Referral causes shows
that ‘Benefit Delays’ is the most common factor

Nor does Patel’s data seem to accurately match up with this British Medical Journal article, which contains case-study research from both Oxford and Liverpool Universities showing that “each 1% cut in central government spending on welfare benefits in a local authority increased the odds of a food bank opening within two years by 160%”.

 

BMJ Talk on Foodbanks – is supply or demand increasing their usage?

 

Or what about the plethora of statements, articles and cries for helps from those affected by sanctions that have flooded our newsfeeds (and newsreels) for the past year? Both the SCVO  and SUWN (The Scottish Unemployed Workers Network) have released reports in the past year focusing on the statistics of benefit sanctions, with the latter report containing 91 separate Case Studies demonstrating the negative effects that the current ESA and ATOS Healthcare system have on unemployed demopgrahics.

The issue seems to be much, much wider than initially suggested, with UK citizens reliant on varying types of welfare being affected, regardless of their need for Food Bank support. Gender equality group, Close the Gap claim that single mothers and refugee women are being hit hard by arguably unfair sanctions. For example, this mother from Fife was sanctioned for 4 weeks after being 10 minutes late for an appointment… because her child needed to use the bathroom. Or what about Emma, 20, who was also sanctioned for 4 weeks after proactively trying to re-schedule her appointment due to morning sickness, as is ordinary for any 2-week pregnant woman. The DWP has even begun trying to force sufferers from illnesses like multiple-sclerosis to attend mandatory meetings pertaining to their fitness to work – something which, evidently, they physically cannot commit do due to having a chronic muscle disease.

And it doesn’t seem to stop at Benefit Sanctions, so it seems. Just today I received an email from Change.org related to a petition for a 15-year-old boy who is being denied vital kidney medication on the basis that it is ‘too expensive’. It could be argued that this lack of medical support is a by-product of restructuring and cuts imposed on the NHS by the Conservative government.

Many argue that sanctions like these are, in fact, the precursor to needing help from Food Banks. And yet the DWP continue to push the decision to cut £12billion from the annual Welfare Budget, whilst rejecting any political resistance as “disgraceful”.

Hiding the Facts

None of this information adds up with Patel’s official statement on Foodbanks and Benefit Changes. How is this the case? The DWP is committed to “understanding and dealing with the causes of poverty rather than its symptoms” according to their website. But through ignoring public opinion, and the never-ending stream of articles on food banks and welfare cuts, it seems they are actively doing the opposite when it comes to Benefit Sanctions.

It would appear that Priti Patels’ reputation for being a walking-talking contradiction is not a negative characteristic, but rather a vital aspect of her political contribution to the DWP. (Although, in her defence, she didn’t go the whole way and join UKIP like her father, also a refugee from Idi Amin’s genocide of Uganda.)

Further investigation into the DWP suggests that they are passively attacking the unemployed through misleading, falsely positive and ‘Orwellian’ language, as well as much more serious allegations of the DWP pushing internal targets to encourage workers to sanction those dependent on welfare. This directly contradicts the DWP’s claim that it commits to “understanding and dealing with the causes of poverty rather than its symptoms”.

The manipulation does not end there… A very telling Guardian article from 2013 shows that the Job Centre+ literally changed their Food Bank Referral forms to deliberately omit vital information from their own data analysis.

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 16.35.46

Food Bank Referral Forms from Job Centre+ (left: 2011 version, right: 2013 version)

In 2011, the Job Centre+ agreed with the Trussel Trust that it would refer those in need to its Food Banks. The 2011 version of the JC+ referral form clearly shows a field at the top asking the applicant to state the reason they require food: 1) Benefit Changes; 2) Benefit Delays; 3) Refused Crisis Loan.

 

Preventing Evidence

However, in April 2013, a new version of the form came out with this apparently small question omitted. In the grand scheme of things, this may not seem like a huge difference… but it must be pointed out that April 2013 correlates precisely to when the Welfare Reform Act 2012 came into fruition, bringing with it the sanctions and welfare cuts that is the precursor for this entire article.

Why would this question be removed at the most important changing point in Welfare Reform’s history? It’s obvious. Removing this question completely prevents any accurate figures of the impact on Benefit Changes to be recorded by the DWP. This change in the JC+’s Food Bank Referral Form is a deliberate barrier to information gathering and has resulted in years of inaccurate information pertaining to Benefit Sanctions since the Welfare Reform Act’s official beginnings in April 2013.

So, it would appear that within the context of the DWP’s wonderfully contradictory policies, that Priti Patel’s initial statement, “There is no robust evidence that directly links sanctions and food bank use.” is entirely true after all!

The DWP and Job Centre + have guaranteed this “robust lack of evidence” by doctoring the referral form, and ensuring that critical evidence pertaining to the true effect of these Benefit Sanctions is simply not gathered at all in the first place.

Priti Patel, Ian Duncan Smith and the rest of the Department for Work and Pensions are lying to us and have two years of solid ‘evidence’ to back it up.

Well done for spending 2 years proving absolutely nothing, guys. Hat’s off.

ianduncan

Ian Duncan-Smith & George Osbourne:  Chuffed at their own Incompetence