JOB Centre Plus is attempting to cover up the extent of the UK government’s welfare reforms by reneging on a deal to record why it refers clients to food banks.
The Trussell Trust, which runs the UK’s biggest network of food banks, says the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has altered the way it records client referrals to food banks in an attempt to cover up the negative impact of welfare changes on benefits claimants.
The Department for Work and Pensions has an agreement in place with the trust to issue clients in most need with vouchers enabling them to access food banks.
As part of this agreement, the reasons for referral are recorded on a specific form detailing the cause for referral, such as benefit delay, changes to a claim, sanctions or the refusal of a crisis loan.
However, the DWP abruptly halted the recording last week without consultation with the charity and, despite the trust asking for a meeting, has refused to say why.
Chris Mould, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said the DWP reneged without consultation and this has resulted in “chaos and confusion”.
He said: “We speculate it is because they don’t want us to count the number of people who are struggling through changes to the benefit system. There can be no other explanation.”
In Scotland over 14,000 people use food banks – a figure which has more than doubled since the previous year as welfare changes begin to affect families.
Molly Hodson of the Trussell Trust said without the DWP recording why people are referred to food banks, neither it or the government would be able to address the causes of poverty adequately.
“It’s a concern because we need accurate reporting,” she told TFN. “It enables us to better gauge where support is most needed and to address that need.”
Hodson said some job centres had even been sending clients to other agencies, such as Citizens Advice, to get vouchers for food banks to avoid them recording it as a direct referral.
John Dickie, head of the Child Poverty Action Group Scotland said it was a damning indictment of the current approach to welfare reform that families in 21st century Scotland are being forced to rely on food banks due to increasing inadequacies in the social security system.
He added: “It is important that the DWP continues to record when and why referrals are being made, so that food banks can do their vital work and also ensure government understands when and why the benefits system is failing.”
A spokeswoman for the DWP refused to answer why it had stopped recording referrals while denying the impact of welfare reforms were caused by changes to welfare.
“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,” she said.
“In fact, our welfare reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities with the Universal Credit making three million households better off – 300,000 in Scotland – the majority of these from the bottom two fifths of the income scale.”