Why do people return and return to foodbanks? Because their benefit problems don’t get fixed for ages. If at all.

I was at the South Chadderton foodbank this morning and talked with some of the Monday volunteers.

I asked the volunteers why people were restricted to a certain number of foodbank visits in a set period of time. The limit is generally about three visits every six months or so – limits vary from place to place. The South Chadderton volunteers said today that the limit was now four visits.

I also asked if foodbanks showed discretion about these things – whether they could give out food parcels even if someone had reached their quota. Last week, I spoke to Pat McCullough, a 67-year-old Oldham man whose pension credit had been stopped for reasons he didn’t understand, and who’d reached his limit for foodbank visits while a caseworker helped him sort the pension credit problem out. He’d had four foodbank vouchers recently.

Jean Jones, who is one of the South Chadderton volunteers, said one reason that some people returned for three or four food parcels was because their problems with benefit sanctions and/or benefit delays, etc, now took so long to fix. This is worth noting. I find this myself again and again.

“The theory is, if you’ve got it [a foodbank voucher] for your benefits sanctions [to cover food while a benefit is sanctioned]… or whatever reason, the theory is that by the time you’ve had four [foodbank] vouchers, [the problem] should have been solved. The problem is [that] it isn’t [solved].”

I’ve certainly spent time with people who’ve had such experiences. I’ve attended jobcentre meetings with people who’ve literally waited months for a full Universal Credit claim to be properly started. I went to Kilburn jobcentre many times last year with a disabled woman whose benefit claim was closed when she was too ill to attend the jobcentre and who for weeks couldn’t find anyone to help her start her claim again (she was really ill – she had a bloodclot on her leg). Her housing benefit claim was stopped at the same time. She ended up with rent arrears and all kinds of problems. That one took months to fix.

I’ve spoken to no end of people in the last year who’ve had their benefits cut for weeks because they missed meetings that weren’t even compulsory, or who’ve been forced to pay rent arrears that their housing associations knew perfectly well they couldn’t afford, or who must pay exorbitant and very unfair court fines. Point is, these problems take ages to solve – if people can find anyone to help solve them at all. I meet a fair few people who just give up. It can take ages to get through to someone on the DWP phone lines. Jobcentres will rarely help people solve problems on the spot. Instead, advisers make formal appointments for people who have problems with their benefits. These appointments are often set a week or two or even further down the line. There’s not a lot of resource in jobcentres these days and government is about to close a bunch of them down.

Jean said her own son was on a Universal Credit sanction at the moment and that he still wasn’t sure why his money had been stopped, or how long the sanction would last. His UC wasn’t paid last month. He’d sent in a sick note to Universal Credit which excused him from his jobsearch requirements for six weeks, but that note seemed to have been lost in the mail, or disappeared forever into the black hole that is the DWP bureaucracy, or god knows what. He was waiting for a letter from the DWP, which apparently is due to arrive this week and will tell him why his benefit stopped, and how long it will be stopped for. The hope was that all would be revealed when the letter turned up.

So. Worth noting, as I say. Say what you like about benefit claimants – and plenty of people do say what they like – but the fact is that a lot of people are at the mercy of a system which falls over all of the time. People are left with nothing to live on while they try to address problems such as stopped benefit claims, reduced benefit claims, lost sick notes, court fines and all the rest of it. Those problems seem to go on forever these days. Maybe someone wants to fix that.

12 thoughts on “Why do people return and return to foodbanks? Because their benefit problems don’t get fixed for ages. If at all.

  1. I see no particular recognition from goverment that there need to be any changes.
    So who is going to change things ? Labour could hardly bring themselves to mention ‘welfare’ in the election. Universal Credit is a tough, difficult system for the claimant, and it was set up this way from day one. Backed up by financial sanctions that mean either destitution, or utter destitution, with nothing in between. ( Even the destitution is repayable by the claimant ).
    You couldn’t make it up really, after all who would believe it ?

  2. Someone might want to fix that? Mmm…don’t hold your breath. The government don’t give a shit about the poor. Just been watching C4 Dispatches about the housing sector, the relations between land owners, politicians, property developers, the huge shortfall in affordable housing, the loss of Greenbelt, the massive profits to be made, and the generous donations to the Conservative Party. It fucking stinks.

  3. Both the Labour Party and Citizens Advice (CAB), of all people, have stated in the past that they agree with Universal Credit “in principle”. What fucking principle? Combining out-of-work Benefits with Housing Benefit into one lump sum, paid in arrears, after several weeks of opening a new claim, and then applying impossible conditions suchas 35 hours weekly jobsearch underpinned by threat of Sanctions. Some principle. It’s an insane shambles of a policy, and disastrous for those on the receiving end. It needs scrapping, not just tinkering with like Labour said they would do. I wonder how far things have to go, how much worse can the situation get, how many more deaths, before we reach tipping point and change becomes inevitable? Does Society have to break down altogether, does Christ have to return, before anyone sits up and takes notice? Do we have to see bodies on the streets instead of them being found in tents hidden in the bushes (as happened more than once in Bradford when I lived there)? A Peasants Revolt is long overdue, but we’re all to busy trying to survive to get organized. Maybe it will happen spontaneously, like the Arab Spring. I despair.

  4. Agreed, both. Labour isn’t actually in power, either, so not sure Jez will be in a position to lead the glorious revolution anytime soon and/or if he’ll prioritise anyone who isn’t electorally useful. They say I’m a cynic, but – yeah.

  5. Aye the length of time spent waiting for decisions takes the piss. It took them a little over 2 months to begrudgingly give me 2 points in my PIP assessment (in which the assessor used the same justification for each refusal to award point (which basically boiled down to using my past failed efforts to overcome my difficulties against me))

    As for ESA (or in my case universal credit LCW/LCWRA element) it’s taken over three months to do a mandatory reconsideration with no sign of it being done any time soon and an abject refusal to give me any info on it’s progress.

  6. Then of course there is the appeals blocker that is Mandatory Request for Reconsideration Notice or whatever it is called. It took me from early July 2016 through to mid March 2017 to get a written response explaining how the housing element of my UC claim had been calculated – five phone calls, two letters. two visits to a community debt and money advice service……………….. and all the while the rent arrears built. Setting people up to fail.

  7. Can you give a general indication of how much, in your experience, the spread of foodbanks ties in with rollout of Universal Credit?

    The BBC recently reported on a Citizens Advice report Universal Credit ‘failing’ Welsh families, charity claims.

    Why should the Citizens Advice report single out Wales for the perils and pitalls of Universal Credit that appear in England and Scotland too?

    I believe the Wales-centric situation is due to the way that individual local CABx prioritise and deal with types of cases. In 2009 when I was wrongly deemed ‘fit for work’ after decades of fruitless jobsearch on unemployment benefit/Jobseekers Allowance, I was referred to the tribunals advocate of Disability in Camden (DISC) because
    1. He had the expertise and
    2. Camden CAB’s analysis of the situation was that “Employment & Support Allowance/Work Capability Assessment tribunals were so labour-intensive and stressful for the advocates concerned” that they preferred not to handle them.

    Perhaps, in some areas, Universal Credit perils and pitfalls are so generally experienced that the local CAB cannot ‘wish those problems would go away’ by choosing to specialise in other kinds of casework?

    • Good point. The Guardian did a story earlier this year which tied the rollout of UC to an increase in foodbank use.

      https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/apr/25/food-banks-report-record-demand-amid-universal-credit-chaos

      Certainly, when I started going to the Chadderton foodbank and asked for main reasons why people came to the foodbank, benefit problems and sanctions were high on the list:

      http://www.katebelgrave.com/2016/12/about-half-the-people-who-come-to-our-foodbank-are-there-because-of-benefit-sanctions/

      Oldham is a Universal Credit area, so benefit problems are probably largely tied to that benefit, except with Income Support, etc.

      There seem to be two problems that bring people to the foodbank as I see it when I attend: getting benefits problems fixed and (as above) and UC started, and then the actual uselessness of the systems that people must use. Letters don’t seem to be recorded (as above) and phone calls aren’t noted, or are noted but not properly recorded or whatever.

      The woman I spoke to yesterday in the article above made the general statement that since UC came in, there have been problems. The bureaucracy doesn’t function well and if you run into an issue, getting it sorted out is a nightmare (as we well know). She said her son rings on payment days to make sure the money is going into his account – that’s how little he trusts the system. He’s supposed to have been signed off jobsearch for several weeks after breaking his wrist (the jobcentre took his sick note) but it seems he’s been sanctioned for not carrying out jobsearch. Trying to get to the bottom of this has been a nightmare – finding someone who can accept the problem and fix it.

      Do you read Charlotte’s site – she’s outside Ashton jobcentre every week speaking to people about their ongoing problems with Universal Credit and giving out food parcels:

      https://thepoorsideoflife.wordpress.com/

      • Re: the CAB – the main problem that people raise with me there is that getting an appointment or meeting with the CAB can be extremely difficult. I’ve queued myself outside the Stratford CAB only to find all the appointments gone by 9am. That access problem is the main complaint I hear.

        • The lad with the broken wrist might have been put onto EPS (extended period of sick) rather than ESA. That happened to me last year (, or was it year before? Can’t remember now), but anyway, on EPS I still had to sign on & was told to log on to UJM twice a week & look at jobs but wasn’t required to apply for any, just log on to keep the UJM account active & enter in the Activity that I had looked at available jobs! Not sure what would have happened if I failed to do that, maybe a sanction? Oh, but i was/am on JSA not UC, Dunno if that makes any difference.

  8. A lot of talk in the News at the moment about working conditions. We all know the Benefits system is a shambles but for many people things are not much better if theyre working. If youre on Min. Wage & shelling out £20 to £40 per week on travel costs, then pay your rent & Council Tax, youre not much better off than on the dole, if at all better off because there’s other things like prescription costs & dental treatment. Also many jobs now only pay à flat rate No matter which shift you work, gone are the days of double-time on Sundays. So many crap jobs with crappy terms & conditions. Some don’t even give you tea breaks & I’m sure thats illegal. One place i was made to apply, à gigantic Warehouse near Barnsley, No tea breaks at all, just half hour for lunch, & expected to walk 10 miles per shift whilst pushing à cart loaded with merchandise. Positively Victorian. I’d say working conditions have deteriorated since i joined the labour market back in the 70s. Other peopleare given No contract, No rights, No holiday pay, zero hours by another means – theyll say the job is minimum of 8 hrs (but could be 20 or 30) so you turn up for work when they call or tell you but you don’t know what time youre going home or if youre in the next day, so you can’t plan your life. Then theres the Agencies, one in my area has been recruiting for a biscuit factory, youre expected to do 4 weeks unpaid ‘training’ at the agency first (15 miles away) doing basic maths & english (whether you need it or not, regardless of how many times youve done it before, regardless of what academic qualifications you have), then followed by one week unpaid work in the biscuit factory, and after all of that they then give you an interview for the job & tell you if youve got the job or not. Unbelievable. If theyd have tried that in the 70s theyd have had à Strike on their hands.

  9. My money was stopped when after a period of homelessness I had been housed with my disabled son. Only weeks after moving in all benefit stopped including housing benefit. It was my Housing Association landlord contacting me to demand why my payments had stopped that alerted me to something wrong. My son had broken a bone in his foot the day we moved in and couldn’t go out for weeks. So I rang DWP to let them know new address and had to ring several numbers for different benefits. One got the address wrong by one letter, it had been noticed and all benefits stopped without contacting me!!! Took so long to sort out nearly lost new home. Awful stress, absolute nightmare to live through. After all we’d gone through to lose our benefits due to a tiny admin error by DWP. Got benefits restarted but couldn’t get money refunded that we had lost and none of it was our fault.

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