Q: Should there be limits on the number of times people can use foodbanks, or get help? Answer: No.

I was speaking to a man called Pat McCullough, 67, at the Ark lunch kitchen at the Salt Cellar in Oldham yesterday.

Pat raised an issue that comes up a lot – the limit on the number of times in six months, or in a set time, that people can visit a foodbank for food parcels and/or get fuel voucher topups.

Pat’s fuel cards with no credit on them earlier this year

Pat, who is ex-army and having problems with money because his pension credit stopped for reasons that various people are trying to get to the bottom of, said that he’d reached his limit of three foodbank visits in six months.

Everyone I talk to who attends foodbanks here quotes the “three visits in a set time limit,” rule, often without prompting. People certainly see the “three visits” line as a policy, not as a useful flag.

Some places enforce these limits more strictly than others. You get good people and you get strict people, and you get confusion. There are also a number of different places that hand food out. Some require vouchers. Some don’t.

Pat said he’d had four foodbank referrals of late. He’d also had a couple of fuel topup vouchers, but didn’t think he’d be eligible for more for a time. He said he was using emergency credit for his electricity and gas cards at the moment.

Pat is a regular at the Tuesday lunches. I’ve written about his problems with paying for fuel before. Which brings me to the central point of this post in a roundabout way: There are a lot of people out there who I see again and again, and whose circumstances never really change. That being the case, why have limits and rules at all?

The real problem people have is that they are permanently stuck. They are permanently stuck without money. That’s the issue. They’ll never have the money that they need to get completely free and clear. A few quid here and there won’t change things.

That’s why “popular” concepts such as compulsory Debt Advice or Money Management lessons for people who apply for council or charity support always have me sighing very loudly. I wonder if we really get anywhere with any of that – a debt management person telling an impoverished person that they might be able to repay a few pounds each week on a massive court fine or whatever if they spend two quid less, say, on chips. Talk about robbing Peter to pay Paul.

So what if people spend a few quid on booze, or fags, or a hamburger, or whatever. So what if some debt management worthy tells people off for spending that money. It doesn’t matter a damn when you look at the real equations. A handful of change doesn’t make an impact on the big sums and debts at all.

The real problem is that people will never get their hands on the two or three or five or ten grand or whatever it is that they need to pay debt, or rent arrears, or to stock up on fuel costs, or to put a deposit on a decent flat, or to meet council tax bills and court fines, or to ever launch themselves more than a few feet up the slippery slope. I’ve written about this time and time again. Just about everyone I talk with has a debt, or arrears, or a sanction, or a tax credit problem, or a court fine, or a DWP loan to pay back of some kind.

Some weeks are better than others and things are not terrible all of the time, in the sense that a lot of people I talk with say they like to try and look on the bright side, but the bottom line is that some people will never have enough money to get out. They know it and I know it and a lot of people know it. The world is divided into two groups of people at the moment as far as I am concerned. There are people who always have a few grand stashed away to throw at life’s financial problems. Then, there are the people who don’t.

I realise that the world has a terrible fear of the lower orders becoming dependent on foodbanks and handouts and free coffee and biscuits and all the rest, but really. So what if you think there’s such a thing as taking the piss. There is also such a thing as stacking the game so that people can’t win.

12 thoughts on “Q: Should there be limits on the number of times people can use foodbanks, or get help? Answer: No.

  1. In Leicester you are allowed a fortnights worth of vouchers, and if you have extenuating circumstances a further 2 weeks worth; and that is IT.

    • Rubbish, innit. I mean – what if you’re waiting on a mandatory reconsideration or appeal for a couple of months. I’m heading off to a PIP assessment next week with someone who has been waiting to hear back re: getting assessed since April.

      Long time with no money etc

  2. Why is there no basic level of benefits that can be paid while people are waiting to hear about the result of appeals and reconsideration of benefits. ?
    Say, 50% of the original amount ?
    That way at least they would have something for a loaf of bread, or whatever.
    How did we ever get to the idea that it was acceptable to leave people with nothing to live on for months at a time ? Families and children tossed casually into poverty and destitution.
    It’s not a crime to be poor and to need help, but this cruel system makes it seem like one.

  3. Foodbanks are a symptom of a failed State. Debt advice & budget management are patronizing bollocks. What people need is money, more of it, and lots of it. You can’t learn to better manage your money when you have none to manage. Eat the Rich, every last morsel, yum, yum.

    • With you there, Trev. I’ve sat with people who have debts (often rent arrears because they can’t meet the rent) and had to listen to some officer warble on about making cutbacks in outgoings for repayments, for all the world as though buying a tin or so less of cat food or one less hamburger a month is going to impact in some meaningful way on rent arrears of £1000+

      I’m shit at maths, but even I am not that shit. I know that fuck all minus fuck all equals fuck all. Maybe I should get into council finance.

      • I wouldn’t really eat the Rich, I’m a vegetarian, but it’s a good figure of speech. On that note, I once got a food parcel when they were handing them out at Interserve when I was mandated to attend the Work Programme (under threat of sanction). It was a heavy bag of groceries, tied with string, & I struggled to carry it the one mile home. But when I got it home I discovered it mostly consisted of tinned meat! Tinned ham, spam tuna, chicken soup, Frey bentos pie, I gave most of it away to my neighbours who were all on the dole anyway. I also briefly volunteered at a foodbank & there was No provision for vegetarians in need of food. If I got sanctioned now I wouldn’t even bother going to a foodbank, I’d just have to starve (erm…or empty my leccy meter!)

  4. Hi Kate.
    I don’t know where to start on this except to say that we at West Northumberland Food Bank are now a first port of call for anyone in immediate crisis. Our policy is that if people need food and support they get it without a voucher or judgement and can self refer. Last year 52% of our visitors required help only once. We have around 8% of regular returners who only take what they need, and often return food eg pasta that they have enough of. Demand is up 92% on last year. I’d like to invite you up here. We have the added complication of the rurality of Northumberland. Just today we have supported a czech couple who have been removed from a close by City involving a slave issue, a woman who is moving to a one bedroom flat who doesn’t have the resources to move her furniture, a young woman with two children escaping DV who can’t access help from the local all singing/dancing ‘Victims First’ initiative. And a man who is escaping DV who has a place to live but has left with nothing.

    • Hi – do you want to email me your details? I head to the northeast a bit so it would be good to stop by. It’s kate at katebelgrave dot com.

    • The independent food bank I volunteer at also helps whoever turns up with no vouchers or anything required. On the basis that just coming involves enough people in enough shame, let alone making them feel even more humiliated by asking permission

      We do that thing with Tesco whereby we go and pick up bakery, fruit and veg that have reached their best before dates and we have a lot of people who come just for that and tell us to leave the tins and packets for people who need it more. Some of those people are there week in and week out, because of those endless repayments of DWP loans or rent arrears slowly being paid off or whatever.

      It’s all just endless and awful and heartbreaking.

  5. On June 14th, I wrote to senior officials of The Trussell Trust, requesting sustained and unfettered access to their food bank network for new ESA WRAG claimants. That letter was CC’d to UN officials.

    The majority of new claimants in the ESA WRAG will have limited or no experience using food banks and will present a range of issues. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, claimants in the WRAG tend to be somewhat older than JSA claimants, with about half being between 50 and the state pension age compared to about a quarter for JSA. Undoubtedly, there will be an urgent need for mobile food banks: Elderly people and people with disabilities who experience mobility challenges need to have food delivered to them.

  6. Pingback: Why do people return and return to foodbanks? Because their benefit problems don’t get fixed for ages. If at all. | Kate Belgrave

  7. I agree with the comments and suggestions that have been put in these emails. Signed jason lee Bishop.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.