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DWP orders Jobcentres not to record foodbank referrals

10 August 2018

Jobcentre staff are told not to keep a record of the number of people they direct to foodbanks despite sending thousands of people to charities providing food parcels, the Huffington Post has reported.

A DWP directive tells staff they must not use the term “referral” or “voucher” and should not keep any record of the number of people they “signpost” to foodbanks.

The Department’s ‘Operational Instructions’ were obtained following a Freedom of Information request  in February 2018 which asked for details on what staff are told to do if people ask for food aid. The instructions state that instead of offering referrals or vouchers to claimants, Jobcentre staff must only offer “signposting slips”. And that the “signposting slip must not be referred to as a Foodbank Voucher.”

However, some foodbanks have now started to treat signpost slips as if they were vouchers.

Michael Beckett, CEO of Colchester Foodbank, said a signposting slip is essentially a foodbank voucher issued by a Jobcentre rather than another agent:

“If it quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, I’m pretty sure you could say it’s a duck,”

He added that 16% of its clients were directed to them by Jobcentres, which he described as “our top partner referral agent”.

A June 2017 Tressell Trust report View report: Financial insecurity, food insecurity, and disability found that:

  • almost two-thirds of survey respondents indicated they had a health condition, and another 5% of respondents did not have one themselves, but had a household member who did;
  • about one-third of food bank using households included someone with a mental health condition; and
  • compared to the profile of low-income households in the UK, the households of food bank users are almost three times more likely to contain someone with a disability.

Although continuing not to keep foodbank statistics, the Guardian has reported that Ministers have secretly drawn up plans to investigate whether the government’s own policies are to blame for the sharp rise in the use of food banks:

“Two of the most senior officials at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have been tasked with overseeing the study, according to a draft proposal, which is marked: “Official - Sensitive”.

The four-page document, dated June 2018, says a key objective of the proposed research is “to identify any areas of DWP policy or operational practice that may have contributed to a rise in demand for food bank services”.

Some of those who will be asked to contribute to the research will be asked to sign non-disclosure agreements.”

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