Is an unofficial quota system for food bank vouchers operating at job centres? One man who called into a food bank in this London borough recently said he was told by his job centre that they’d given out 15 vouchers already that week. Persuading the staff there that he was in need was hard work. He said he did get a voucher eventually, but his experience begs a question. How many people in genuine need of an emergency supply of food are now being refused a food voucher by job centres?
There’s already a substantial level of need in this borough – a fairly typical one for London, with its pockets of deprivation. Between April 1 2013 and the end of January this year, Trussell Trust food banks in the borough fed 3,225 people (1937 adults and 1288 children). There was a month on month increase in clients from the middle of last year leading up to Christmas.
Everyone who received emergency help will have needed to present a voucher. But it’s vital to get a clearer idea of how many are trying to access help through job centres and are being refused that essential piece of paper.
With the number of people having their benefits sanctioned, or experiencing other delays (for example while their employment and support allowance entitlement is reassessed) on the increase, are job centres under orders to limit vouchers?
Accessing help to eat at short notice is becoming a fact of life for a growing number of people in this very average area of London. One experienced food bank helper here, whose day job is as an outreach worker in children’s services, says that half of the people coming to his food bank are there because of benefit sanctions. He adds: ‘A lot of them are on housing benefit. They have a roof over their heads, but they still have to eat.’ The most worrying thing is that they may be the ‘lucky’ ones, who managed to get their hands on that all-important voucher.