How does it feel to be “living” on a budget for food of £3.50 a week? Kevin Jobbins is doing exactly that, but the more you think about it, the less appropriate the concept of existence or survival seems in this context. To survive conjures up images of Everest expeditions – involving a set of risks voluntarily endured by explorers who’ve personally opted to challenge their own physical and emotional limitations.
Kevin, on the other hand, came into the Greenwich Foodbank because he’s not surviving. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has failed to reinstate his benefits following a sanction in April. Kevin is 39, and is receiving employment and support allowance (ESA). He’s waiting to go into detox treatment for drug and alcohol issues and is also on the waiting list for surgery on his feet for problems linked to his time as a homeless person. Despite his multiple health issues, he was registered with a Seetec job club.
He was sanctioned for missing an appointment with Seetec. He says he had no option, as he had to look after his two year old son that day. Since April his benefit rate has plunged from £202 a fortnight to £47. He says that Seetec have told him the sanction has been lifted, but that the job centre in Woolwich says it hasn’t. His housing benefit was stopped as a result, but has now been restarted. But out of the £47 he has to pay £9 for council tax, £10 as a contribution to rent, £10 for electricity and £10 for gas. So that leaves about £3.50 for food.
The result? “I’m begging for food or nicking stuff. I got caught in Tesco. I’m also paying £10 a fortnight in court fines. This is the first time I’ve had to use a food bank. I’m angry. I don’t think I should have to beg for food. I should have my money reinstated. I am literally living hand to mouth.” Kevin, who’s on pain medication, adds: ‘”If I can’t nick a sandwich from Greggs I try to beg a couple of pot noodles.”
Should Kevin have been referred to the Work Programme given the extent of his health and addiction problems, and what help has it been to him? The sanction this ill man had imposed on him for not turning up to an appointment has done nothing other than to push his life further into chaos and undoubtedly towards worse health.
For whose benefit? Mike Sivier at Vox Political has flagged up how much money has been paid to Work Programme providers from when the scheme began until March 31 this year. His post links to alittleecon, who highlights that since the programme began, 39% of the money paid to providers – who are mainly private sector organisations – has come from the “attachment fee”. The DWP document publishing the Work Programme costs is here. For the first year of the programme, the attachment fee was £400, the second year it was £300 and for last year £200. From July, the fee will no longer be paid.
To quote from the alittleecon post: “To date then, on this ‘paid by results programme’, the Government has paid providers £538m (out of a total of £1.372bn) just for taking people on their books and before they have helped a single person into work.” With this payment for doing nothing now ended, will we see Work Programme providers start to walk away?” Alittleecon estimates that around 1.72 million people have been attached to the Work Programme since it began, and the DWP is saying that over the same period there have been 296,000 job outcomes, “so that means only about 17% (1 in 7) have found work lasting at least six months – not a great return for a spend of £1.4bn, particularly when you think that a lot of these people would have found work anyway”.
This system has let Kevin down badly. Kevin has been told to inform that food bank manager here if the job centre fails to confirm early this week that his benefit has been reinstated. I’ll update on this. Are more and more individuals ending up like him – vulnerable sick people sanctioned while on the Work Programme and effectively left to starve and steal to stay alive – begging on the streets for pot noodles?
Thanks to Kevin and the many people who use the food bank who’ve decided to speak to me.