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"Food stamps" arrive in Britain next month. Good idea or not?

(202 Posts)
vivizone Wed 27-Mar-13 01:18:31


Food vouchers to provide emergency help but prevent spending on alcohol
Campaigners raise alarm as English councils replace cash loans with payment cards for people facing short-term financial crises

"Food stamps" arrive in Britain next month, when tens of thousands of vulnerable people will be issued with food vouchers in lieu of money to tide them over short-term financial crises.

Rather than, as now, offering a cash loan, most councils will from April offer new applicants who qualify for emergency assistance a one-off voucher redeemable for goods such as food and nappies.

Many of the 150 local authorities in England running welfare schemes have confirmed that they will issue the vouchers in the form of payment cards, which will be blocked or monitored to prevent the holder using them for alcohol, cigarettes or gambling.

Several plan to issue charity food parcels to people applying for crisis help, and are preparing to give cash grants to food banks to enable them to take on full-time staff and increase opening hours.

Each authority has drawn up eligibility rules, setting out who will qualify for crisis help and the conditions under which it will be given. One plans to make emergency help conditional on good behaviour.

The shift to in-kind and voluntary assistance follows the decision last year to abolish the government-run social fund and to replace it with more than 150 welfare assistance schemes, operated by English local authorities and the Welsh and Scottish governments.

The social fund – known as the "backstop" of the welfare system – typically offered small loans of about £50, repayable against future benefits, to help vulnerable individuals who faced short-term crises as a result of having cash stolen or benefits delayed.

A separate set of cash grants, typically worth about £1,000, was made to people with a disability, ex-prisoners and victims of domestic violence, to enable them to buy or replace items that would help them live independently, such as beds, clothing and kitchen utensils.

Although social fund spending represents a relatively tiny chunk of the social security bill, there is concern that the new arrangements will for the first time build into mainstream welfare provision the distribution of food voluntarily donated by the public, schools and businesses.

Lady Lister, a Labour peer and poverty expert, said the shift from cash loans to in-kind help would leave the most vulnerable people "high and dry".

"The social fund was a safety net under the safety net," Lister said. "I do not call putting money into food banks a safety net."

Some fear the use of in-kind vouchers will repeat the shortcomings of cashless payment cards, issued to asylum seekers. Critics said these cards left users unable to buy essential non-food items, and made them more likely to turn to risky or criminal ways of obtaining cash.

One welfare charity worker said: "There's a lot of naivety. The social fund is big, and meets a whole range of needs. There's going to be an awful lot of people that will need to tap into its successor."

But councils say huge reductions, in some cases cuts of up to a third, in the amount allocated to support people in hardship have left them with no option but to offer vouchers, refer applicants to food banks and secondhand furniture projects, and to drastically tighten eligibility. The government spent £230m on the social fund in 2009-10 but has allocated £178m to local authorities for 2013-14.

Inquiries by the Guardian found that:

• Conservative-run Hampshire council plans to invest a big chunk of its welfare fund allocation in charities and food banks. Over time, it hopes to stop offering food vouchers as part of a shift towards "reducing the entitlement culture".

• Labour-run Manchester city council will offer successful applicants low-interest loans of up to £200 a year, with a credit union, rather than food vouchers. It says in future years grants for furniture and cooking utensils will be offered on condition that recipients sign up to "expected behaviours and actions".

• Bristol city council's crisis fund restricts emergency payments to food, heating, nappies and toiletries. It says the cards "should not be used for cigarettes, alcohol or entertainment", and if misuse occurs it will seek repayment.

• Labour-controlled Darlington council plans to invest £58,000 in a church food bank, including £30,000 to enable the charity to take on a full-time worker.

From April, thousands of applicants who now have access to crisis help will be turned down under the schemes. Many councils plan to refer the expected rising numbers of unsuccessful applicants to soup kitchens and other charities.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: "Local authorities have been given a difficult task, to deliver support on a reduced budget at a time of rising need.

"But we are seriously concerned that some authorities will not be providing any access to cash to families to meet their essential needs, and may be offering support in a way that serves to stigmatise those who need it."

Others have warned that people who are turned down for crisis help will turn to crime, begging or loan sharks. Almost all authorities are bracing themselves for an expected rise in demand for crisis support from April, when the bulk of the benefit reforms, aimed at saving £18bn, are introduced. Among these is the so-called bedroom tax.

There is also nervousness that any glitches in universal credit, from October, will see an increase in poorer households seeking help from welfare schemes.

The government, and some charities, have argued that the existing system of crisis loans was abused by people – often young men – who did not use the loans for genuine emergencies. They argue the new system will discourage dependency, more efficiently directing scarce resources at the people who most need them.

The Guardian also found that:

• The cost of administering each of the 150-plus new welfare assistance schemes is typically equivalent to around 20% of the value of the entire local fund. Several authorities, including the Welsh government, have outsourced the running of the voucher schemes to private contractors.

• Local authorities are worried that the new patchwork of welfare assistance systems will lead to a postcode lottery, with vulnerable people moving to apply for crisis help in more "generous" boroughs.

• There are concerns that some welfare systems will not be ready by 1 April. The Furniture Re-use Network said a survey showed two-thirds of its members believed the new system would not be in place in time. There are concerns that, despite huge growth in the numbers of food banks in the past two years, many parts of the country will have little charity food assistance capacity.

ComposHat Wed 27-Mar-13 01:25:10

Food stamps and the unemployed labouring for free in Pound land: is this is what we have become? We should be ashamed.

Historians of the future will look back in disbelief that this happened in the UK in 2013.

Sunnywithshowers Wed 27-Mar-13 01:45:18

This is a filthy, dehumanising idea. We are demonising the poor.

I imagine these stamps will be only available to use in a small number of shops - not necessarily the cheapest, nor the best value. So a person can't buy a huge bag of veg from the market, for example: instead they have to go to a supermarket and buy more expensive ones. What if they don't need food - perhaps they need a bus fare, a biro, a book of stamps?

I can't begin to express how angry I am about this and how we as a society are treating poor and vulnerable people.

mathanxiety Wed 27-Mar-13 01:46:03

How jolly! Back to the 1930s without all those cloth caps and hungry children with rickets.

It has worked so well in the US hmm of course it makes 100% sense to plunge right in in the UK. At least you can get nappies using the card which isn't always the case in the US. Or toiletries, tampons, etc. Amazing they haven't realised that and decided this would be a really good way to discourage dependency. Yes, battered mothers, think twice about casting yourself on the mercy of the taxpayer.

When is the next election?

SparkleSoiree Wed 27-Mar-13 01:56:02

Nothing surprises me with this government anymore.

Words fail me at this systematic corralling of vulnerable people. IDS said today when being interviewed about the Universal Tax Credit changes that they were manaing people into a new cultural stage by ensuring everyone has to use a PC to claim the benefit. It is making me feel quite sick thinking of the ways certain areas of our society are being managed and restricted to the point where they are going to be in a worse situation than they are now.

Darkesteyes Wed 27-Mar-13 01:56:29

Agree that its a disgusting inhumane idea. Britain in 2013. It makes me want to SCREAM.

Someone on the Guardian site commented ...... UKA United Kingdom Of America!

Im glad though that the Guardian are running with this on the front page today not just tucked away in the Society section.
I am very very scared.

Darkesteyes Wed 27-Mar-13 01:59:58

math ive seen studies on the internet which show that the amount of children being treated for rickets has risen . So im afraid thats back too.
Who needs a fucking Tardis or a DeLorean when we have this shower of shit in power!!

Dryjuice25 Wed 27-Mar-13 02:02:58

Whilst at it why not just get Obama to come and run our country. After all we like/copy most things American. Tried and tested my foot!

mathanxiety Wed 27-Mar-13 02:03:54

shock but not really a surprise I suppose.

mathanxiety Wed 27-Mar-13 02:04:46

This is more a Reagan-esque thing than Obama.

Dryjuice25 Wed 27-Mar-13 02:08:13

@mathanxiety I know what you mean. Food stamps were not Obamas brainchild.But I wouldn't mind importing him here grin

sashh Wed 27-Mar-13 05:21:03

I had a crisis loan a couple of months ago. I was offered several weeks work but I needed to actually get there. I'm disabled and it was a 60 mile round trip so no chance of walking.

I phoned and explained the situation. I was told they could only help with food.

I lied, they lent me £47, I paid for my petrol, worked for 3 months and paid the loan back within a month.

This scheme would mean I would have had to stop work after one day.

They already give these card to failed asylum seekers. One thing they do not pay for is bus fare so you have to walk to the nearest shop that takes your vouchers.

All the big supermarkets will take the vouchers but how many are located where anyone lives?

wannabeEostregoddess Wed 27-Mar-13 05:36:47

Why the FUCK are CHARITIES being used to plug the gap?

David Cameron needs to wake the fuck up and stop this. Its getting ridiculous now.

It will be workhouses by 2015.

ImTooHecsyForYourParty Wed 27-Mar-13 06:39:14

It is this idea that the Feckless Poor will spend the money on beer and fags, isn't it?

I am reminded of my history lessons, where the Parish would allow poor people to come before them, like an interview panel, explain why they needed some money, beg for it really, then it would be decided whether they deserved it and they'd normally get some sort of lecture into the bargain.

The poor had to wear a P on their clothes.


and tudor times when any able bodied person who didn't have a job could be flogged and made a slave.

I remember reading about the Poor Law and thinking oh my god, how dreadful. Thank god we don't treat people like that any more.

Now I think - Well. Give it time.

TheDemonShedMaster Wed 27-Mar-13 06:41:19

is Workfare not the workhouse by any other name...?

AlexReidsLonelyBraincell Wed 27-Mar-13 06:41:47

Why the fuck are they investing in, and therefore 'normalising' food banks? We shouldn't need food banks at all. Fuuuuuuuck! Just when you think it can't get any worse.

NoelHeadbands Wed 27-Mar-13 06:52:14

This disgusts me, it really does.

redlac Wed 27-Mar-13 06:57:06

Another nudge towards me voting YES to an independent Scotland just to get away from the Tory scum

bochead Wed 27-Mar-13 07:09:25

A few thoughts

Vouchers will mean no fresh fruit and veg from Britains many excellent and varied fruit and veg markets, independent greengrocers etc (stall holders are small businesses and can sell just one apple + 2 onions etc if that's what the customer needs). Noone I know here in London buys all their foodstuffs from the Big four supermarket chains - too expensive.

No access to local retailers - so for rural dwellers a LONG walk to the nearest "acceptable retail outlet" usually on an expensive infrequent bus. In reality this may render a voucher useless for someone who is unable to walk ten miles to the nearest town, or for whom the bus only comes once a week.

Tesco's & the big corporates will monopolise voucher spending - extra profits, to top up those made by the savings they obtain via the use of free/subsidised workfare labour & zero hours contracts. Small business is the well from which economic recovery has always sprung after recession so this means that EVERYBODY will suffer. The quicker our economy gets back on it's feet the better for all sections of society.

Vouchers & food banks = useless for those on specialist medically advised diets, (suprising how many ceoliacs, CF, diabetics, eplieptics, severe allergies etc there are in the UK.) Being on a special diet alone is not currently classed as a disability - will this need to change?

Food banks - these are something the general public donate to out of the sheer goodness of their hearts. It's just abusing that kindness to make it an integral part of the welfare state iyswim. Then it becomes just another form of taxation rather than charity.

Vouchers - there are many necessities that are not food but that are needed anyway. Toilet paper, sanitary protection, detergent, first aid items, seeds, socks, items for school, stationary etc.

If the food voucher's don't include dog food we'll end up with feral packs roaming some parts as rescue shelters are already overflowing. No risks to public saftey with this one - lovely!

In America - an increasing minority of the poor now live in tent cities. Do we really want British children living in tents ffs? There are perhaps some trends from across the big pond that are a step too far a nation that struggled so hard to create a welfare state after centuries of watching our poorest suffer.

The UK has an emergent drug resistant strain of TB in some major cities(vaccination is only 30% effective). With increased levels of people forced to live in slum conditions are we ready for the rise of the attendant health problems (rickets is already on the march once more). Some of those health problems will turn out to be transmissable to the wider population.

We are returning to a form of neo-corporate feudalism. Feudalism first time round wasn't much fun for all but a teeny tiny elite.

QueenBee245 Wed 27-Mar-13 07:24:29

Seems the government will push and push untill we end up in a situation like Egypt and many countries in the Middle least they'll have an excuse to chuck the protesters in the nearest (tax payer funded) prison and throw away the key hmm

QueenBee245 Wed 27-Mar-13 07:26:40

And while we are at it might aswell not bother paying for all those state funded schools when the children will only grow up to work in tesco or asda

AuntieStella Wed 27-Mar-13 07:33:20

This isn't a "Tory scum" issue.

The principle of vouchers was surrendered some time ago.

The Labour government used them for many years for newly arrived migrants pending resolution of status.

So these councils are each just following Labour policy.

People get what they vote for. The importance of local politics is all too often overlooked.

Dawndonna Wed 27-Mar-13 07:36:07

I see this sort of thing and I cry. The whole idea is for people to live in fear of the so called safety net.
We have returned to the Tories much lauded victorian values.

JakeBullet Wed 27-Mar-13 07:39:11

There ARE people for whom this would work, I am thinking specifically of people with existing drug and alcohol addictions. For most people though this is a bad idea which will prevent them shopping around for the best prices and ensure that the welfare goes straight to the big few supermarkets.

I am currently on benefits and my fruit and vegetables come from the local farm shop where prices are a fraction of what the supermarkets charge in many cases.

whois Wed 27-Mar-13 07:42:09

The Tory in me sad "yes food stamps, that'll sort out the feckless poor" but the realist in me knows its an awful system. Stigmatises the poor, limits choice of shop and prices, might need something other than food, open to abuse eg selling the card/stamps for cash at less than par.

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