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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.

notactuallyme Wed 27-Mar-13 07:42:52

But its not replacing benefits is it, its for the hopefully irregular crises, so not a general unavailability of fresh stuff. Plus no idea how many cheap market grocers are left for 'the poor' - most people end up in morrissons here, and our grocers closed two years ago.
Not sure what I think. My only experience is a friend getting a large amount towards furniture and giving half away, and spending the rest on days out. So , skewed here I'm afraid. (I know this is just one experience, but that's how you form views often.)

wordfactory Wed 27-Mar-13 07:45:33

notactually that's what I thought.

This only replaces crisis loans, doen't it? I mean how mnay of those do benefits claimants get? Not many I would hazard...which in many ways does beg ther question, why bother...

RubyGates Wed 27-Mar-13 07:47:05

At the risk of not frothing enough about the evils of the Tory govenment:

"*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* "

So only a one-off emergency stop-gap event, not a regular weekly/monthly payment


" 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 ".

So not socks, biros, or sanitary protection.

As a one-off emergency measure it doesn't seem that iniquitous. It's only if the scheme is extended to be the regular way of payment for weekly/monthly benefits that it becomes more sinister for all the reasons mentioned above.

wordfactory Wed 27-Mar-13 07:52:42

Thta's what I thought ruby.

Though I guess some claimants may well have crises for things other than food and nappies. I'd be interested to see what other stuff is covered in the voucher.

bochead Wed 27-Mar-13 07:56:55

My anedoctal experience of crisis loans (so very limited!) is of them being used for:

1/ A cooker for a family of five kids (one disabled) two parents and a very infirm Gran.

2/ An emergency plumber for a single Mum with a burst pipe & no water.

3/ Food and school stuff for a couple of single parents after tax credit/benefits errors that left them potless.

In all cases the money had to be paid back.

I don't personally any of the young male drug addicts and alcoholics others have referred to, but I'm sure this group would abuse ANY system, or just mug an old lady if they couldn't. Not sure general social policy that impacts families and ordinary single folks should be dictated by the anti-social criminal minority.

fluffyraggies Wed 27-Mar-13 08:00:02

"one-off voucher redeemable for goods such as food and nappies."

"which will be blocked or monitored to prevent the holder using them for alcohol, cigarettes or gambling."

The devil is in the detail. There's a big ? in between food and nappies and alcohol and gambling.

How will they monitor what's been purchased anyway? What sort of card would it be?

JennyPiccolo Wed 27-Mar-13 08:09:10

I'm with you redlac, but I am still disgusted for the people in England who have a disintegrating nhs and crap like this to be dealing with.

Have any of the big chain shops actually said they will accept the vouchers? And how would they plan on stopping shops ringing through fags or whatever as food? Seems like another idea that's been thought out for 2 seconds with no actual clue as to the effect it will have.

WhenSheWasBadSheWasHopeful Wed 27-Mar-13 08:11:54

bochead just a point of interest coeliacs can get food on prescription from the nhs.

Nothing else to add re the actual op. it leaves a bad taste in the mouth though.

IneedAsockamnesty Wed 27-Mar-13 08:12:52

The problem with making anything dependant on good behaviour is its often subjective and exposes a vulnerable person to the whim of a human being often a jaded one who may have several bad days or personal feelings.

Dawndonna Wed 27-Mar-13 08:16:09

Not all coeliacs can get food on prescription, this has been down to the relevant health authority for a few years now. Some pay, some don't.

Flisspaps Wed 27-Mar-13 08:19:48

Bad, bad, bad idea.

ScarletLady02 Wed 27-Mar-13 08:20:16

What about other crises that don't involve food? People whose electric or gas is about to run out because of this ridiculous weather...doesn't look like it was QUITE cold enough to warrant a cold weather payment this week (God knows why!) which many people (including myself) have relied on in the past to stop us all from freezing...or as a PP said, plumbing emergency etc

Drug addicts and alcoholics WILL get their money elsewhere if they can no longer get crisis loans....so all this does is shift the problem elsewhere (rise in crime, selling the vouchers). God forbid they invest in the drug and alcohol services in this country.

Yet again, punishing the many for the actions of a few...

wannabeEostregoddess Wed 27-Mar-13 08:30:07

Food stamps and food banks to replace crisis loans only now.

How long until it starts creeping into othr benefits?

Its the Big Society remember? DC sees the foodbanks as A Good Thing.

noddyholder Wed 27-Mar-13 08:37:14

These will becoe tradeable and exchanged for less than their worth to get other things. This country is going backwards.moving people from their homes forcing them to work fr a pittance and now this. Not too far from the scenario in Cyprus

SecretLindtBunny Wed 27-Mar-13 08:40:20

Watch shoplifting rise.

I would also be willing to bet that there will be some parents who will get their children to shoplift as the age of criminal responsibility is 10. On my estate, there are a couple of families like that now.

If they issue food vouchers, then they need to issue temporary bus vouchers as well. What good is a food voucher if the nearest shop it can be used in is ten miles or more from where you live?

Meglet Wed 27-Mar-13 08:54:59

So what happens when someone uses their voucher in sainsburys and sticks a bottle of wine / vodka / beer on the conveyor belt anyway? The checkout staff will be expected to challenge them on that. Fair enough if you're going up against kids trying to buy alcohol but I'm not sure it will much fun arguing the toss with a grown adult on food stamps.

RubyGates Wed 27-Mar-13 09:01:32

Meglet, I suspect that they will just say "copmputer says no".
Assitant will say "How would you like to pay for that sir?

If the card is designed to not pay for alcohol then you'd have to pay for that on top with actual, real money. Just like when I sometimes pay for half my shopping with cash and half with a card. Computer tills can work it out.

Why would that be embarassing or awkward?

The scheme itself is, however, badly thought out.

AnneEyhtMeyer Wed 27-Mar-13 09:05:17

I feel for the checkout staff.

As a teenager I worked in a chemist as a Saturday girl, and people who were given milk tokens to buy formula used to rage at us that they couldn't spend them on something else or swap them for cash. I was pushed up against the wall by one "customer" because he couldn't buy cigarettes with them, never mind the fact that Boots didn't sell cigarettes.

ParsingFancy Wed 27-Mar-13 09:12:54

Still, in a silver lining, 20% of the social fund will now go to private companies for admin. So someone's happy.

TeWiSavesTheDay Wed 27-Mar-13 09:43:22

My main issues are:

1) How specific the vouchers are. Presumably you can only spend them in shops to start with. So what if you need the money for the bus fare to work? Well you are stuffed. If you live rurally how are you doing to GET to the shop that sells food?
2) Why 'social behaviour' conditions are being put on loans by some councils - why does a woman fleeing domestic violence with her kids need to sign a bit of paper saying she won't do anything ASBO worthy? wtf? How is that relevant to her situation?
3) That addict/criminal folks who do waste crisis loans will find another way anyway. They will sell on or there will be a rise in crime as they find money elsewhere. So that's going to be nice for the people who live near them.
4) They've done this in America already. It doesn't work.

MumfordandDaughter Wed 27-Mar-13 09:59:35

Really frightening.

I can remember when my daughter was a baby and i had to claim income support for a few months. My HV helped me apply for Healthy Start vouchers, which (if i remember correctly) were vouchers worth £2.50 per week to spend on fruit, veg and milk.

I was over the moon! However, after five attempts at using these vouchers in different stores, i stopped my claim for them. I was made to feel like utter scum. The cashiers would always be friendly and chatty until it came to payment where i brought out my vouchers. They'd ruffle through my bags, huffing and puffing, making sure I'd bought the correct stuff. The customers behind me would whisper and sigh, too.

To be honest, i'd rather starve than put myself through that again. (However, if it was my daughter starving, i guess I'd have to suck it up and use them). With these 'food stamps', so many people will be made to feel the same as i was. Why not just tattoo their foreheads with 'I am poor and receive welfare'?

And what if i had endless supplies of tins and packets and freezer food - but had no money whatsoever? Would these 'food stamps' help pay for utilities, rent, council tax? Would they help buy clothes?

What shop could i use these food stamps in? What if i bought my food from a market stall because it was more local to me and cheaper? These places only accept cash.

It's disgusting. We're gradually heading back to olden days. And with lots of people supporting the decision to leave the EU, i fear for our human rights.

I wonder how long it will be before headlines such as 'Government intend to open large communal house to home the poor' hit us...

CloudsAndTrees Wed 27-Mar-13 10:06:27

The intention of the is to get people through a crisis. It's not long term, it's about emergency support, so I don't have a problem with a system that ensures money given for emergency support can only be used on emergency support.

AudrinaAdare Wed 27-Mar-13 10:06:33

Not long, Mumford, in fact most towns already have large buildings which could be used for this very purpose once the "NHS" signs are taken down.

TeWiSavesTheDay Wed 27-Mar-13 10:10:36

Clouds Who are you/the council to decide what form that support should take though? Why isn't only food, toiletries etc allowed? Why not public transport, furniture, school clothes?

Not all crisis are the same.

Latara Wed 27-Mar-13 10:16:41

I cannot wait until the next election; i just hope that Labour actually do something to reverse the Tory policies.

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