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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.

CloudsAndTrees Wed 27-Mar-13 10:22:02

Not all crises are the same, I realise that, but I don't think emergency money should be given out for school clothes and furniture.

I can see an argument for transport being needed in an emergency, but that could be solved with a bus pass, it doesn't have to be solved with cash.

This is about short term survival. It's not about getting your child a new school uniform because theirs got stained. It's not about getting you a new dining table because yours got broken. It's about getting through a genuine crisis. No one needs school uniforms and furniture to get through a crisis.

TeWiSavesTheDay Wed 27-Mar-13 10:27:40

Bus passes cost money and no one has said they will be giving those out either.

Why assume that new uniform was needed because the old one was stained? What about ruined in a house fire? I remember that happened to a friend when I was at school. Her family had absolutely nothing except the pjs they ran out of the house in. Thankfully they were insured and reasonably wealthy... if you are poor you are fucked in that kind of situation.

There is no need to be so prescriptive, it doesn't solve anything - just makes it harder for those in real dire straits to get the help they need at that particular moment.

mam29 Wed 27-Mar-13 10:32:39

Im really not sure what I think.

Its important to state its for crisis not as regular form benefit payments which I think is case in USA.

I can see outside urban areas its much harder as have commute to big town .

I have co-op, sainburys, morrisons, tesco, iceland, aldis and lilds all walkable distance from my home and on bus route.

Noticed Asda runs free bus.

maybe temporay free bus passes alongside voucher as its good enough for wealthy oaps.

I have a freind whos ceoliacs and best place is sainsburys as they have large free from range. would it be taken in holland and barret.

would like to see more detail.

I can see how it hurtsh ability to shop around although a few would say any remaining independents are expensive not cheaper.

Our local farm shop and farmers market cost more.

normal food market we dont have that can be cheaper.

I used to work in shop.

In the more affluent areas guess healthy start had a stigma.
Although I never judged anyone.
but I have got load of abuse by not allowing them to spend it on fags or other things.

In more deprived areas my staff who also lived their made no judgement as vouchers were so common.

I can compare newbury was less than £50 milk vouchers as had to add them up end of week.

deprived estate in bristol -£500-£1000 a week sent to head office.

yes I guess it does boost retailers sales.

But working in deprived areas I have seen how some spend their money but guess they the minority.

takeaways, gambling, fags, booze.

it penalises the responsible.

bit it also possibly protects the vunerable from paying loan shark, gambling, drinking least brings food and nappies in.

I guess what wrorries me most is its council led so area areas be treated less favourably than others,

Another postcode lottory.

I guess the coucnils that have high amounts of benefits may chosse it.

Ots not political issue as not just torys its labour councils too.

as usual another scare mongongering and lack detail and has bias from middleclass luvvies at the guardian.

would love to see independdant article on same topic.

devil is in the detail which we dont have.

idiuntno57 Wed 27-Mar-13 10:36:20

this makes me want to weep for our country.

What have we become and HOW THE FUCK have we allowed this to get so far?

Still can't get over the link between current government and payday lenders who are going to have a field day
this was on another thread but it's terrifying

RenterNomad Wed 27-Mar-13 10:37:55

If we subsidise poor wages, won't we end up with more Wal*Marts?!

SecretLindtBunny Wed 27-Mar-13 10:40:17

Mam29, many of us believe it is a pre-cursor to this being brought out across the board.

A few years ago there was the New Deal for people looking for work if they had been on benefits for 6 months or so and now the government is trying to get a much more extreme form pushed in . Workfare.

I am not in the position to need benefits. Both DH and I work and together we earn a fairly decent living which allows us some luxuries. However we live in an area of high and increasing unemployment and disability, we see what can happen in this current economic climate and God help you if you have a child with additional needs.

wannabeEostregoddess Wed 27-Mar-13 10:41:45

Its basically punishing people who have nothing for having a crisis. They cannot save on benefits (if they could can you imagine the outcry) yet when a crisis hits and they need help they are given vouchers and treated like children who cannot budget or prioritise.

Some people on benefits are vulnerable and also some are irresponsible. But this is penalising the majority because of a few. And the vulnerable will still fall through the net!

SecretLindtBunny Wed 27-Mar-13 10:45:43

I often think of the poem that is attributed to Martin Niemoller.

It is incredibly and uncomfortably applicable to change the words at the end of each line.
Substitute sick and disabled; single parent; poor in place of Jew, Socialis, communist etc.

Everyone is just one event away from needing Government help just to live. A redundancy, an accident. Most people I know don't like to think about it, cocooned in a shell of "it won't happen to me".

AThingInYourLife Wed 27-Mar-13 11:03:34

"No one needs school uniforms and furniture to get through a crisis."

This wins the Idiotic Prejudice of the Day award.

The only way that statement can be true is if you define "crisis" so that it excludes anything relating to school clothes or furnishings.

The whole point of the social fund was to provide flexibility at the bottom if all else failed and people were stuck.

Restricting what kind of crises they are allowed to have is idiotic.

And spiteful.

Snowme Wed 27-Mar-13 11:06:40

I remembered queuing up for a Social Fund loan once, listening to the young couple in front talking about how it was paying for their summer holiday to Ibiza.
At that time, I needed mine to pay for a cot and moses basket as I'd just lost my job and the baby's father refused to help financially.

But I admit I've used mine in the past to pay for Christmas presents.

Credit Union loans are a good idea, as are vouchers. But then again, there's a black market trade on the Healthy Start* vouchers. Most supermarkets take the voucher as pay,want towards the total cost of the shopping bill, even of you've only bought one pint of milk. You don't get cash change from them.
They've been a lifesaver for me at times.

*Fruit/veg/formula/milk only £3.10 voucher per week issued per child under 4.

Snowme Wed 27-Mar-13 11:09:05

Do supermarkets donate to food banks the tonnes of one day over sell-by food?

ZZZenAgain Wed 27-Mar-13 11:09:33

I think it is all going to get a lot tougher. The housing situation for people on benefits is bound to change dramatically in the next 15 years. Hard times ahead for sure.

AudrinaAdare Wed 27-Mar-13 11:15:16

Supermarkets? I was told on here that Tesco put the bought food bank items back on the shelves at the end of the day.

ParsingFancy Wed 27-Mar-13 11:19:03

Snowme, these were loans?

So regardless of what the young couple were stupid enough to spend it on (or whether your Xmas presents were important), all of you paid back all of the money? And within a set period, secured against your benefits? Did you pay interest too?

Because I don't feel the need to curtail a vital safety net for everyone just to stop individuals being twats occasionally.

KansasCityOctopus Wed 27-Mar-13 11:27:48

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Birdsgottafly Wed 27-Mar-13 11:30:39

I am on my way to work, so will not be staying on the thread. As many will know, I am a SW. My LA and the neighbouring one's have always used food/essential vouchers, rather than cash. There is also a “crisis“ fund for families. Education Welfare officers have access to school uniforms for some circumstances. If you have uniform spare, approach them, as they will keep a stock of second hand items. These measures have always been in place and used, for many years. The only difference is that they are being used by greater numbers and a wider type of family, than previously. We are seeing a type of poverty that existed at the turn of the 19th Century, which is what seems to have been in the plan when designing the changes to the benefit system.

Birdsgottafly Wed 27-Mar-13 11:30:41

I am on my way to work, so will not be staying on the thread. As many will know, I am a SW. My LA and the neighbouring one's have always used food/essential vouchers, rather than cash. There is also a “crisis“ fund for families. Education Welfare officers have access to school uniforms for some circumstances. If you have uniform spare, approach them, as they will keep a stock of second hand items. These measures have always been in place and used, for many years. The only difference is that they are being used by greater numbers and a wider type of family, than previously. We are seeing a type of poverty that existed at the turn of the 19th Century, which is what seems to have been in the plan when designing the changes to the benefit system.

SecretLindtBunny Wed 27-Mar-13 11:32:55

Kansas- and what if you like out in the sticks because that is all you can afford for housing with an infrequent and expensive bus service and your money hasn't gone in to your account to pay bus fare to get to the supermarkets to use the food vouchers? No family support, friends in exactly the same situation?

ParsingFancy Wed 27-Mar-13 11:34:51

If you're living on £1 per person per day for food, as people describe on another thread, it would take weeks or even months to save enough on food to pay for an emergency plumber or new cooker - both things on bochead's list.

bochead Wed 27-Mar-13 11:35:24

What about flood victims?

More and more people in the UK are victims in this respect every year and not just food is needed to help them in the very short term. Crisis loans were often used for everything from fares to get to a relatives house with the kids for a few nights to help with pumps and sewage clean up.

When a flood hits a town, it impacts all income groups. Crime because someone is desperate for a camping stove is not going to help.

Coeliacs only get help with food on prescription in some areas, not in others depending on the whim of their local NHS trust. They are also not the only group that need special diets. Food vouchers are going to be fook all use to many if they can only be used in certain shops - the ost of admin mean these are unlikely to be independent stores and markets, farm shops et.

Xenia Wed 27-Mar-13 11:38:48

Sounds like a good plan.
On rickets being outside in the summer in sun without subscreen is what you need for that so walking a few miles to the supermarket in your shorts and t shirt can be just the job for tackling rickets. It is those on play stations at home all day or in burkhas who get it, not necessarily a result or poverty at all.

Corygal Wed 27-Mar-13 11:39:43

And what is the justification for food stamps for people who've paid tax for 25 years and just lost their job?

ParsingFancy Wed 27-Mar-13 11:41:00

Quite right, Xenia, no rickets in Victorian Britain when there were no playstations, people walked to work and children played out doors all day.hmm

Twentytotwo Wed 27-Mar-13 11:42:08

Welcome to the Big Society. Where charities end up doing the work of government.

ZZZenAgain Wed 27-Mar-13 11:44:32

in Victorian England dc may well have been down mines, in factories and sweat shops all the daylight hours.

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