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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.

scott2609 Thu 28-Mar-13 14:56:15

Since nobody else has said it...

People will still be able to apply for budgeting loans, which can be used for things such as clothes, travel costs, and furniture, amongst other things.

scott2609 Thu 28-Mar-13 14:56:34

Sorry,with the link...

starfishmummy Thu 28-Mar-13 15:04:08

There are families where an addicted and often abusive partner takes all of the benefit money leaving the family with no money for food. The partner frequently has to resort to handouts from food banks. I am sure that in these circumstances having food vouchers would not be any more demeaning.

mathanxiety Thu 28-Mar-13 15:37:27

Nothing to stop an unscrupulous person from taking the voucher and flogging it. The same children who are in danger of hunger now will still be in danger when vouchers come into force.

mathanxiety Thu 28-Mar-13 15:46:24

'6. Guaranteed harsh and punative penalties for those who do not pay child maintenance - name and shame in local press. A "Dead beat parent" propaganda campaign (hey if the gov can run one to malign the disabled they can tackle hearts and minds on this!) including requiring non-payers to sell their homes, cars, give up their passports, etc etc. If we can send resident parents to prison for non-school attendance we can tackle this enduring cause of child poverty.'

This ^^
Too often people shrug or believe there is something unavoidable about poverty in households including children that are headed by women, something inherent about women heading a household that makes poverty a given.

Paying women equal pay for equal work wouldn't go amiss either. Adequately assessing work/pay that tends to be done overwhelmingly by women or by men.

And the country has to choose to either make reliable and affordable childcare available or encourage employers to offer a lot more jobsharing or part time work during school hours, or change school hours and calendar to 12 hour days and all year school/camp in the same building. The current calendar is based on an outdated assumption of free childcare available all year round for children outside of school hours.

Xenia Thu 28-Mar-13 16:32:00

Indeed. I am a single mother of five subsisting on my own and we manage okay. It is certainly possible.

TeWiSavesTheDay Thu 28-Mar-13 16:49:43

Have you ever been poor in your life xenia? Had a day where there was literally nothing in the cupboards to feed your kids even though you'd done the best you possibly could?

I'm just curious.

HortyGal Thu 28-Mar-13 17:14:28

It's because of Tracey.

Goodtalkingtoo Thu 28-Mar-13 17:42:49

This is so sad, many of the people who require this kind of help are those who have been made unemployed but are waiting for their benefits, or people who have became I'll or disabled. This is an appalling way to treat people in Britain in need of help. This is nothing more than shaming people who are already at their lowest. Can you imagine losing your job (bad enough), applying for benefits (bad enough) using up all you available cash, food while you wait to be handed a card that you have to take to your local shop to get food. How on earth is this going to boost anyone confidence.
As for alcoholics etc they will either sell them on, turn to crime. People need help not to be degraded further. Kids are going to get bullied, adults are going to reach breaking point. So sad.

IneedAsockamnesty Thu 28-Mar-13 20:18:21


From what you have said before your ex provided the majority of the care for your children when you were not funding care for them some of whom are now adults. You have also implied many times that you were not nor have you ever been a typical single parent. Being a equal co parent is very different to being a single parent the majority of the time.

Xenia Thu 28-Mar-13 21:37:52

(Not so. We both worked full time when married. We both paid half the cost of a full time daily nanny. After the divorce I paid for 100% of everything. I had the children 100% of the time . I worked full time. I was as single a single parent as it is possible to be with the addition of paying out to the non involved ex! However I certainly earn more than most single mothers).

IneedAsockamnesty Thu 28-Mar-13 22:23:31

My apologies I must be mixing you up with another poster.

Xenia Fri 29-Mar-13 10:59:08

No problem. I do think it is worth other single mothers knowing that you can be a single mother of 5 with no support from an ex and indeed be paying out to your ex and be able to fund 5 sets of school fees, a mortgage, work full time and have a lovely life. It is good to see that if women pick high paid careers and work hard some of them even if they are supporting themselves and their children can do very well indeed. Certainly three are now adults and of course that is much easier - although even now I have part of a wedding to fund and have just helped fund the deposit for another on their first flat they bought etc.. It does not quite stop once they turn 18 in terms of costs... yet another reason for teenage girls to pick careers they know will be high paid if they possibly can and try to get the best A level results they possibly can.

Anyway on food stamps it may help and some places already have them. At least you know what the money is going on - food. I certainly would prefer it to go on totally unprocessed foods like sardines, spinach, potatoes and not on fizzy drinks and processed junk.

float62 Fri 29-Mar-13 14:07:42

I've seen and had first hand experience of the food stamp system in the US and I would say that it definitely worked in the small northern Californian town I lived in in the early 1990s. Welfare recipients had the option of converting some of their cash payment into food stamps of a greater dollar value than the cash amount. These came in different denominations and were freely accepted in both the local markets with little stigma attached to them. If it was rolled out here in a similar way I would be supportive of it. However, I could see problems associated with stigma happening here when a recipient lives in a wealthy area and food stamps were hardly used, but in an area of high unemployment, it shouldn't be too much of a problem.

I don't understand why people get so hot under the collar about crisis loans being abused.

Its a loan. Every penny is repaid within 12 months, straight from benefit payments before they reach the claimant. This means they end up with less benefit every week, from what are already pitifully low levels.

I couldn't give a monkeys if people spend them on fags and booze - they will pay every single penny back and quite frankly its a miserable enough life being permanently piss poor (been there myself) so who am I to begrudge someone a few days holiday from being skint. Getting a crisis loan is such a ball ache these days that I can't imagine many people are applying for spurious reasons anyway.

Darkesteyes Fri 29-Mar-13 23:13:10

Asda welfare cards to be given to Birminghams poor.

AudrinaAdare Sat 30-Mar-13 00:21:14

Isn't Asda the British subsidiary of U.S giant Walmart?

Well we know much Dave and IDS admire the American welfare / healthcare "system" hmm so it doesn't surprise me.

Lighthousekeeping Sat 30-Mar-13 00:32:56

I was just thinking that too. It's the American model. It's depressing.

sashh Sat 30-Mar-13 02:48:48

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

Please don't. If Scotland goes independent then England will be stuck with Tory government after Tory government.

mathanxiety Sat 30-Mar-13 03:07:33

Having the cards linked to only a certain shop is a marked departure from the US food stamps. In the US you can use your card anywhere that accepts it in the state you are in. SNAP cards are widely accepted, even in convenience places like gas stations.

(And when it is swiped those items amongst your order that are not covered by the card remain on the tab and you are asked to cover the bill for them separately -- there is no cashier going through your groceries and questioning things with you arguing that your card does so cover X or Y or Z).

Privatising welfare is a step even the US hasn't taken.

Tortington Sat 30-Mar-13 03:09:31

There is no reason to the ideology - hear me out.

In october, direct payment of benefits is going to come into force. This means that universal credit will be paid directly to benefit claimants on a monthly basis. they will be expected to budget their money from weekly /fortnightly to monthly.

there will be no option to pay rent directly to council/housing associations as there is now, benefot claimants will recieve the rent allowance directly.

The Tories have stated this is becuase benefit claimants should behave the way the rest of society behaves, be paid monthly, like most salaries are - and budget.


we have this system. Which is taking this control from benefit claimants.

CloudsandTrees stated earlier to give a cooker instead of money for a cooker.

this is a good example.

What is the ideology? Well I think you must ask yourself who will benefit.

I think it no coincidence that Farrage stated that if he got in power he would introduce a benefits system that would prevent spending on fags and booze.

So, this appeases the working class tories who believe all the skiver V Striver bullshit spin

But there is a financial benefit for rich people - I'm not sure what it is, but i think there will be a link between rich people who own business who happen to be close friends with people in power.

Much like many of those who benefit from the workfare scheme.

Oh BTW - Homebase had 21 workfare people in one store ONE store. no wonder there are no fucking jobs.

Crisis loans now my friends.

Will be the benefits system later.

mathanxiety Sat 30-Mar-13 03:14:34

I don't see how there could possibly be problems preventing people from buying proscribed items with their cards. The cards that are issued by states in the US do that. If you include paper towels or tampons or shampoo or a bottle of wine in your trolleyfull those items are flagged when the card is swiped and the total due for them remains on the screen with cash/debit or credit or cheque payment required to clear the bill. The technology exists.

And again -- transport to the nearest ASDA may well be a huge problem for people.

This is so poorly thought out it boggles the mind.

mathanxiety Sat 30-Mar-13 03:24:37

And when it comes to 'white goods' -- which are apparently to be distributed by Birmingham council directly -- does this mean some supplier of rock bottom cheaptastic white goods will make a fortune supplying rubbish that wouldn't ever sell to paying customers? Or cheaply reconditioned second-hand, banged up, unreliable and possibly unsafe appliances that have been worked on by workfare slaves?

sashh Sat 30-Mar-13 03:54:39

I don't have a problem with a system that ensures money given for emergency support can only be used on emergency support.

But if the 'emergency' is that you have run out of electricity, or in my case I needed to get to my job, but wouldn't be paid for a month the vouchers are useless.

Had I been given a food voucher or card my only option would be to sell it for cash so I could get to work, and I would have to sell it for below value because that is the only way someone would buy it.

Xenia Sat 30-Mar-13 08:11:55

As someone said above budgeting loans will still be available.

Secondly state benefits without loans or food stamps are enough to house you and buy food. However huge numbers of people have multiple problems, addictions, violent partners etc etc (look at that family where there was the fire and 6 of the 11 children burned to death - the father who lived with wife and mistress or had done he had both women's benefits paid to him) and it is in those cases where parents sometimes do not manage to feed their children. That is where vouchers for food may be worthwhile. It may even be better if the children were given a breakfast and kept at school doing homework until 6 and a dinner of sorts at school at 5.30 - perhaps that is preferable - if you have children and are not coping for food then the child is fully fed during the week at least at school.

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