Following last week’s food banks report, which found delays in processing benefits are one of the key reasons for growing hunger in the UK, Iain Duncan Smith said to Parliament:
“Today I have announced that we shall be doing much more to raise awareness of interim payments for people who need them, particularly those who are in difficulty.”
These payments are called Short Term Benefit Advances (STBAs). These are repayable loans that can be accessed whilst waiting fot the Jobcentre to get round to processing a benefit claim. And the shameful truth is, that whilst the number of people using foodbanks has soared, the DWP have done everything they possibly can to hide their existence.
There is no mention of these payments on the section of the gov.uk website which provides information on “Jobseeker’s Allowance and low income benefits” or the section on “Benefits for families”. In fact there is no mention of these loans on any government website at all except buried in policy documents.
This is not surprising. When Short Term Benefit Payments were introduced, the jobcentre worker’s PCS Union warned that the DWP did “not intend to advertise the availability of STBAs to the public.” When guidance on the Social Fund was later published, detailing the kind of help available from the government in an emergency, there was still no mention of these loans.
Short Term Benefit Payments were brought in to replace Crisis Loans which Iain Duncan Smith scrapped in April 2013. These were small interest free loans which could be taken out if benefit payments were delayed or in the event of a household emergency. The average sized loan was about thirty quid and the repayment rate was almost 100%. So blasé was the Secretary of State about ending this vital support that when he was interviewed a year later he seemed to have forgotten his petty and vicious decision and claimed that they still existed.
Crisis Loans were a well publicised part of the benefits system and could be accessed by calling a dedicated phoneline. Unlike STBA’s, Crisis Loans still even have their own webpage – which states they no longer exist in Scotland, England and Wales – but makes no mention of their replacement. This is not an oversight as Iain Duncan Smith is now trying to pretend. It is clear that as families with children have gone hungry whilst waiting for benefit claims to be processed, the DWP have pursued a strategy of hiding information detailing the emergency payments they are entitled to.
The reason for this has not been to save money or cut the deficit, these loans barely cost the tax payer a penny. The existence of these payments was hidden out of pure spite – to deliberately make life harder for people in desperate circumstances to access the help they need. Now we are seeing the results of that policy with unprecedented numbers of people dependent on food banks to survive this Christmas. That means children going hungry and all because of a nasty and vindictive little move by Iain Duncan Smith – and one that he is now trying to hide. Don’t let the bastard get away with it.
Short Term Benefit Advances can only be accessed by speaking to Jobcentre staff. Child Poverty Action Group have published details on how the process works.
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