According to the largest food bank provider, the Trussell Trust, benefit delays are the reason almost a third of claimants find themselves having to resort to emergency food packages. On the 27th October this year the length of time before a benefit claim can be made upon becoming sick, disabled or unemployed increased from three to seven days.
Astonishingly this nasty little move was not done to save money. In a response to a damning report on the change by the Social Services Advisory Committee (SSAC) the DWP admitted they would be “using the savings from the waiting days change help fund the administrative costs of the broader package of initiatives.” What they mean by these initiatives are the ever increasing range of Jobcentre harassment and workfare type schemes which are backed with punitive benefits sanctions – the other main reason people have to use food banks. People will have to wait longer for benefits to pay to administer the sanction they get when they are finally able to claim.
Despite being stuffed with Iain Duncan Smith’s cronies, the SSAC slammed the increase in the waiting period for benefits, agreeing with charities consulted that this is likely to lead to increased food banks usage. The Committee said these changes should not proceed without a “robust analysis of the costs and benefits”. The DWP claimed they have already done this and that the increased conditionality for benefits will mean everyone gets a job and that will save loads of money. They concede the change will mean some people will suffer hardship when going through periods of ‘disruption’ but they don’t appear to really care.
As the report notes, that period of disruption could include being diagnosed with cancer. Those with a terminal diagnosis are exempt, however not all cancer patients are eliguble for that exemption. As a result of submissions made by healthcare charities the SSAC said there is a ‘compelling case’ that those on ESA – the out of work sickness and disability benefit – should not have to face the longer waiting period for benefits. The DWP rejected this, saying it would create a ‘perverse incentive’ for people to claim sickness benefits rather than the dole so they could fraudulently claim four days benefit, around £40.
The SSAC also recommended that details of Short Term Benefit Advances (STBAs) be published on the gov.uk website. These are the small loans that can be claimed if benefits are delayed. As reported yesterday, the DWP have done everything they can to hide the existence of these emergency payments. This is confirmed by the government’s response to the SSAC in which they reject this proposal saying that STBAs are not a: “separate scheme to be advertised in the way that benefits are.” Therefore they will not, at least as of Autumn this year, be making the existence of these payments known online.
The DWP say they will publish details of the change in the waiting period for benefits on the gov.uk website, which is very big of them. Except they haven’t done.
Last week Iain Duncan Smith was pleading to anyone who would listen that he cares about people using food banks and will be doing ‘much more’ to raise awareness of emergency loans. But this report reveals the truth about attitudes towards claimants who are hungry whilst waiting for vital benefits. They really could not give a fuck about people forced to depend on food banks and are determined to make the problem worse.
You can read the report and the government’s response at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/social-security-jobseekers-allowance-and-employment-and-support-allowance-waiting-days-amendment-regulations-2014-ssac-report
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