Food banks in south London are cautiously optimistic about Iain Duncan Smith’s latest proposal to have job advisers stationed in centres to give advice to patrons across the country.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (DWP) proposals came after a successful trial run in Manchester, where staff worked one day a week and phonelines were also available.
The Trussell Trust operates food banks across the United Kingdom and welcomed co-operation with the DWP.
A Trussell Trust spokesman said: “The Trussell Trust hasn’t discussed plans to place DWP advisers in foodbanks in our foodbank network.
“We welcome the government’s interest in exploring new ways that the DWP might help people at foodbanks who have hit crisis as a result of problems with welfare delivery, but we would also suggest that there first needs to be a dialogue between the DWP and The Trussell Trust network’ to discuss such ideas and the opportunities and challenges.”
Brixton and Norwood food bank manager, Jon Taylor, said: “If they are not there to monitor and scare people, if there is a genuine attempt to help the most vulnerable people, it could be great.”
The Brixton and Norwood food banks already employ advisors on debt, housing and benefits.
Labour politicians have argued that the proposal is an admission of defeat, and part of the government’s acceptance that food banks are now an everyday part of British society.
On this subject, Mr Taylor said: “I have not met one food bank manager that wants their food bank still to exist.
“If there is a time when there are no food banks then great, but we have to focus on the here and now.”
One Brixton food bank user, Joanna Letts, 40, relied on its services for more than 18 months.
Single parent Joanna could not survive on benefits and food bank donations to feed her four children, so she returned to studying.
With the help of advisors, Joanna finished her Childcare qualification July this year, and got a job with a nursery October 15.
Of the proposed changes she said: “I’m all up for support back into work for people if it’s done the right way and the right support or training offered.
“Citizen advice and volunteers give lots of support at food banks and don’t judge people, whereas job centre advisers can be too upfront and not supportive enough.”
Lydia Serwaa, of Clapham Park food bank, criticised earlier government cuts but cautiously welcomed the idea of job advisers being introduced.
She said: “It would be a good idea if it was not just a few hours a week, advisers might be rushing to see clients.”
Ms Serwaa did not however think of it as a solution, and pointed to earlier government cuts that reduced their number of advisors.
“The government has not put a penny in the food bank and most people who use it are victim to benefit sanctions,” she claimed.
DWP came under fire earlier this year after a series of people committed suicide after having their benefits sanctioned, though a direct link was never established.
A Trussell Trust spokesman added: “A £500,000 personal donation from MoneySavingExpert.com’s Martin Lewis will allow the Trussell Trust, which runs a network of over 420 foodbanks across the UK, to roll out its ‘financial triage, debt and money advice’ to 30 foodbanks across the UK.”
Picture courtesy of Bailey and Muppet, with thanks