Wednesday, 17 July 2013

I don't buy food

CHC hold training events at our head office and there's often leftover food at lunchtime. We’re informed about this in an email… Come and get it! What happens next? Yes, there's an almighty scramble to the kitchen for the chance of a free lunch or a nibble of a piece of cake. But, hold on, how many people need this? Those who haven't prepared lunch, the majority, will say they need this food. Others will say it will only go to waste, the cheese sarnies always do. But is this real need? The numbers taking advantage of this meal are increasing. Would you turn down a free lunch? Or would it be any different if someone told you that they’d do your weekly shopping today for free and deliver it to the end of your street for free? I for one can be honest enough to say I would never give up the chance of free food.

Foodbanks and food parcels have become an established part of communities across the UK. Many communities need them to survive the deep cuts to welfare, and some communities who run them are 'doing their bit for the poor as part of the Big Society'. But what experiences have tenants had with them? Is it a free meal, as Lord Freud describes it, or is there a real need? A tenant living in Blaenau Gwent told me about the food parcels that arrive at their local Community Centre every other week. 'It’s chaos, like a scene from Africa. Everyone runs out and opens up the packages, trying to get the best things. You know, sweets and stuff.' There's no assessment of need and the whole thing lives up to the free meal stereotype. Another tenant tells me of having to pray before receiving a parcel, as most foodbanks are run by religious organisations. Finally, a tenant asks me, ‘What would you do with 12 bottles of tomato ketchup with a hint of balsamic vinegar?’ Ideas on a postcard? Contrary to Zoe Williams' belief, food parcels do contain luxuries. Champagne is the most expensive product I’ve been told about.

The reasons for increasing use of foodbanks have been cited as a change in benefit, a sanction or a delay, or use of payday loans. However, these have all been around for several years now, therefore the recent welfare reforms are not the reason. The problem lies with benefit take up, application and processing. Payday loans are another problem altogether. Welfare reform is exacerbating these reasons for use, and this is set to get worse with possible 7 week delays for Universal Credit payments which will see the desperate Friday become a desperate week. Weekly or fortnightly payments often leave households in desperate financial situations in the last days between payments, and stories of parents not eating on a day or weekend prior to payment is common. However, when monthly UC payments start these days will accumulate into the 4th week, and there is a real danger of parents trying to go several days without food. Food parcels will therefore become an essential need for many.

One of the reasons UC is being rolled out is to increase personal responsibility of finances and to combat the 'I don't pay rent' belief. However, the ever increasing use of food parcels is creating the same problem. Last month, I heard the phrase ‘I don’t buy food, I get one of those voucher things’ for the first time when asking someone about their expenditure on food. What Lord Freud doesn't understand is that changes to welfare benefits are not recognised by claimants in the same way that policy makers see them. Advice agencies used to assist people in desperate need to claim a crisis loan or community care grant, but now they pass on a food voucher. Has the social fund been replaced by foodbanks? Claimants are beginning to believe so and are therefore seeing food as another entitlement. 'I don't buy food'.

Paul Langley
Senior Money Adviser

1 comment:

  1. Very Interesting. I have posted a link to the blog in the Welfare Reform Club's forum


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