Trussel Trust row: Food-bank vouchers ‘altered after closure threat was made’

Changes meant charity was no longer able to see why benefit claimants needed help

Whitehall Editor

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) made changes to the way in which impoverished benefit claimants were referred to food banks just a month after threats were allegedly made to “shut down” Britain’s main provider of the service.

The Independent reported claims yesterday that Chris Mould, the chairman of the Trussell Trust, was warned last March during a private conversation with an aide to Iain Duncan Smith that the “Government might try to shut you down” over its public campaigning on the plight of people unable to feed themselves or their families.

Just a month later, the DWP alterations to food-bank vouchers issued by jobcentres made it impossible to link referrals with problems in the benefits system. Previously, the form enabled groups such as the Trussell Trust to discover why the person had been referred under three categories: benefit delay, benefit change, or refusal of crisis loan.

But after the change – which was done without consultation with the food-bank charities – those boxes were removed. The effect was to remove data that could highlight whether impoverishment caused by welfare reform had increased.

There is no evidence that the change to the form and the alleged altercation with Mr Mould were linked, but sources say both took place when DWP ministers were particularly irritated about what they saw as the “politicisation” of food banks.

It was Mr Duncan Smith who first allowed jobcentres to “refer” benefit claimants to food banks for emergency support in 2010, but later he became infuriated after groups such as the Trussell Trust used the increased demand to criticise the Government’s welfare policies.

Lord Freud, a work and pensions minister, insisted that the recent sharp increase in people resorting to food handouts to feed their families was not necessarily linked to benefits sanctions or delays. He suggested more people were taking charity food because more food banks existed – and he prompted Opposition jeers in the Lords when he denied that they were effectively a part of the welfare system.

The DWP said it had simply updated a form “to reflect welfare changes introduced in April, which mean that local authorities are now responsible for providing short-term, emergency financial help to those who need it”.

But Mr Mould pointed out at the time that it meant “people are being sent by jobcentres to food banks without an indication of the reason for the crisis so that the Trussell Trust cannot be sure that the need is genuine or keep track of the different reasons why people need emergency food”.

Yesterday, Downing Street refused to get drawn into the comments about the Trussell Trust, which The Independent understands were made by the Conservative MP Andrew Selous, the Parliamentary Private Secretary to Mr Duncan Smith. He strongly denies being responsible.

A spokeswoman for David Cameron said she did not “recognise” the allegations. When asked if the Trussell Trust had made up the threat, she said the question was a matter for the DWP.

A spokeswoman for Mr Duncan Smith said “no one from the Department for Work and Pensions has made any such comment”.

 

The DWP says it updated forms to reflect welfare changes

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