I agree with I Sloan in last week’s Voice, in that food banks should be totally unnecessary in the 21st century. However, I think it’s wrong to simply blame the Tories and Universal Credit.
In 2004, Gordon Brown, Labour’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced plans to cut 30,000 civil service jobs in the Department for Work and Pensions.
And so began the ‘streamlining’ of Jobcentres and benefit offices, the creation of ‘Jobcentre Plus’ offices, which supposedly offered claimants an improved service.
In reality, it was all about cutting costs. Local offices disappeared along with experienced staff. Benefit processing departments were moved miles away into huge centralised units and call centres were set up to deal with telephone enquiries.
Local offices which did survive had their services reduced, such as the ability to make emergency payments in cases of difficulty.
These days, claimants can only receive payments directly into a bank account, but in the early 2000s, they were already being persuaded to open up bank accounts rather than receive a giro in the post, the purpose being mainly to combat fraud.
Of course, the DWP is not alone in seeing its services cut. Local authorities, the health service, the police force, the banking industry, the list goes on.
The less well off are struggling, and it seems to me that the whole country is just operating on a shoestring.
As for Universal Credit, it’s not fit for purpose because it’s just far too complicated, but it’s not going away. And neither I fear, are food banks.
Patricia Ayton Smith