Jobcentre Advisers: Food Banks

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 7th December 2015.

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Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 2:30 pm, 7th December 2015

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the trial of locating jobcentre advisers at food banks.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the trial of locating jobcentre advisers at food banks.

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Jobcentre work coaches undertake outreach work every day in local communities and have recently been helping people with back-to-work support and advice at the Lalley Welcome Centre in Manchester, where a food bank sits alongside other support services. The test is at an early stage and the Department will make the findings public in due course.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Despite the fall in unemployment, many working families across the country will be relying on food banks this Christmas. I pay tribute to Sarah Sidwell and her staff at the food bank in Hull. Is putting jobcentre staff in food banks not actually an acknowledgement of the shambolic nature of the benefits system, which is affecting people? Should the Minister not think very long and hard about sorting out the system rather than applying a plaster and putting jobcentre staff in food banks?

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

May I gently remind the hon. Lady that we were invited, at the request of Sister Rita, to go to Lalley Welcome Centre, which also hosts other agencies? I might also say to the hon. Lady that that particular centre has a job club, which makes eminent sense. I presume she does not object to that. If she is happy to have a job club there, why on earth does she object to our going there to help people when we have been invited to go there?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

Will the Minister confirm whether Lord Prior will join in the evaluation of services at that job centre and food bank? As the Minister will know, Lord Prior has indicated that obesity seems to be a problem, rather than poverty. Will the Minister confirm whether the evaluation will include an examination of the reasons why sanctions and benefit delays cause problems for those going to food banks?

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

There are now fewer delays in getting benefits than there were under the Government in which the right hon. Gentleman served. The number of JSA applications is down compared with 2009-10, as is the number of ESA applications.

Photo of Heidi Allen Heidi Allen Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

From my point of view, there is great potential in co-siting jobcentres and food banks if it is done in the right way. On a related subject, can the Minister envisage a future in which jobcentres and councils are co-located across the country?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay

In relation to this trial, has the Minister noticed today’s report in the Western Morning News, which says that food bank usage has dropped by 25% in Devon and Cornwall? Does he agree with the Trussell Trust that that is

“a sign that economic recovery is giving more people access to secure work”?

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

It is always good to have external endorsement of what the Government are doing. That is just clear evidence that the Government’s long-term plan is working.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Chair, Work and Pensions Committee, Chair, Work and Pensions Committee

May I report to the Minister the progress in Birkenhead? A benefits adviser has been working in the food bank there, and the number of people having to come back for a second bag of food has dropped by 65%. Whenever the Secretary of State refers to this experiment, he talks about “benefit advisers”, while other senior people in the Department talk about “work coaches”. Might the Minister persuade the Secretary of State to say that his phrase is not an offensive one? If someone who is hungry thinks that the person at the food bank is a work coach, it might put them off going to the food bank in the first place?

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Both terms are applicable. May I just say that we should not get bogged down in the terminology? The important thing is to make sure that people actually have support to get them back to work. As we just heard in the quote from my hon. Friend Kevin Foster, our long-term plan is working. We want to make sure that as many people as possible are in work so that they do not have to resort to food banks.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Is the Minister surprised that the Secretary of State has never bothered to visit a food bank? Presumably, people in his Department have spoken to people in food banks. The message we get loud and clear from people in food banks is that the most important thing the Department can do is to fix its broken system of sanctions and stop benefit delays.

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

It is always helpful if, when Front Benchers say things at the Dispatch Box, they are accurate. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has visited food banks. As far as sanctions are concerned, may I just tell the hon. Lady that the Oakley review said that 71% of people found sanctions helpful in encouraging them to find jobs?