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Tales from the Food Bank: this is not a parcel, it's a person with human rights

This lady is desperate.

I have picked her voucher out of the in-tray: another parcel to make up, but the volunteer interviewer, moved by her plight, tells me that for some misdemeanour her state benefit has been virtually halved, and she has children.

"Please find her something nice."

I pack some good toiletries and treats for her kids: she becomes a person, not a parcel.

People are referred to food banks by the DWP; indeed to stick within Trussel Trust rules that everyone needs a referral, our interviewers will sometimes demand one from DWP staff.

However they are referred, a frequent reason for people coming to the bank is they have been "sanctioned" by the DWP, their benefit cut for some perceived failure, and it doesn't take much.

I hear of a Kurdish man, settled in Glasgow, who under pressure to prove he was looking for work to get his benefit applied for one of the few jobs he was qualified for. It was in a cafe in Devon, but not being great on UK geography he assumed that was near Glasgow. He was sanctioned for applying for a job he could not reasonably hope to get, and ended up at a food bank.

The Trust doesn't want to become part of the system and will not take Government grants; Government ministers have in the past tried to deny that the DWP actually makes referrals.

But the Government is relying on food banks, depending on the Trust and others to pick up the pieces of the system it's broken.

If it wasn't they'd be saying it's quite right for a benefits official to punish this woman or the Kurdish guy by sentencing them to starvation, for errors such as not applying for the right jobs or not turning up for interviews.

I don't know human rights law too well but I'd guess starvation would be what's known as a cruel and unsual punishment, on the torture spectrum. It would rightly be illegal to use on the worst criminals. But benefits claimants? Oh, fair enough.

Contextual targeting label: 
Food and drink

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