Food stamps not cash for UK poor

GroceriesFrom April it's vouchers, not cash, for thousands of low-income people. The switch to food vouchers from cash for those needing financial support is supported by 150 local authorities.

This change means booze or cigarettes can't be bought, or the chance to fritter cash away at the bookies. Some poverty campaigners claim the move leaves some "high and dry".

Booze ban

It's thought the move will also see some authorities drafting in food parcel arrangements. This is a big change because it means voluntarily donated food is absorbed into existing Government welfare arrangements, blurring the line between public giving and taxpayer-funded Government support.

Welfare assistance schemes have been steadily introduced by local authorities since the Coalition chopped the central Government-run social fund. Previously the social fund offered small cash loans of around £50, though with the risk the money would not be spent on basics.

There were also cash grants for basics like bedding, designed to help those with a disability or women suffering domestic violence.

Spending drop

Growing financial pressure is seeing some councils refer applicants directly to charities and emergency soup kitchens. There's also concern that the cost of running the new welfare assistance schemes will eat into the fund's budget. (The Welsh Government has transferred this responsibility to the private sector.)

Labour peer Lady Lister told the Guardian the social fund "was a safety net under the safety net. I do not call putting money into food banks a safety net." Government spending on the former social fund amounted to £230m during 2009 - 2010 but will plunge to £178m for 2013-2014 (a -22% drop).

Low pay, no pay

Changes to emergency benefits draws heated debate. In the UK the majority of families living in poverty are also in work, claimed a recent church report. And the number of people claiming out-of-work benefits because of sickness or disability has steadily decreased since the mid-1990s, claims research from Communities Against the Cuts.

"Unemployment in the UK is typically short but frequent. This is the so-called 'low-pay/no-pay cycle, with people moving between insecure low-paid employment and benefits," a trend that increased during the 1990s and 2000s it claims.

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