Job advisers posted in food bank in trial launched by Iain Duncan Smith
Job advisers have been posted in a food bank as part of a trial that is set to be rolled out across the country, Iain Duncan Smith has announced.
Claimants who turn to charities for support when they cannot make ends meet can be given advice on finding work while picking up emergency food parcels, MPs were told.
The scheme is being trialled at a food bank in Manchester but could be introduced into other centres if it is successful, the Work and Pensions Secretary said.
"I am trialling at the moment a job adviser situating themselves in the food bank for the time that the food bank is open and we are already getting very strong feedback about that," he told the Work and Pensions Select Committee.
"If this works and if the other food banks are willing to encompass this and we think it works we think we would like to roll this out across the whole of the UK."
Mr Duncan Smith questioned Trussell Trust figures that showed a 398% increase in the number of people using their food banks between 2012-14 in Scotland.
While the figures were "genuinely put together" they were "not absolutely clear", he told the committee.
Mr Duncan Smith dismissed claims that benefit sanctions have pushed some claimants to suicide.
Labour's Emma Lewell-Buck told the Conservative Cabinet minister that people had "taken their own lives because they have been unfairly sanctioned".
"I don't accept your assertion somehow that these things are directly linked," Mr Duncan Smith said. "These are tragedies in their own right and they are often very complex as individual cases.
"Sanctions have been part of the benefit system for some time. Under the last Labour government they were accepted as part of the benefit system. I always accepted them. I always recognised there were issues occasionally and problems but I didn't go round accusing the then Labour government of running a system that somehow ended up in the way that you are making this allegation."
The Trussell Trust, which runs more than 400 foodbanks across the UK, said: " We welcome the Government's interest in exploring new ways that the DWP might help people at foodbanks who have hit crisis as a result of problems with welfare delivery, but we would also suggest that there first needs to be a dialogue between the DWP and The Trussell Trust network about the possible challenges and opportunities that hosting DWP advisers in foodbanks could afford.
"We need to look at the most helpful ways for local Jobcentres and foodbanks to work together.
"The Trussell Trust has had positive discussions with some MPs about whether piloting DWP advisers in their local foodbanks could be beneficial, but we have not yet had the opportunity for dialogue with Iain Duncan Smith or DWP advisers about the feasibility of rolling out this idea."
Mhairi Black, a member of the Work and Pensions committee, accused the Government of trying to turn foodbanks into an "outpost" for Jobcentre Plus.
The SNP MP said: "It seems ironic that the UK Government will not fund foodbanks and ministers time and time again refuse to acknowledge the links between their policies and the increase in need for foodbanks yet they are now trying to use them as an outpost for Jobcentre Plus staff.
"Iain Duncan Smith should concentrate on trying to eradicate the need for foodbanks by changing the policies that are driving people into crisis situations including low incomes, benefit sanctions and maladministration and the raft of welfare changes and cuts introduced over the past five years.
"The need for foodbanks is a clear indication that the Tories' ideological obsession with austerity is not working which is why the SNP remain fundamentally opposed to their regressive policies."
Shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith accused Mr Duncan Smith of being "incompetent and callous".
He said: "The revelation that the Government is considering placing DWP staff in food banks across the country highlights the grim reality that people depending on emergency food aid is increasingly a central part of Iain Duncan Smith's vision for our social security system.
"Under the Tories, food bank use has risen exponentially, leaving more than a million people depending on emergency food. This is in no small part due to the Secretary of State's incompetent and callous running of the DWP.
"It is of course important that people are able to better access advice and support from DWP staff. However, the fact that Iain Duncan Smith is so relaxed about extreme food poverty that he has allowed it to become an accepted element of the national planning for the DWP is deeply worrying."