‘No food for four days’

Nikki Hart of the Blackpool Food Partnership giving evidence to the DWP Select Committee on benefit sanctions.

Nikki Hart of the Blackpool Food Partnership giving evidence to the DWP Select Committee on benefit sanctions.

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A Blackpool woman who had not eaten for four days was among the cases highlighted when a food bank co-ordinator from the resort gave evidence to a Parliamentary committee examining the
impact of benefits sanctions.

Nikki Hart, from the Blackpool Food Partnership, travelled to Westminster to speak to the Work and Pensions 
Select Committee about the hardship faced by people who have their benefits stopped because they have broken Job Centre rules, such as failing to attend an assessment.

She described how organisations in Blackpool, ranging from churches to advice agencies, have joined forces to help people down on their luck.

Nikki, who was invited to speak by Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard, said many of the people 
visiting food banks also needed advice on issues such as job hunting and money management. Speaking after giving evidence, she said: “We have a unique project in Blackpool. The food banks operate through the churches and give out food parcels and any other advice they can.

“But we also work with the discretionary team at Blackpool Council who try to address any underlying issues.

“For example, if someone has received a sanction because they are not filling out their forms properly, they will be advised to go to a Job Club, and if they have a debt problem, they will be referred to the credit union or Citizens Advice Bureau.”

She added: “The perspective is different when you are dealing with it day in, day out.”

One of the case studies Nikki shared with the committee was a woman with mild learning difficulties who had not eaten for four days because her benefits had been stopped.

The DWP is currently 
reviewing benefits sanctions after being criticised for placing too much of a burden on vulnerable people.

Mr Maynard, who is on the select committee, said: “Blackpool is a town where we have significant issues with the benefits sanctions regime and Nikki gave a very good account as to where Blackpool is doing well in providing food partnerships.

“Sometimes sanctions are a barrier rather than part of the solution, but equally there are situations where a sanction is appropriate.”