By Sian Mullen, Food Security Programme Coordinator
Alongside the VCSE sector and Local Authority partners, GMPA has started trialling a new approach to supporting
people experiencing food poverty in Tameside and Oldham. The approach centres around three fundamental points:
- Whilst emergency food handouts are currently necessary, they do not prevent or reduce food poverty.
- The only real way to reduce food poverty is to ensure people have access to a decent and reliable income.
- Identifying what kind of advice or support people need to maximise their income or access cash support, and who provides that advice, can be difficult.
Our response has been to develop and begin embedding a referral tool that enables anyone who refers people to a food bank to first identify income maximisation advice for people. We are also encouraging these agencies to make an active referral to an organisation who can support with this as opposed to signposting e.g. giving someone a phone number to call or a website to visit. The aim is to help tackle the underlying causes of food insecurity, and reduce demand for food banks and clubs.
The tool itself, based on a model developed in Scotland by A Menu for Change begins by identifying underlying issues that people presenting in food insecurity may be experiencing, such as job loss, benefit delays or sanctions, or debt.
The tool then directs referrers to some options that could help with these issues. For example, support to challenge a benefit sanction, budgeting advice, advice to reduce energy costs, or access to discretionary housing payments or the Local Welfare Assistance Scheme. If someone has no recourse to public funds, they may be eligible to get a cash grant to support themselves.
Finally the tool then directs referrers to a local organisation who can support the person with this process. For example, in Tameside, the Welfare Rights Team, Citizens Advice, and the GM Law Centre could all support someone to challenge a benefit decision. Or Infinity Initiatives could enable someone with no recourse to public funds to access a cash grant from the Migrant Destitution Fund.
As well as direct income maximisation support the tool also identifies areas of support that may help someone manages their finances better, for example it guides people to support for addictions, mental health issues, and homelessness.
We know that there are great organisations already working to refer service users on to the best support they can find, and this tool and process aims to embed this on a wider scale. People experiencing food insecurity often turn to places like schools, GPs, places of worship, and small community groups, so we need to ensure that these places, as well as larger VCSE sector organisations or Local Authorities recognise food insecurity as a symptom of poverty and treat it at its root cause. Equally, the tool allows those who may already be doing this kind of work, to more easily identify where to refer someone to, streamlining the process and maximising the chances of people getting the advice and support that they need.
Every year hundreds of millions of pounds of benefits go unclaimed across the UK, so we want to ensure people are accessing what they can. Other people may just need some help reducing energy costs or budgeting, or an interaction they have with a referrer might be the point when they’re finally able to ask for help with other issues such as mental health, or an addiction. Or there may be schemes that people have been unaware of such as a local welfare assistance scheme. During the consultation process that we carried out to develop the tool in Tameside, we already identified support that other organisations were unaware of.
We are continuing to work to ensure the tool is accessible and helpful for diverse ethnic communities. This includes developing translation documents to go alongside the tool in key languages used across the boroughs, and looking at how we can identify organisations which have language support available for people in need of advice.
The Oldham tool is still being developed but you can download or use an online version of the tool for Tameside here. If you’re an organisation in Tameside who refers people to food banks we really encourage you to use this tool with people before sending them on to the food bank. If you are using the tool we’re really keen to collect any feedback you may have on it so we can adapt it as needed. You can share your feedback with us, or report how you’ve been using it, using the online forms available here.
When we have feedback from the pilot projects, we hope to encourage the development and rollout of similar tools in other boroughs of Greater Manchester – please look out for more information on this later in the year.
The Food Security Programme is a Greater Manchester Poverty Action programme