Impact of benefit changes on the food security of vulnerable people

In November 2019 over 50 people from a wide range of organisations across Liverpool and Sefton gathered to discuss the impact of benefit changes on the food security of vulnerable people.

Sarah Jones and Sophia Gallagher from Mencap Liverpool & Sefton spoke about the connections between health, hunger and learning disabilities.

Ngaryan Li Senior Solicitor Vauxhall Law Centre spoke about Human Rights, the welfare system and the risk of hunger

The slides are available from both presentations:

second class citizens .jpg

Health, hunger and learning disabilities

Human Rights, the welfare system and the risk of hunger

Disability researcher Stef Benstead gave a powerful presentation about her experiences with the welfare system, highlighting the treatment of disabled people in austerity Britain.

Stef’s book Second Class Citizens is available to buy online

Watch our event video as participants offer reflections from their organisations and outline how they will respond to the event

What next?

The event generated several practical suggestions about how to improve the landscape of benefit changes for vulnerable people at both a local and national scale.

This event identified the need for Easy Read training – which was facilitated by Mencap Liverpool & Sefton in January 2020.

Please find below a summary of the other suggestions put forward at this event.

As you read through these suggestions, can you identify:

  • One suggestion from the event that you could
    pass onto someone in your organisation?
  • One suggestion that could impact on your own
  • One local issue raised in this document that you
    are passionate about changing – how could you take a step towards doing this?
  • One national issue raised in this document that
    you are passionate about changing – how could you take a step towards changing


  • Develop a culture in which people are treated equally
    and with dignity and build institutions and systems that enable this.
  • Introduce more education and awareness raising
    about learning disabilities from school onwards.
  • Look for opportunities for collaboration, such
    as: sharing good practice; joint staff/ volunteer training;
    collecting evidence that can be shared and used
    for awareness raising and campaigning.
  • Utilise the strength of multi-agency provision
    by organisations that have a good knowledge of their clients and their needs
    and potential.
  • There is a need for more awareness of mental
    health issues.
  • There is scope for more volunteers who could
    offer online support.

Good practice for service providers

  • Caseloads are very often too big which negatively
    affects the service provided.
  • There is a need for greater continuity – staff
    staying with a client throughout the process.
  • Training for workers and volunteers needs to lay
    the basis for a person-centred approach.
  • Training also needs to include making clear the
    range of potential partner organisations and ones to which people can be
    referred, such as law centres.
  • Equality (and environmental) impact assessments
    can help in the measurement of  policy
    effectiveness and conducting cost benefit analysis.Introduce customer/user forums and ensure they
    are representative of the range of users.

Foodbanks and other food provision

  • Often seem to be in competition – they need to
    work better together and avoid duplication and food wastage.
  • May also need to provide updates on items
    required, including sanitary products, nappies and toilet rolls.
  • Could provide recipes inside food parcels.
  • Need to go beyond crisis food provision to
    develop co-ops, food markets and growing schemes that can help build resilience
    and self-respect.

Administrative changes in the benefits system

  • Provide a more welcoming environment and
    reception services in job centres and include on-site advocacy and more help to
    guide claimants through procedures.
  • Make specialist/vulnerable people teams easier
    to access.
  • Reduce waiting times on phone calls and call backs
    – currently the length of time support staff spend on hold is hugely wasteful
    and greatly reduces the number of clients they can help.
  • Rethink advocacy processes and especially the
    authority to act for clients. (For example, needing to have them present is one
    of the factors that makes the telephone waiting times so frustrating because,
    if the client cannot wait, the call has to be abandoned altogether.)
  • In relation to access and use of the on-line
    system, introduce more secure networks using public computers and reintroduce
    telephone and personal claims.
  • Use plain English and make benefit letters
  • Stamp the envelopes of benefit letters with a
    message indicating there is support inside to discourage them being thrown away

Policy changes

  • Restore direct payment of housing benefit to
  • Return to payments being made more frequently.
  • Reduce the five weeks wait for UC advance
    payment, which leads to debt.
  • Include free school meals in Universal Credit
    and find ways of reducing the stigma of free school meals.
  • Why is Council Tax not part of UC?
  • Treating benefit recipients as individuals (i.e.
    not couples /family assessments) would be simpler and encourage stability in

Feeding Liverpool’s Role

  • Events such as this one help to raise awareness
    about:  the range of organisations that offer support in
    this area; the scope for partnership and/or referrals; What works and what doesn’t work.
  • Feeding Liverpool can use its website, social media and other
    forms of communication to help: dispel myths about poverty and the benefits
    system; provide a channel for collecting evidence and

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