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Coaching Service Boosts Food Banks
Friday 20th November 2015 @ 09:09 by Tom Greggan

Government proposals to put Jobcentre Plus ‘work coaches’ into foodbanks came as no surprise to one local group.

High Peak Foodbank area co-ordinator Paul Bohan said: “This is something we’ve been doing for months.
“The difference is that we haven’t used Jobcentre staff, we have trained our own work coaches.”

The Buxton-based foodbank has been running a coaching service since the start of the year. Success came almost at once with 40 per cent of applicants starting a job within eight weeks.

Said Paul: “We also combine work experience at the foodbank to help participants develop skills in areas like customer service, warehousing, administration etc.

“We have built a good working relationship with our local jobcentre who refer people to our Work and Skills Programme.

“Unfortunately they aren’t allowed to say that we’re a foodbank on their computer system because DWP (Department For Work and Pensions) head office wouldn’t let them send people to us!”

With such good results, Paul sent details of its scheme to the Department for Work and Pensions and to Employment Minister Priti Patel.

It meant Ian Duncan Smith’s announcement that Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches would be placed in foodbanks to help people find work and apply for benefits, came as no surprise.

High Peak Foodbank work coach Jane Kirk-Bradshaw believes the results were so good partly because of the time she has to work with people.

Unlike the 30 to 40 minutes appointment times in jobcentres, some High Peak interviews last all day.
One client, called Louise, who had been unemployed for more than 20 years came back the day after such an interview to use the foodbank internet and telephone, to apply for jobs.

Because Jane had built links with local employers she suggested where there might be openings. Louise found one, secured an interview and rehearsed for it with the work coach.

A week later she started work, with the foodbank helping her to access funding to travel there until her first pay day.

Although High Peak Foodbank is pleased DWP are considering putting their own advisers into foodbanks, there is concern it could be a step towards foodbanks becoming part of the welfare state. They are also worried about how foodbank users will feel.

“Our clients open up and discuss their problems quite candidly with our own staff,” said Paul. “With their permission we sometimes contact the jobcentre, or benefits centre and advocate to reach a resolution.

“I’m not sure clients will feel they can do this with a DWP member of staff and it could make them distrust staff and volunteers at the foodbank.

“After all it could be a DWP sanction that caused them to need a foodbank in the first place.
“A better approach could be to fund foodbank staff to offer this

Whether or not Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Ian Duncan Smith or his team got the idea for the foodbank work coaching trial from the High Peak Foodbank report has not been disclosed.

Paul said if it was, it would be considerate to get an acknowledgement.

Nevertheless, the general feeling is that any support that foodbank users can get is welcome, particularly as benefit issues are the main reason for foodbank use in the High Peak.