- DWP boss’ local councils forced to fund food banks
- But cabinet minister refused to meet charity bosses
- Even Tory think tank says benefits regime to blame
Two councils covering Iain Duncan Smith’s constituency have been forced to spend £70,000 to support food banks. The news emerges three months after the cabinet minister snubbed repeated requests for a face-to-face meeting by accusing the UK’s largest food bank charity of “scaremongering”.
BBC Panorama is set to report that a third of councils are funding food banks, with the burden on local authorities running to £3 million per year. They include the two of the three covering Duncan Smith’s Chingford and Woodford Green constituency.
Back in December it was revealed that Duncan Smith had yet again refused to meet with the Christian-run Trussell Trust food bank, complaining that charity bosses have “repeatedly sought to link the growth in your network to welfare reform”:
“I strongly refute this claim and would politely ask you to stop scaremongering in this way. I understand that a feature of your business model must require you to continuously achieve publicity, but I’m concerned that you are now seeking to do this by making your political opposition to welfare reform overtly clear.”
But the Duncan Smith’s defence is now crumbling – with a Tory think tank breaking ranks to underscore the link between the harsh new sanctions regime and food bank use. A report from Policy Exchange — founded by Michael Gove and Francis Maude and described as “David Cameron’s favourite think tank” — released today states:
“With some estimates suggesting that 43% of those referred to food banks are there due to benefit stoppage or being refused a crisis loan, it is clear that there is not currently an adequate safety net for those who are wrongly sanctioned”
Whether it’s Universal Credit, benefits sanctions or food banks, Iain Duncan Smith inhabits his own fantasy world.
While Treasury ministers have seemed loathe to disclose details in parliament, Scrapbook can reveal that George Osborne finally visited a food bank on 25 October — just eight months after David Cameron and ten months after he was invited to do so by the chief executive of the UK’s largest food bank network.
During his visit to Bethel Food Bank, which helps to distribute up to one tonne of food aid each month, Osborne actually spoke to a user of the service — in marked contrast with David Cameron, who refused to meet any struggling families. If this was an attempt to the neutralise the issue he has failed, however, with a petition on UK hunger from ‘poverty cooking’ write Jack Monroe poised to cross the threshold for online petitions to be debated in parliament.
Trussell Trust boss Chris Mould told Scrapbook:
“We are pleased that George Osborne dropped in to his local foodbank. We encourage all our foodbanks to engage their constituency MPs because foodbanks are a vital part of civil society. It is very important that MPs understand how foodbanks work, and that they meet the people foodbanks help.”
It only took him 308 days.
Multinational retail giant Walmart — the owner of British supermarket Asda — is running a canned food drive to provide impoverished workers with Thanksgiving dinner at a store in the US.
A sign at a Walmart in Ohio encourages shoppers to donate to its underpaid employees:
“Please Donate Food Items Here, so Associates in Need Can Enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner”
A spokesman for the chain — who opened their first jointly branded Asda/Walmart store in Scotland in 2001 — even had the chutzpah to spin this as good news:
“This is part of the company’s culture to rally around associates and take care of them when they face extreme hardships,”
They don’t even have the decency to give staff small Thanksgiving hampers — let alone pay them properly.
The head of Number 10′s Policy Unit — Boris’ brother Jo Johnson — has tweeted a link to an article on food banks before mysteriously deleting the message. The Guardian piece referred to the tripling of food bank use in the last year, an acutely embarrassing statistic for the government.
The message is still available on the website Politiwoops, which archives tweets deleted by MPs.
This sudden — if short lived — outbreak of reality in the Cabinet Office is certainly a departure from the government’s fingers-in-ears “la la la” approach.
Millionaire Tory minister Lord Freud even tried to blame food bank use on charities.
UPDATE: Johnson blames his wife for tweet »
The DWP is refusing to refer desperate benefits claimants to food banks, according to the country’s largest operator. The Trussell Trust has claimed that Iain Duncan Smith’s department has “privately reneged” on an agreement for Jobcentres to refer needy claimants using an agreed procedure — and banned the collection key data on food bank use.
After ignorant attempts by a Tory minister to blame increased food bank use on charities, it has emerged that the DWP have dropped the requirement for staff to record the reason for a food bank referral and to provide claimants with vouchers — meaning that food banks cannot assess need at the other end. Conveniently enough, this also reduces the amount of embarrassing statistical data in circulation on food banks.
These revelation fly in the face of a response from David Cameron in PMQs yesterday, who is apparently under the impression that Jobcentres were still referring people — when they haven’t been since April.
“We have done something that the food bank movement had been asking for for years, but that the Labour Government did not grant because they were worried about the public relations — namely, the ability to say to people in Jobcentre Plus who needed help that they could go to a food bank. The Labour Government might not have wanted to do that because it was bad publicity; we did it because it was the right thing.”
The charity’s executive chairman Chris Mould said:
“We’re delighted that David Cameron understands the importance of enabling Jobcentres to refer people in crisis to foodbanks but we are deeply concerned that some people within DWP are doing their best to block the agreement that makes this possible.”
Naturally, austerity architect George Osborne still hasn’t visited one yet.
A government minister has rejected suggestions that austerity policies have led to an increase in food bank use — making the astonishing suggestion that food bank charities are somehow to blame.
Former investment banker and peer David Freud, a minister in DWP, told the Lords this afternoon that the increase in the usage of food banks was ”supply led”.
“If you put more food banks in, that is the supply. Clearly, food from the food banks is a free good and by definition with a free good there’s almost infinite demand.”
In the wake of the longer wait for unemployment benefits introduced by George Osborne last week, Freud also rejected suggestions by leading food bank operators that delays in benefit payments drove demand for emergency food aid.
His comments come after similar straw-clutching from other senior Tory figures — including secretary of state Iain Duncan Smith — that the growing number of food banks is down to advertising in Jobcentres and an increase in volunteers.
Evidently this is what Cameron meant by the Big Society.
Tough reforms announced by George Osborne yesterday promise to drive up food bank queues — but the chancellor has snubbed an invitation to actually visit one.
In an interview with the Huffington Post’s Mehdi Hasan last December, the chief executive of the Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest network of food banks, made the following invitation:
“My message to George Osborne is: come to our food banks.”
While pressure forced David Cameron to face up to the impact of his policies by visiting such a facility, Scrapbook can confirm the chancellor has not taken the Trussell Trust up on their invitation.
Given he is so keen to force the newly unemployed to use them, perhaps he should visit one.
UPDATE: Just don’t mention the £10 gourmet burger …
With Osborne’s spending review introducing a tough-sounding seven day delay for new benefits claimants, the Spectator’s Isabel Hardman is right about the dangers:
Indeed, when David Cameron finally visited the food bank in his constituency, a desperate newly unemployed mother told Sky News:
“My wages had stopped, so I had to wait for the benefits to kick in. We were desperate. We didn’t have any food. At one point I had a fiver, in my back pocket, to just go and get some food.”
So has the chancellor been to a food bank yet?