Please Don't Politicise Charity Food Banks
Today’s Daily Mail reports on the increasingly political debate around Food Banks. They point out that the umbrella body for UK Food Banks, the Trussell Trust, is run by a Labour Party member and that the group is keen to blame the Government for increased usage.
The paper quotes the head of the Oxford Food Bank, who simply makes the point that this is a recently created service and as such its popularity is growing. So I suppose blaming the government for the rising use of Food Banks is similar to saying the growth in Spam email in the last 20 years is also the government’s fault.
Spam email didn’t exist 20 years ago, so by definition is has increased during that period. Blaming the government is a little unfair.
Today the Trussell Trust say 500,000 people use Food Banks, but this is deeply misleading statistic. Last month I wrote an article pointing out that the Trust record each visit as if it were a separate person. At the time they were quoting a figure of 350,000 users, but I made the point that this could (in theory) be one person visiting 350,000 times.
In reality Food Banks only allow you to visit a maximum of nine times a year, but that would mean the 500,000 supposed users could actually be as few as around 55,000 people.
Similarly the biggest reason for people visiting Food Banks is to fill a stop gap when their benefits are changed. And Food Banks themselves only give users enough food for three days. I make this point because the media often imply that “500,000 users” equals 500,000 people being permanently fed by Food Banks. This is not the reality at all.
The wider point the Mail makes is about how these charities and groups are being used to make highly political points, mostly against Iain Duncan Smith. They mention the letter sent by Bishops demanding Cameron change his policy. I wish the Mail had read my piece on Breitbart London about the man behind the letter: Rev Keith Hebden.
Hebden is a left-wing activist who is currently fasting for Lent, in solidarity with “all those who go hungry in 21st Century Britain” (Daily Mirror). He has been arrested in the past for causing trouble at an RAF base and shouting down an Israeli speaker.
I don’t have a problem with him campaigning, as long as he keeps it legal. My objection is the way the letter was wrongly presented as an act of frustration by a politically neutral clergy.
These groups are highly political, and strongly supportive of Labour, but by hiding that support they know their campaigning activities will gain greater traction.
Food Banks are a great service – indeed they are part of the ‘Big Society’ David Cameron talked about – but their leadership is using this charity to mount a highly political campaign.
We have been through hard economic times, caused by increasingly overbearing and incompetent government. People like the Trussell Trust are using the fallout from these mistakes to demand a return to the bad old days.
I hope you will applaud their charity and ignore their comments.