This morning The Independent reported:
“The number of people given three days’ emergency food by the Trussell Trust rose from 2,814 in the 2005-06 financial year to 61,468 in 2010-11, 346,992 in 2012-13 before jumping sharply to 913,138 in 2013-14 – including 582,933 adults and 330,205 children. Its figures for 2014-15 are due to be published on Wednesday and are expected to show a continuing rise despite the upturn in the economy.”
Labour will be bound to trumpet the increase.
Shadow Cabinet Ministers will repeat their claims that the growth in the number using foodbanks reflects an increase in the number needing to use foodbanks. They will then suggest the explanation is Government policy which, Labour will contend, is motivated by hostility to the poor and protecting the rich.
I doubt that Labour spokesmen will get challenged much on this narrative as they tour the radio and TV studios on Wednesday. But they should be.
To start with the premise is flawed. Let is take figures quoted above – is it really the Labour Party’s contention that in 2005 the benefits system was working so smoothly that only 2,814 people needed foodbanks? The truth is that far more than that endured hardship but did not have a foodbank operating in their community to alleviate that hardship.
If more people are using foodbanks it could mean more people need them. Or it could mean that a higher ratio of the people who need help are getting it. The main explanation will be the latter. Poverty did not increase twenty fold during the 2005-10 Labour Government. Nor has it increased a further twenty fold under this Government. In France there are twice as many people who use foodbanks as in our country. This could be a reflection on unemployment being twice the level in the UK – it could be about the availability of help to those who need it.
But what Labour – in particular Yvette Cooper – should apologise for was blocking access to foodbanks for those who needed them by refusing to allow Job Centres to work with them.
Now Labour claim they would abolish foodbanks – not by seeking to suppress them but by ensuring there was no need for them. Yet their claim has no credibility. The biggest single cause of using foodbanks is delay in receiving benefits. Under this Government there are 92 per cent of payments processed on time. When Labour were last in power it was 86 per cent. Why should we believe that putting Labour back in charge would mean 100 per cent? Even if it did this would not mean that the need would be eliminated. Often there is some temporary emergency which the state is too bureaucratic and inflexible to assist with.
If Labour really want to reduce the need for Foodbanks then they should give real support Universal Credit – which is simplifying the benefits system. This week Labour produced a manifesto proposing a “pause”. That would be senseless. the new system should be rolled out as fast as it viably can be.
Polling for the OECD suggests that fewer people are going hungry than under the Labour Government. Of course it is a terrible thing that so many still experience hunger – even if only for short periods of crisis. It is a desperate matter for them to resort to the humiliation of visiting a foodbank – despite the compassion and understanding of those who run such places.
All politicians should praise those volunteers who provide foodbanks for the valuable service they provide. All politicians should be concerned to reduce the number of people going hungry. All politicians should wish to reduce the need for foodbanks but that if they are needed to welcome their availability. Labour have spoken with great emotion about this. But they have failed to show how their promises would be achieved.