This government needs to accept its own legacy on food banks

New analysis has shown the connection between welfare reform, cuts, and food bank increases


Back in 2013 the life peer and parliamentary under secretary of state for work and pensions Lord Freud, sparked a controversy by saying that the growth in people turning to food banks had simply to do with their supply – because organisations like the Trussell Trust were expanding their operations people simply felt they could get a free meal.

It demonstrated a staggering lack of awareness on an issue that, frankly, Lord Freud should have known a bit more about. Most importantly, for most food banks open around the country, vouchers need to be redeemed by people referred by their job centre. For the rise of in-work households that needed referral, vouchers could be obtained by other advice agencies as well. Food banks are not drop-in centres.

Also, from Lord Freud it demonstrated significant political immaturity. Instead of owning up and saying that the rise in food bank numbers reflected the vast number of people who couldn’t afford to eat under his government’s watch, he decided to question the morality of people queueing up to receive a package of food for three days.

For all this government’s faults, at least they have their consistency. Last year, when a report commissioned by the Church Of England, the Trussell Trust, Oxfam, and Child Poverty Action Group showed that cuts and changes to the benefit system had a lot to do with the rise in referrals to food banks, the government responded simply by saying the issue remained inconclusive.

So it will be interesting to see the response of the government this time, to yet another report that highlights the connection between welfare reform, cuts, and food bank increases.

Analysis carried out by researchers at Oxford University, published in the British Medical Journal, looked at the openings of food banks from 2009, the base year from which their number rose rather considerably, to the present day. The number of local authorities with food banks operated by the Trussell Trust, for example, has risen from 29 in 2009-10 to 251 in 2013-14.

From here, researchers looked at certain correlations that occurred between food bank openings and changes to the structure of welfare in the area. They found that greater welfare cuts highly increased the likelihood of a food bank opening. For every one per cent cut in central government spending on welfare benefits in a local authority there was an increase in the odds of a food bank opening in the area.

The researchers’ take-away conclusions are that food bank openings across the United Kingdom is unprecedented. They assert that this is closely associated with cuts to local authority spending and central welfare spending.

Food bank usage, rather than simply responding to a greater demand of people looking for a free meal – as seemingly this government believes, is highest in areas with greater levels of benefit sanctioning, unemployment, and cuts in central welfare spending. What does this government have to say about that? Importantly, too, what will Labour do to reduce the number of people who are reliant on food banks?

My suggestions for the next government are very simple:

  • Protect welfare spending to ensure those less fortunate are not consigned to the scrapheap;
  • Protect local welfare assistance – because offering small sums from state coffers is a lot better than forcing hard-up people into arrears or debt, which often is their only other alternative;
  • Scrap the number of moneyless waiting days that benefit claimants have to endure while their benefit claims are processed;
  • Properly signpost what assistance is available to struggling families rather than obliging low or no income people to guess;
  • Overhaul the system of sanctions that could potentially see claimants lose their benefits for months or even years – this very pernicious system, as it currently stands, aims to remove responsibility for people’s welfare from the state to an already over-stretched, relatively under-resourced charity sector.

This government, as it reaches its final days, should be more open and transparent about the part it played in the increase of food bank referrals, while the electorate should take stock of what this government’s real legacy is.

Carl Packman is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward and the author of Loansharks: The rise and rise of payday lending

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18 Responses to “This government needs to accept its own legacy on food banks”

  1. GTE

    You need to accept that you caused the food banks by running up a debt that can’t be paid, can’t be stopped from increasing, because its too large.

    Namely the Ponzi pension that’s been hidden off the books

  2. Kathryn

    How come those at the top have seen an increase in wealth, then?

  3. damon

    There’s not much point arguing about food banks across ideological lines. People will believe what they want to. And ignore things that don’t suit them either.
    I think importing a million eastern European workers has increased the number of food banks and welfare dependency. But people on the left will reject that because of ideology.
    We have high rates of youth unemployment in parts of London (remember the discussion after the riots) and at the same time, east Europeans come to London and get jobs within days. How come?
    How come Mark Duggan couldn’t get a job in his whole life? He only lived a tube ride away from dozens of central London hotels where thousands of foreigners have found jobs. But Broadwater Farm where he grew up, is a centre of urban poverty and deprivation. Why is that?
    The wages being too low to motivate people is probably something to do with it.
    And the wages are low because there are plenty of people willing to do those jobs for low wages.

  4. Leon Wolfeson

    Hi Lord Blagger!

    Keep making excuses for causing poverty, and whining that because you can’t read public accounts, and workers are allowed to live, your type of scam is going on. It’s not.

  5. Guest

    Of course people shouldn’t discuss food banks.

    You blame the Other for everything, as usual, ignoring the fact that the problem is your right wing economics – but no, you want to seal the borders and smash trade, as you show no understanding of how economies actually work.

    You keep saying wages are far too high, and you’d lower them with your policies. People are not poor and desperate enough for you to take any job they can find, in your Isolated Kingdom.

  6. JohnRich

    Uncontrolled immigration has cause major problems in the housing market, labour market and for our NHS.

  7. Guest

    So something which dosn’t happen “causes” you to hate on the other, as you demand trade end, so that the UK can’t afford the NHS, and won’t have nearly as jobs or people able to afford housing.

    Keep using excuses for trying to lower wages, by whipping up hate and fear, Rich Man.

  8. damon

    It’s you who keeps going on about needing to prop up the free market economy.
    I don’t support it much at all. I’d happily see much less money in the economy, because If I can get by on lower wages I don’t see why everyone can’t.
    And then everything would be more affordable as well. Like housing for example.
    I might be able to afford more than a bedsit.
    We don’t need half the crap we spend our money on.
    Look at all those people who are crying about losing their jewellery and cash in those Hatton Garden deposit boxes. Serves them right I say. What’s the point of jewellery?
    Kick out all the foreign non-doms and the price of property would come down.
    That sounds more like left wing Arthur Scargill wishful thinking than pro capitalist Leon.

    You are probably so pro open borders, because like Kelvin MacKenzie (ex Sun editor) you find it works for you having so many cheap pairs of hands to do all your dirty work.
    The left used to call people who came in and took people’s jobs ”scabs”.
    Which is pretty harsh and I wouldn’t say that myself.
    But it’s kind of what having open borders across Europe has done for British workers, like the people who have grown up in places like Tottenham.
    They’ve been passed over for new, cheaper, more flexible labour.

  9. Guest

    Well of course you don’t like the free market, you’re a capitalist. Capitalism is, of course, a gross distortion of the free market.

    You will lower wages for workers, right, because you can get by on your riches and you have no problem with cutting your costs at the expense of workers. You only need a bedsit at each location you visit, as well as your home, and the peon’s don’t need half the food and shelter, as you make excuses about irrelevant middle-class things.

    “Kick out the Other”, you go again, as you once more scream your nonsense, your fear of seeing a black face, when no evidence supports your contentions – no, what will lower wages is if you get your way and smash trade – which of course will also considerably raise food prices, etc.

    You have called me worse than “scab”, repeatedly, right, too mild for you to be merely pretty harsh, as you scream that allowing the 99% across borders is evil, that those evil British eat and have too much shelter, that they’re too expensive to let live.

  10. damon

    Look I understand you’re mental Leon. Are you in an institution or is it ‘care in the community’?

    You seem to be having a go at me because I’m not a SWP-like communist.
    I find them to be totally stupid myself, and so do most other people.
    I have said I support higher wages for workers, not lower like you seem to be insisting I support. Sad troll wrote six overnight replies like this to things I’d written yesterday.

    Kick out all the non-doms I say, and to hell with the consequences.
    All they do is push up the price of property for everyone else.
    I was travelling through the south of France last year and the enclaves of the super rich there are pretty horrible and sterile. Places like St. Tropez, Monaco and Antibes were devoid of working class life as they were only places for the rich. Millionaires mansions, and shops, cafes and restaurants only for the rich. We don’t need that in England, so chuck all the foreign ones out and tax the British ones harder.
    But Leon, you will insist that I am still a friend of the rich (you pillock).

  11. Guest


    Keep screaming because you’re a far right, isolationist anti-Semite who sees any kind of dissent from your line as mental illness.

    You support higher wages for your 1% “true workers”, right, I get you perfectly. You say kick out anyone who does not meet your very narrow True Brit definition, as you talk about abusing rights you’d deny others of travel.

    You are one of, and a buddy to, your True Brit ultra-rich and are simply trying to purge all those people who are insufficiently like you. I doubt you’d be left with more than 15-20 million left in the country after a few rounds of your purges.

    That you love sterile, horrible places and are happy with workers being cleaned out…not my issue.

  12. damon

    I hope other people will see this nonsense by Leon Wolfeson.
    It’s text book trolling. Probably just because he’s bored.
    Until he’s told to fuck off by some moderators here, there is no point to these below the line comments on this site.

  13. Guest

    Correct, you’re showing your textbook trolling of me, as you scream that it’s “bored” to hold other views that your far right views, and until you’ve managed to censor opposing views, there’s no point having your hate-in and making sure that no other views exist.


    You cannot argue with a single fact I posted, of course, Rich White Man.

  14. Faerieson

    Is your ‘point’ one of dubious information, or is it there merely in order to provoke? Clearly, it’s devoid of facts, and one fact (that it’s devoid of) is that ‘the use of food banks has proliferated hugely under this coalition.’

    Keeping it simple for you!

  15. Leon Wolfeson

    It’s LB’s new core ID…evidently the last one got banned. Note the use of “Ponzi” in terms of his not understanding pensions, a clear giveaway.

    Your question thus answers itself – he really does believe in himself, sadly.

  16. treborc1

    The same welfare reforms started by labour and Miliband has stated he would carry on with then including his beloved us of caps.

    I do not think it matters whether labour wins or the Tories both are the same these days.

  17. treborc1

    It of course has caused issue only an idiot would think letting in four or five million has not, but Immigration is only one issue, not building enough houses is another.

  18. [email protected]

    The government does need to accept responsibility for the rise of food banks. Delays in benefits is one of the main reasons people give for having to resort to them. Poor wages, unemployment, rising costs of living alfl add up to debt. The poorest in society are paying the brunt of austerity measures. Uncontrolled migration does not help, people need a living wage.

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