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IDS Tells Trussell Trust: “Stop Scare-Mongering”

March 13, 2014

When the organisers of a charity food bank in Coventry received their 10,000th client, they held a ceremony during which the city’s mayor handed a free bag of shopping to a man considered to be the most deserving recipient.

Amid a ripple of applause from the crowd of officials, a grinning Darren Harvey stepped forward to receive the emergency supply of food, which was enough to feed him and his family for about three days.

The event was intended to highlight the plight of poor people who cannot afford to buy basic foodstuffs, a situation the Left has blamed on welfare cuts and described as a ‘national crisis’. It was filmed by a BBC TV team as part of a documentary called Britain’s Hidden Hungry.


The fly-on-the-wall crew gave viewers a revealing insight into 44-year-old Mr Harvey, however. For far from being deserving, he was exposed as a ‘conman’ — the local  newspaper’s description — who was slyly taking jobs while claiming benefits, accusations he denies.

In addition it was claimed he had a string of petty criminal offences, had been accused of tricking two women out of thousands of pounds, and was alleged to have been evicited by his landlord after refusing to pay rent. Little wonder the BBC documentary described him as a man with a ‘sense of entitlement’.

Of course, Harvey is not typical of everyone who uses food banks — which provide a valuable service for many genuinely needy people. But there is widespread concern not only that they are being abused, but also that they are being used by the Left and anti-poverty campaigners as a political tool to attack the ‘uncaring’ government’s drive to reform the welfare system.

The Left have been controversially supported in their view that the popular use of food banks is down to cuts by high-ranking churchmen, who say that although Britain is the world’s seventh largest economy, ‘people are going hungry’.

A recent letter to the Left-wing Daily Mirror signed by 27 of the country’s 59 Anglican bishops argued that government ministers had ‘an acute moral imperative’ to take action.

Interestingly, the key charity behind the growth of emergency food banks is the Trussell Trust, which organises more than 400 such banks. Run by Chris Mould, a Labour Party member, it has waged an increasingly political campaign to try to show that welfare reforms are leaving people starving.

The trust says that between April last year and December, around 500,000 people were given three days’ worth of food at its banks. If true, that means more than 8 per cent of the population has been forced to use charity food hand-outs. 


Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has angrily accused the trust of ‘political messaging’ and told it to ‘stop scare-mongering’, adding that the politically-motivated campaign linking welfare reform to food banks is not based on facts.

Mr Duncan Smith’s claim is supported by the co-founder of one of the country’s leading food banks, who says that the soaring demand for free hand-outs is not principally to do with benefit cuts.

Robin Aitken of the Oxford Food Bank, which is unconnected to the Trussell Trust, says: ‘The whole debate has become hopelessly politicised. Ten years ago there were no food banks, but if you provide a service, people will use it.’



It is undeniable that people are suffering hardship as Britain recovers slowly from recession, with rising food prices adding to the problem. Across the country, there are now an estimated 30,000 generous volunteers who give up time to collect food and man the banks.

Not everyone qualifies for food-bank handouts. If applicants are considered deserving, specified ‘agencies’ such as doctors’ surgeries, schools, churches, social services, Citizens’ Advice Bureaux and JobCentres are authorised to give them vouchers which can be swapped for food bank handouts.



Even so, a snapshot of food banks around the country shows that their popularity hardly equates to the Left’s picture of a ‘starving Britain’.

Nikki Sanders, a 39-year-old mother-of-five, was in genuine need when she used one in Wimbledon, South-West London, after getting a voucher from a government-backed ‘Sure Start’ nursery.

She had just divorced, was out of work and waiting for income support to come through.

‘I was given a huge box of food. I couldn’t believe how much there was. It lasted two or three weeks.’

However, she soon realised that others were routinely obtaining vouchers despite having enough money to squander on drink-fuelled nights out.

‘People I know told me they often use it if they have been out on benders over the weekend and spent all their benefits,’ she says.

‘Come Monday, they have no money left. Then they just ask the Sure Start nursery staff where they take their kids for vouchers. They just fill out a form and lie. It’s very easy and very cheeky.’

Miss Sanders says that such people felt no shame in taking food donated by kind-hearted volunteers: ‘Their attitude is to hell with them. It doesn’t worry them. Benefits cash isn’t for people to go out and get drunk on. But they seem to think that they’re entitled to it.’


I visited another food bank in Hastings in Sussex. It is based at a community centre where a steady stream of people arrived clutching vouchers entitling them to free food.

A couple in their 20s arrived in a taxi, which they’d paid to take them the four-mile round-trip between their home and the centre.

The driver parked discreetly round the corner, out of sight of the food bank volunteers. The couple had chosen not to use a bus service which covers the route.

Next, two Latvians pulled up in a battered car. One said he was unable to work because he’d injured his foot and had been referred there by the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. While there were undoubtedly many deserving poor who turned up, these cases did not seem to be heart-rending examples of a national hunger crisis.

Kevin O’Doherty, a 54-year-old antiques dealer from East Sussex, has kindly helped street-beggars by driving them to a food bank, but has concerns about whether the people who use them are all victims of welfare cuts


‘When I took some people from St Leonards-on-Sea, they complained about the food they had been given. A lot of them are heroin addicts — they are white and British, not immigrants — who use the food as a form of street currency. These people know how to abuse the system.’

Meanwhile, Staffordshire police have been criticised after giving food bank vouchers to shoplifters who claimed they were so poor they had no choice but to turn to crime. Inevitably, there were complaints that this simply encouraged criminal activity.

The Trussell Trust strives to prevent abuse of the system by assigning serial numbers to each voucher, making them difficult to copy and limiting recipients to three separate handouts to stop them becoming dependent on food banks.

However, there is nothing to prevent recipients touring different accredited voucher ‘agencies’, and using different aliases, addresses and sob stories to get free food.

Last year, Bradford East MP David Ward told the Commons of his concerns about food bank abuse by immigrants. He said that a ‘growing number of Roma’ were accessing the increasing number of food banks in the Yorkshire city.

The truth is that food banks didn’t begin life as a result of welfare cuts. The Trussell Trust was set up under a Labour government, and its services were meant to supplement the Welfare State. But now the trust has become highly critical of the Tory-led Government, arguing that welfare cuts mean much more pressure is put on the charity sector to help the poor.

The trust’s four-page ‘briefing note’ of ‘statistics’ has been avidly taken up by Labour MPs, even though the figures are questionable.


Maria Eagle, Labour’s shadow food minister, repeatedly quoted the ‘fact’ that 500,000 people had used food banks when, in fact, the figure refers to the number of requests for food — rather than individual recipients.

In any case, food policy experts at the University of Warwick say it’s impossible to give accurate figures of food bank usage.

The country’s bishops, meanwhile, are equally culpable of misleadingly quoting figures. They said that 5,500 people were admitted to hospital with malnutrition last year, implying that this occurred as a result of poverty.



However, while it is true that a number of people were treated in hospital for malnutrition, the vast majority were elderly and the reasons were complex.

Although poverty may have been one cause, others could have been that they forgot to eat because of inebriation or because they suffered acute depression or dementia.

Also, the clinical definition of malnutrition includes people who are obese, while the NHS officially states ‘malnutrition due to inadequate food intake in this country is rare’.

Consider again the views of Robin Aitken of the Oxford Food Bank, a former BBC journalist who now collects unsold fresh food from supermarkets and distributes them to charities in Oxford.

He says: ‘Some people like to believe that there has been this enormous upsurge in food poverty. My point is that there have always been poor people in this country. You could have gone back ten, 20, 50 years and there would be people who don’t get enough food.

‘The fact is that food banks are a new phenomenon. Now we have got up to 500. If you provide a service, people use it.’

Significantly, he believes that people suffered greater hardship in the recessions of the Seventies and Eighties than today, when food banks didn’t exist.

More to the point, back then, there was not a disingenuous debate — fuelled by questionable and inflammatory statistics about ‘half a million people’ on the breadline.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. franklin percival permalink
    March 13, 2014 11:07 am

    “‘When I took some people from St Leonards-on-Sea, they complained about the food they had been given. A lot of them are heroin addicts — they are white and British, not immigrants — who use the food as a form of street currency. These people know how to abuse the system.” Well done Kevin O’Doherty, whose kindly antique dealing ways are such a benefit to humanity. Sensible people see addiction as an illness.

  2. March 13, 2014 12:27 pm

    Yes They’re all heroin addicts! seriously are you people blind,the welfare state Is being removed the poor are being brutalised,and the comment above is why people don’t care,Franklin Percival you come over as a right smug pious pratt.

  3. March 13, 2014 5:21 pm

    I’m thinking Alan Ian Brown needs to check his sarcasm detector! Seriously though, is the author of the piece serious? No-one in their right mind wants to go to a food bank. They do it because they have to. If the Tories doubt that, all they have to do is close them down and watch as people starve to death. Oh wait, they won’t, as many are profiting as shareholders of Trussell Trust.

    • March 16, 2014 9:39 pm

      Your right Peter,I was angry and flew off the handle and did not read right through,so the pratt is me thanks for letting me know.

  4. March 13, 2014 10:31 pm

    Benefits delays, mistakes and sanctions, and zero-hour contracts mean that people are genuinely being left with nothing. Arrangements for emergency payments are becoming much harder to find and access.

  5. Jambad permalink
    March 13, 2014 11:10 pm

    What has the 70’s/80’s and today got in common erm oh yeah wasn’t it the Tories in power then to

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