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You'd think the Mail on Sunday would struggle to plumb new depths of gutter journalism, but yesterday’s attempt to “expose” Britain’s food banks as a soft touch for “fraudsters” to exploit was way down in the sewer.
Intrepid reporter Ross Slater went undercover, braving who knows what risks to trick a volunteer who was “in her 60s” into believing he was destitute with a wife and children to feed.
He was — shock horror — then given some food, which the Mail sniffily reports included “less essential items” (a 65p chocolate pudding).
Clearly any fraudster worth his salt would want to get in on this act. The potential profits must be astronomical.
And with each person referred to a food bank able to claim up to three parcels, each containing three days’ worth of food, every six months, what incentive is left for the feckless poor to get a job?
They’re not going to go hungry without one, or at least not for more than 347 days a year.
It would be nice to say that only a rag owned by tax-dodging non-dom press baron Lord Rothermere (estimated wealth 2013: £720 million) would have the gall to pick Easter Sunday to launch a crusade against giving food to the needy.
Sadly, it would also be naive.
Let’s be clear. Food bank Britain is a creation of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition that took power four years ago.
In the 2010-11 fiscal year, the Trussell Trust — the largest food bank provider in the country — gave three days’ food relief to 61,468 people.
New figures show that in the 2013-14 period that number had shot up to 913,138. Nearly 15 times as many Britons are forced to rely on the charity to feed their families as in the days when David Cameron and Nick Clegg joined forces to put the boot in to the working class.
Given that not all food banks are part of the Trussell Trust, the number now going hungry in one of the world’s richest countries is likely to be well over a million.
The crisis has reached such a scale as to prick the usually sleepy consciences of the religious establishment. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby called attention yesterday to the “weeping in broken families, in people ashamed to seek help from food banks or frightened by debt.”
His Catholic counterpart Cardinal Vincent Nichols has also highlighted how welfare “reforms” directed by Iain Duncan Smith, nominally a member of his flock, had left people facing “hunger and destitution.”
The Tory response to such warnings? David Cameron spluttered that the cardinal’s remarks were “simply not true” and went one better, declaring that cutting people’s benefits was a “moral mission.”
This approach is popular with Tory grandees. Duncan Smith has accused the Trussell Trust of “scaremongering.”
Where’s the evidence that people are going hungry, they ask — except they don’t, because they know full well that the evidence of a million people needing handouts from food banks to survive is staring them in the face.
Duncan Smith’s undersecretary of state Lord Freud understands this. So he argues that supply is driving demand. From mysterious motives legions of volunteers have set up loads of extra food banks and there is “an almost infinite demand for a free good.”
But going to a food bank isn’t easy. You have to be referred to one by a professional, usually a doctor or social worker. The social stigma attached to needing charity to feed your kids makes applying for vouchers an agonising decision.
And research by Warwick University finds no evidence that supply is driving demand — quite the opposite.
The Tory media is echoing Tory ministers’ demonisation of food banks for a very good reason. Labour MP Ian Lavery is right to say the Mail should be ashamed — but the true shame lies with the wretched government that has caused Britain’s hunger crisis in the first place.
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