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Coffee House

Edwina Currie is wrong about food banks

30 January 2014

8:03 PM

30 January 2014

8:03 PM

The Trussell Trust would like to correct the following inaccuracies and misleading statements made in Edwina Currie’s recent blog, and wishes to make readers aware that Edwina Currie has never spoken to The Trussell Trust, and has not sought to verify any of her assertions with us.

A response to ‘Food banks aren’t solving problems — they can make things worse too’

The Trussell Trust started Salisbury foodbank in 2000 and has been running it ever since.

The Trussell Trust started the UK foodbank network, a social franchise, in 2004. All foodbanks in The Trussell Trust’s network operate to a common system, adhering to agreed policies.

All Trussell Trust foodbanks share their data with The Trussell Trust head office using an online data collection system, enabling the Trust to report data trends and figures for all foodbanks in its network – hence we were able to report the 170 percent increase in numbers helped by Trussell Trust foodbanks last year.

The Trussell Trust does far more than ‘merely advise churches and community groups on how to [run a foodbank]’: this statement displays total ignorance about how The Trussell Trust network operates. Each Trussell Trust foodbank is provided with ongoing support by regional and national staff, including back office support in functions like marketing, IT, fundraising and corporate relations. The Trussell Trust provides practical resources to its foodbanks, as well as hosting training events and carrying out quality assurance audits.

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Trussell Trust foodbanks do not give out food to anyone who turns up at a foodbank, you have to be referred by professionals such as social workers, health visitors, CAB, children’s centres and schools liaison officers. The increased supply is meeting unmet need, unless we believe that the 23,000 professionals who refer to foodbanks are wrong. Readers must choose who they believe: the thousands of professionals who refer clients to foodbanks, or Edwina Currie.

Edwina provides no evidence that foodbanks are perpetuating the problem. Foodbank use and poverty are undoubtedly linked and there is a wealth of evidence from a range of respected organisations such as Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Oxfam  and the SERC funded multi-university PSE UK Survey to suggest that there are increasing problems with poverty in the UK.

The Trussell Trust knows who needs foodbanks because we meet these people and help them. As a result we know that they come from a range of backgrounds for a wide range of reasons that are far more complex than Edwina Currie’s stereotypes.

Manchester has set aside funds to tackle food poverty not funds for foodbanks. Foodbanks are not a replacement for health services. Foodbanks work in partnership with agencies such as drugs and alcohol advice services, as well as mental health services.

Trussell Trust  foodbanks provide three days’ nutritionally balanced food and support, not just a tin of soup.

Trussell Trust foodbanks deliberately operate a very different model to foodbank models in the USA, Canada and parts of continental Europe. In particular, Trussell Trust foodbanks discourage dependency on a foodbank. Trussell Trust foodbanks offer a time-limited crisis intervention based on a referral system with food vouchers signed off by professionals, 50 percent of whom are statutory agencies. Trussell Trust foodbank clients may redeem three foodbank vouchers in a row, at which point the foodbank manager will contact the referral agent about putting together a support plan to help the client break out of crisis. Longer term support from the foodbank is available in exceptional circumstances as agreed between the foodbank manager and referral agency.

We signpost clients to other agencies and local services able to help resolve the underlying cause of the crisis.

Benefit levels are not normally viewed as “substantial”. We know of no-one who will argue this after they have tried living for a week or two on them, and several journalists and politicians have.

Far from perpetuating the problem they seek to solve, evidence from a wide range of professionals who refer to foodbanks states that the foodbanks in their community are not only vital in preventing short term hunger, but help to prevent crime, housing loss, suicide and family breakdown.

Foodbanks are not an alternative to a local shop. They provide short term emergency food to people in a crisis, people cannot just turn up, take their pick and leave. They must be referred, and there is time-limited help available to prevent dependency. There is no verifiable evidence given to suggest foodbanks have contributed to the decline in local food stores!

Helping to reduce the numbers of people in poverty in the UK is essential, that’s why The Trussell Trust has called for an official in depth inquiry into the root causes of poverty and increased foodbank use. The Trussell Trust is working to help create a nation where far fewer people are going hungry, but where there is essential local community support available when people hit a crisis.

Chris Mould is Chairman of the Trussell Trust.

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