Food bank debate shows yet again the government’s argument has no substance


By now, we should all know how these Opposition Day debates go – but Wednesday’s discussion of food banks was one of the best examples I’ve heard.

The form goes like this: The relevant Labour shadow minister launches the debate, quoting the facts that support the argument (in this case, that the rise of food banks is a national disgrace and the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government’s policies have caused it), the government denies the charge – always with the same feeble excuses, backbenchers queue up to tell their own damning stories of what has happened to their constituents… and then the government wins the vote because its members have been whipped to vote against the motion, rather than because they believe it is wrong.

The food bank debate was textbook. Not only did it carry all these features, but:

  • The Secretary of State responsible, Iain Duncan Smith, declined to speak at all, but turned tail and ran after listening to only a small number of speakers.
  • Minister of State Esther McVey, who spoke in his place, delivered what Labour veteran Gerald Kaufman described as “one of the nastiest frontbench speeches I’ve heard in more than 43 years”.
  • As one story of government-created hardship followed another, Conservative MPs laughed. Clearly they are enjoying the suffering they are causing across the UK.

Each of these is a damning indictment of the depths to which the Coalition has driven British politics. But the debate is only half of this matter. Now it is our duty to publicise what happened. Many people may not know about this, or may not understand its significance.

They need to understand that food bank use has risen exponentially under David Cameron’s Conservative-led government, from 41,000 people in 2010 to half a million by April this year, one-third of whom were children. People are resorting to them because the cost of living is rising while wages have stagnated and social security benefit payments have been delayed or slashed. The government promised to publish a study on food banks in the summer of this year, but has delayed publication with no stated reason. The government department responsible – DEFRA – did not even put up a minister to speak in the debate.

Probably the most damning indictment was the vote. The Coalition government defeated a motion to bring forward measures that would reduce dependency on food banks. The obvious conclusion is that this government is happy to be pushing ordinary working and jobless people into crushing poverty – and intends to continue putting more and more people in the same situation for just as long as it possibly can.

We heard that:

  • People in Slough are fighting each other over discount fruit and vegetables in the local Tesco.
  • Food banks are visited by skilled workers who are unable to get jobs because of Coalition government policies.
  • Serious failures including administrative error in the benefit system mean one-fifth of the people visiting food banks are there because the Department for Work and Pensions has been unable to do its job properly.
  • The Bedroom Tax has hugely increased the number of people using food banks.
  • “The working poor are emerging as the Prime Minister’s legacy, as millions of people live in quiet crisis.” (Labour’s Jamie Reed).

In response, the Tories trotted out the old, old arguments, trying yet again to sell us the long-disproved claim that Labour forced the country into poverty by mismanaging the national finances. We heard, again, the turncoat Lord Freud’s claim that people were visiting food banks because the items there were free (ignoring the fact that everyone who visits a food bank is referred by a qualified organisation, and verified as being in crisis). We heard, again, the suggestion from our ignorant Education Secretary Michael Gove, that people are turning to food banks because they cannot manage their own finances (good management makes no difference if costs outweigh income; but then he clearly hasn’t been educated well enough to understand that).

Esther McVey’s speech showed clearly why she should have remained on breakfast television, where comparatively few people had to put up with her. She accused the previous Labour government of a “whirl of living beyond our means” that “had to come to a stop” without ever pausing to admit that it was Tory-voting bankers who had been living beyond their means, who caused the crash, and who are still living beyond their means today, because her corporatist (thank you, Zac Goldsmith) Conservative government has protected them.

She accused Labour of trying to keep food banks as “its little secret”, forcing Labour’s Jim Cunningham to remind us all that food banks were set up by churches to help refugees who were waiting for their asylum status to be confirmed – not as a support system for British citizens, as they have become under the Coalition’s failed regime.

She said the Coalition government was brought in to “solve the mess that Labour got us in”, which is not true – it was born from a backroom deal between two of the most unscrupulous party leaders of recent times, in order to ensure they and their friends could get their noses into the money trough (oh yes, there’s plenty of money around – but this government is keeping it away from you).

She said the Coalition had got more people into work than ever before – without commenting on the fact that the jobs are part-time, zero-hours, self-employed contracts that benefit the employers but exploit the workers and in fact propel them towards poverty.

She lied to Parliament, claiming that children are three times more likely to be in poverty if they are in a workless household. In fact, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in-work poverty has now outstripped that suffered by those in workless and retired households; children are more likely to be in poverty if their parents have jobs.

She attacked Labour for allowing five million people to be on out-of-work benefits, with two million children in workless households – but under her government the number of households suffering in-work poverty has risen to eight million (by 2008 standards), while workless or retired households in poverty have risen to total 6.3 million.

She claimed that 60,000 people were likely to use a food bank this year – but Labour’s Paul Murphy pointed out that 60,000 people will use food banks this year in Wales alone. The actual figure for the whole of the UK is 500,000.

She said the government had brought in Universal Credit to ensure that three million people become better-off. There’s just one problem with that system – it doesn’t work.

She said the Coalition’s tax cuts had given people an extra £700 per year, without recognising that the real-terms drop in wages and rise in the cost of living means people will be £1,600 a year worse-off when the next general election takes place, tax cuts included. She said stopping fuel price increases meant families were £300 better-off, which is nonsense. Families cannot become better off because something has not happened; it’s like saying I’m better off because the roof of my house hasn’t fallen in and squashed me.

Then, on top of all that, she had the nerve to tell the country, “Rewriting history doesn’t work.” If that is the case, then hers was one of the most pointless speeches in the history of Parliament.

Labour’s Jamie Reed had the best comment on the debate. He said: “The final verdict on any Government is based on how they treat the poorest in society during the hardest of times,” after pointing out that “the laughter from some of those on the Government benches … says more than words ever could.”

On a personal note, my own MP, Roger Williams, spoke about the food bank situation in Brecon and Radnorshire. It is gratifying that he is proud of the food bank set up by New Life Church, here in Llandrindod Wells – I well remember the telephone conversation I had with the organisers, in which I encouraged them to set it up. I am glad they took up the baton – and that he has appreciated their work.

Rather more worrying is the suggestion that he considers a possible new food bank in Brecon to be only the second in our constituency. There are food banks in many other towns, including Knighton, Ystradgynlais and Hay-on-Wye – with satellite facilities in smaller towns and villages. It is disturbing that the MP does not seem to know this.

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39 thoughts on “Food bank debate shows yet again the government’s argument has no substance

  1. David Allan Russell

    all these numbers and facts , all the talk , who does anything , no one. this government and opposition is no longer fit to serve the people. great change is coming , because it simply has to. i hated the tories in the eighties and i despise them even more now. i have never seen a government attack the weak and the poor so ruthlessly in my lifetime.not only that , i fear labour will be no better. they all seem to think death of poor sick elderly people is some sort of joke.i will never vote for any of them again as long as i live.

  2. Nick

    personally i wouldn’t use a food bank but rather die I’ve been starved nearly to death by the DWP many years ago and to this day have still not recovered after 25 years with a very deformed chest caused by my weight dropping to 7 stone at 6ft 2 so at least i have some idea on what it’s like not being able to eat

    as for conservatives laughing let them god will see they suffer at a later date when they too get old and find their vast money will be of no use to them whatsoever

  3. Thomas M

    Large scale hunger causes unrest, don’t the Tories know that? A well fed populous is a happy populous, and it’s in the government’s own interest to keep the people happy.

    1. sean

      They’ve forgotten that bread and circuses doesn’t work without bread. Or circuses.

      Lying about the existence of bread and circuses and blaming the last guy is no substitute.

  4. Stephen Bee

    It actually wasn’t a debate! If you analyse the speeches..the Labour left gave all the reasons their constituents had told them about, sanctions, late DWP payments. bedroom Tax payments..(its a tax..not subsidy which was and never has been introduced by legislation..) On the otherhand all the govt spokes people did was continue a litany of how wonderful each foodbank in their constituency was. None of them went into the ethos of the reaosn for the foodbanks existence..i.e. they wasted parliamentary time in praise of foodbanks while accusing the opposition of no remedy…pot, kettle black anyone. The whole parliamentary process is corrupt..’one’ cannot say..or accuse..a fellow MP dirctly and expose their lies..everything has to be tickety boo….well sod that that call a liar, a cheat, an arrogant bastard, a callous twat..for what they are..parliament and the lords need bring them into the ‘real’ world…NOW…and if they won’t do that..come the revolution..THE PEOPLE WILL! Ok Greecee, Spain haven;t succeeded brits are made of sterner stuff…back us into a corner..we come out fighting…TO THE DEATH…and i’ll be sure to take Scameron, IDS, Esther McVile, Penning, Hoban, Schaaps, and a few other guilty bastards with me!

    1. Mike Sivier

      Be careful what you say! This page is monitored by the government and they’ll probably decide to track you down as an evil conspirator – and me as the person facilitating your terrorist campaign! You should see the way they reacted to a simple Freedom of Information request.

    2. Bryn miller

      The BRITISH people by their nature don’t do riots they sit back and take it.

      1. gusman

        Because there is no viable alternative leadership, maybe the Greens? Which we never hear about, Iceland which jailed the bankers and told the money lenders to FO, again when do we about that ‘unrising’? No all we hear about when a country tries to change is the ‘Arab Spring’ and look at the mess they’ve gotten themselves into. We don’t have the stomach for a coup here, let alone one with Blood. It would also mean abolishing the Queen and her ponceing, philandering tribe, and we love our Betty. The great British populace has been cowed over years of media brainwashing. I lived in China, it’s only really one story there too, it’s appallingly similar here too. I mean have you seen the BBC lately? What a load of tosh !!!!
        There are so many things wrong, ‘Where to start?” seems the refrain. Oh sod it let me watch X Factor instead.

  5. thelovelywibblywobblyoldlady

    I watched the debate and I was sickened by the attitude of the tories who were either laughing, jeering or if they did get up to speak, tried to defend the indefensible.
    I try to bring these matters to the attention of as many people as I can via word of mouth and social media because the mainstream media (no doubt, by order of their paymasters) never, or very rarely report it.

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  7. Jim

    If so many people are now in work why haven’t receipts from direct taxes also risen to historically high levels and why haven’t welfare costs been reduced massively as people in gainful employment become more self-sufficient? The only reason I can see is that these days millions of working people now find themselves members of the working poor in insecure part-time, or zero hour contract, minimum wage very poor quality positions which do not pay living wages, demand top-ups from in-work benefits in order to survive.

    Why isn’t this question being asked?

    If so many people are now in paid work, why is so little direct tax, like income tax and national insurance, flowing like a raging unstoppable torrent to the Treasury?

  8. Jeffrey Davies

    wait until if ever they get uc to work then ids will becalling in working families who claim a benefit yes any working or child called into the jcp whot are you doing to get off benefits yet nothings said about this its another ticking time bomb taking money away from families through sanctions which will cause further lose of being able to afford to live yet they our glorious mps a lot of millionaires are never going to see that wolf at their door unless there is mass involment of the 99percent who aint rich

    1. Mike Sivier

      Exactly – people who feel disenfranchised need to feel that their contribution is worthwhile again. Unfortunately we have too many people with a vested interest in making them believe their vote doesn’t matter.

      1. Ian Duncan

        Until I see hard evidence Labour will do something radical to change things I will not vote. I will not be part of a rigged system that ensures nothing real gets done and I will not lend the system unwarranted legitimacy by taking part in it.

        I’ve learned from my mistakes and haven’t voted since that wanker Blair turned Labour into craven corporatist suckarses.

      2. Mike Sivier

        I just read a comment from Sue Jones on the VP Facebook page that was tailor-made for you:

        “If you dont vote, then we get 5 more years of the Tories, because Tory supporters always vote. Simple really. If you are waiting for a perfect socialist party to appear, you will be waiting forever in disappointment. And how principled and “socialist” is it to sit back and see more sick and disabled people die, more people suffering and the country trashed by the Tories? How about raking some collective responsibility and voting for OTHER people? We didn’t have thousands dying , starving and destitute under the last government. Vote labour, if not for yourself, then for other people. Save lives.”

      3. Ian Duncan

        What do you think Labour will do different? As far as I can tell it will be more or less the same, they did, after all, promise to be even tougher on ‘welfare’ than the coalition. Well how much tougher can you get?

        I think anyone who thinks Labour will be any different is deluded or prone to dereistic thinking. New Labour did introduce the WCA, Atos, ESA and David f***ing Freud, did they not? And Ed Miliband is New Labour to the core, as far as I can tell.

        I understand Labour’s timidity in standing up for what’s right with most of the press and even the BBC against them and that fruitcake IBS calling them the welfare party etc but this is pushing timidity into outright cowardice and I see no sign of them fighting back or wanting to change things.

        If Labour would make a difference then they would get my vote but I will not vote for the same s*** from a different set of a***holes. If you’ll excuse the language.

      4. Mike Sivier

        I won’t excuse the language – you’ll get asterisks like everybody else.

        Rachel Reeves’ faux pas has been accepted as a huge mistake, and the party modified its tone, pronto. Perhaps you missed that bit but it seems possible that Labour was testing the ground and got the answer it was looking for.

        New Labour did indeed introduce ESA and the WCA but, if you’ve been keeping up with intelligence on this, the initial results of assessment of the new system that was carried out after it was introduced were so bad that, if the party had been re-elected in 2010, ESA would not have been rolled out any further and another way would have been sought. David ‘Turncoat’ Freud was another mistake, and it seems likely the two were combined. Atos was the successor of the successor of the original company brought in to handle incapacity assessments – it had bought up the previous company that had the contract. Ed Miliband is not New Labour – if anything, he’s his father’s son – not quite the Marxist that Ralph Miliband was but, as Sue Jones put it, a socialist who has compromised in order to do the most good he can.

        You may wish to investigate some of your beliefs. If, after doing so, you still decide not to vote, then you may at least rest assured of one thing: Whichever government we all end up with, YOU will deserve it.

        That’s the one certainty that abstaining will get you.

      5. Ian Duncan

        missed the Rachel Reeves thing but that doesn’t really alter my sense of frustration – I almost said disappointment but I don’t actually expect anything from Labour so I cannot be disappointed by them. Labour have a history of playing to the right wing gallery (how else could you explain those Home Secretaries and anti ‘terror’ lawsfor a start?) that I may be doing them a slight disservice. May. Slight.It wasn’t a Conservative government that insisted on me doing an utterly pointless New Deal program for 35 hours a week for travel expenses and a corned beef butty every day, supposedly intended to get me into a non-existent job but in reality to reassure Middle England that dole scum were being punished for their idle ways. Nor was it a Conservative government who had me dragged in for reassessment umpteen times to see if I was sick enough to not work, (those assessments are startlingly similar, maybe even the same, as the ones occurring now, btw). We only have Labour’s word that the thing would have been scrapped had Brown not lost but their actions in government contradict their words.

        You also say David Frood (I remember the Bill and Ted’s films…) was a mistake – well how many mistakes do they get before you wash your hands of them? They’re still too infested by the same Blairite/Brownite subspecies for any real change to be impossible in the short term. Also, would they even admit their mistakes? Would they actually consider them mistakes? I don’t think so.

        And if Ed Miliband turns out to be a socialist I’ll eat Anne Widdecombe’s discarded intimate wipes. I know he’s isn’t going to start babbling on about the labour theory of value or whatever for fear of frightening the horses but there’s been no sign of any socialist ideals, either. Timidity has been his watchword. You can almost smell the fear of upsetting Daily Mail readers (who will never vote Labour in 783 years anyway.) Keep Schtum and Carry On, if you will.

        Al I can say is I see nothing to make me believe Labour will be more than a very slight improvement, certainly not their actions in government.

      6. Ian Duncan

        That’s based on the idea that they would have been better than this lot when they were already heading in the current direction. Labour took its core voters for granted and p***ed all over it for the thirteen years in government. The only way we’ll get an even vaguely left wing Labour party is by not being taken for granted any more.

        They need to earn my vote from now on, insignificant though it is. I don’t expect revolution but I do expect a basic fairness in society, Voting for a marginally less right wing party than the other very right wing parties just won’t cut it any more. This is one reason I’m hoping the Scots see sense and vote for independence – I’ll apply for citizenship in a heartbeat and leave England to sink under the weight of it’s own spiteful misery.

      7. Mike Sivier

        It’s based on the idea that Labour aren’t Tories. Even if they were heading in the same direction (and there are signs they were already pulling away from neoliberalism – which is the problem you’re discussing, even though you haven’t mentioned it by name – when Gordon Brown was in charge), they are definitely on a different course now. My guess is that as more people join Labour who want a different approach to the Conservatives, it’s more likely that Labour will adopt a different approach to the Conservatives.

  9. Justin Pratten

    Gerald Celente gives me hope. He is predicting the total collapse of the dollar in 2014. When we are freed of this completely corrupt monetary system then we can start “voting” for the people who have solutions to all our problems with “real” money without getting continuously robbed by these dinosaurs. Trying to get others to “bite” the hand that feeds them is pointless.

  10. bob archer

    If i said what i think of this evil mob i too would probably be visited by the men in black. Suffice it to say that these are the most heartless,callous,self serving thugs that ever called themselves a government. Come the reckoning these whinging cowards will be shown for the pitiful creatures they are. Roll on 2015.

  11. Lolly

    I tried to listen to the debate but Esther McVey’s painful drawl made this impossible. To be honest I’d rather listen to nails being drawn across a blackboard.

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  13. Jim Round

    Again, the problem here is that even though almost 500,000 use foodbanks (officially) it is a small percentage of the population of the UK as a whole.
    You are correct though Mike, as the seventh richest country in the world it is a disgrace, but like workfare, ESA, ATOS etc… protester numbers that struggle to get over 100 will hardly change things.
    The problem is that those in work, several with their own families, do not have the stomach to rock the boat and protest, and those that are unemployed may well be to scared to start for fear of sanctions or being labelled by the press as even bigger scroungers (look at these dolites causing trouble, they should put all their energy into finding a job)

    1. Ian Duncan

      The Tory filth are also doing very well to recognise that a lot of people are in awful jobs for below subsistence wages and using that to create misguided spite by those people and brainwashing them into aiming that spite at disabled and unemployed people instead of the people who actually make the mess we’re in – bankers, city boys and the politicians who do their bidding. They actively want to fuel the sense of deserving and undeserving poor amongst the working poor, that’s what all this persistent ‘hard working family’ refrain s for: “I work hard, they don’t. I deserve, they don’t”. It instills a self-righteous sense of grievance. And of course along come the Conservatives, saying they have the answer, except the answer is not to raise the minimum wage, dump zero hour contracts and increase union powers for those working poor, their answer is to kick the shit out of the even worse off and improve nobody’s lives except those who already have enough money for the already loaded.

      1. Mike Sivier

        I agree with that 100 per cent. This is exactly what they are doing. The propaganda that jobless people don’t work hard is groundless. Of course you get some people like that – there are people in very well-paid jobs who don’t work hard. Most do a lot of work. Look at me – I’m a carer but I don’t just sit back, take my Carers’ Allowance and watch telly all day – I run one of Britain’s most popular political blogs (according to Sonia Poulton on her internet TV show), I’m vice-chairman of my local Citizens Advice Bureau and I’m an active member of the Labour Party. I make a difference (or at least, that’s the intention).

        Sorry – I just felt an overwhelming urge to get on my soapbox.

  14. Ian Duncan

    What is also disgusting about the tory propaganda is the role the press play. Have you seen that staged photo the Daily Malice used, supposedly of a bloke on benefits? He’s sitting on the sofa WITH HIS FEET UP, just in case no-one got the message. Same as they always show a fat bloke to illustrate diabetes. And to see overpaid and undertalented columnists bemoaning people who don’t work hard is just nauseating. I once read Jeremy Clarkson say something along the lines of ‘people don’t want to work hard any more’. This from a man who essentially says ‘this car is crap’ for a living.

    I digress. The coalition would not be getting away with this if we had proper journalism, rather than bread and circuses mixed with the proprietors’ right wing agenda, all dressed up as news of import.


    1. Bloggy

      Labour is the only party that would get rid of the Bedroom Tax if elected. Just that on its own encourages me to vote for that party come May of 2015.

  15. Jen

    Massive disinformation here.

    Food banks simply didn’t exist en-masse until recently. If they had, they would have been used at similar levels.

    Also now factor in how many blogs, newspaper articles and news programmes reference them, and public knowledge of them has increased dramatically which has also massively contributed to the rise in usage. Hell, they even have food bank stalls
    in supermarket lobbies.

    No one is denying that things are bleak out there, but your figures are skewed and your readers are being lied to.

    1. Mike Sivier

      There is indeed massive disinformation – in your comment. Food banks did not exist until recently because there was no demand for them. They were first devised to give aid to asylum-seekers who were waiting for a decision on their status from the government of the day – in other words, their original purpose was not to feed people in our own country who could not afford to feed themselves. This role has been expanded because of the exponential growth in the number of people who do now need them for that purpose.

      But food banks don’t give free stuff to all comers. Anyone going to a food bank does so because they are referred to it by one of several organisations that are licensed to do so. People have to be in serious food poverty to get through the door. This situation did not exist in sufficient levels before the financial crash to justify food banks’ existence – other remedies were available – so your comment about them being used at similar levels if they had existed en masse before recent years is unjustified.

      If public knowledge of them has increased dramatically, it is because the need for them has also increased – “exponentially” was the word used in the debate last week – due to Conservative-led Coalition policies.

      Anyone reading your comment would think that food banks have arisen to feed a cynical growth in demand from people who really could afford to pay for their foodlike the rest of us – they can’t. It is government policy that is to blame, for cutting wages and benefits down to a point at which people can no longer pay their way.

      Please do not peddle your dangerous and divisive ideas here again.

  16. Bernard Hurley

    Increases in the price of food are also a major contributor to the growth of food banks. I have seen dicounted items selling for two or three times what the same item would have sold at two or three years ago. Sometimes one sees items that previously were part of a bogof offer bening sold at a discount on their, or just before, the sell by date. I always make a point of asking the manager if the offer still stands, even for items I wouldn’t buy myself. If not then a 25% “discount” actually represents a 50% increase. Many supermarkets do honour the original offer, but I think that, in that case, it should be made plain to the customer. Those that do not honour the original offer are being plain dishonest in my book.

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