Food bank blow is new low for the Mail on Sunday

Who do you bank with? This piece of public opinion was picked up from Twitter [Author: Unknown].

Who do you bank with? This piece of public opinion was picked up from Twitter [Author: Unknown].

Isn’t it a shame that on of our national Sunday newspapers has chosen to disrupt everybody’s enjoyment of our Easter eggs with a specious attempt to expose abuses of food banks and make operator the Trussell Trust look hypocritical?

Isn’t it also a shame that the Mail on Sunday didn’t make a few inquiries into the procedure for dealing with people who turn up at food banks without having been referred?

The paper’s reporters and editor could have, at least, opened a dictionary and looked up the meaning of the word “charity”.

Under the headline, ‘No ID, no checks… and vouchers for sob stories: The truth behind those shock food bank claims’, the paper today (April 20) published a story claiming that Trussell Trust food banks are breaking their own rules by allowing people to take food bank parcels without presenting a voucher from an approved referrer, and that they are allowing many times more than the maximum permissible number of repeat visits.

Unfortunately for reporters Simon Murphy and Sanchez Manning, both situations are – in fact – allowed, because food banks must be flexible in the way they deal with individual cases. They would have known that if they had done their homework – as yr obdt srvt (who’s writing this) did at several meetings on the organisation of food banks here in Powys.

The paper’s investigation claims that there were “inadequate checks on who claims the vouchers, after a reporter obtained three days’ worth of food simply by telling staff at a Citizens Advice Bureau – without any proof – that he was unemployed”.

It turned out that this person had to fill out a form providing his name, address, date of birth, phone number and the reason for his visit before an assessor asked him why he needed food bank vouchers. In contradiction of the introduction to the story, he explained – not simply that he was unemployed, but that he had been out of work for several months and the harsh winter had left him strapped for cash and food. He said his wife had left her job and was not earning and that they had two children. These lies were sufficient to win food bank vouchers.

What the report didn’t say was how the details given by reporter Ross Slater would have been used afterwards. The CAB would have booked him in for a further interview with a debt advisor, to which he would have had to bring documentary evidence of his situation. When he didn’t turn up, he would have been identified as a fraud. The food bank would also have taken his details, to be fed back into the referral system. Job Centre Plus would have picked up on the fact that he isn’t unemployed. From this point on, he would have been identified as a fraud and refused further service.

You see, it is true that food banks run on a voucher system, but that is only a part of the scheme. The questions asked of people who need vouchers are used to ensure that they get the help they need to avoid having to come back – that’s why they’re asked. They also weed out abusers like Mr Slater.

If the paper’s editor had looked in a dictionary, he might have seen charity defined as “voluntary provision of help to people in need, or the help provided” in the first instance. However, reading further, he would have seen “sympathy or tolerance in judging” listed as well. It seems the Mail on Sunday would have no such sympathy and would have deserving cases turned away to starve.

It is telling, also, that the paper had to go to Citizens Advice to get its evidence. Far more food bank vouchers are handed out in the Job Centre Plus, where all a citizen’s circumstances are available to advisors. But not one word is said about the fact that the vast majority of food bank referrals are for people in real need and not newspaper reporters.

The paper also stated: “Staff at one centre gave food parcels to a woman who had visited nine times in just four months, despite that particular centre’s own rules stipulating that individuals should claim no more than three parcels a year.”

It continued: “Individuals experiencing severe financial hardship are able to claim food vouchers but there are no clear criteria on who should be eligible. Once received, the vouchers can be exchanged for three days’ worth of food at an allotted centre.

“The Trussell Trust has a policy that an individual can claim no more than nine handouts in a year, but undercover reporters found this limit varied in different branches.”

No – it is far more likely that it varied according to the circumstances of the person who needed the help. Rigid rules, such as one that limits people to only three visits, mean those who need the most help would be cut off while they still needed assistance. People working in food banks would be aware of who these were, and would be more likely to be tolerant towards them.

Meanwhile, the other support services – Job Centre Plus, Citizens Advice, Social Services and so on – would be working to help them. With some people, it simply takes longer. It should be easy for anyone to think of reasons why this may be the case.

This may also explain the situation in which a worker at a Trussell Trust food bank said people “bounce around” locations to receive more vouchers. The assessment system is a way of monitoring these people and determining whether they need extra help.

It is not true that the criteria are not clear – the paper is misleading with this claim. Food banks, the charities running them, and referring organisations all have to agree on the circumstances in which they permit people to receive parcels. You really can’t just walk in the door and expect to get a free handout. That’s why the questions are asked and forms filled out – they will check up on everybody.

Another claim – that “volunteers revealed that increased awareness of food banks is driving a rise in their use” is unsubstantiated, and is clearly an attempt to support the government’s claim that this is the case. But it is silly. Of course starving people will go to a food bank after they have been told it exists; that doesn’t mean they aren’t starving.

And the paper wrongly said the Trussell Trust had claimed that more than 913,000 people received three days’ emergency food from its banks in 2013-14, compared with 347,000 in the previous financial year. This is a misreading of the way the charity records its work, as the Trussell Trust records visits, not visitors. It would be hard to work out exactly how many people attended because some will have visited just once, others twice, a few for the full three times, and some would have required extra help.

The claim that many visitors were asylum-seekers is silly because food banks were originally set up for foreign people who were seeking asylum in the UK and had no money or means of support.

Of course it would be wrong to say that nobody is trying to abuse the system. There are good people and bad people all over the country, and bad people will try to cheat. Look at Maria Miller, Iain Duncan Smith (Betsygate), George Osborne (and his former paddock), Andrea Leadsom’s tax avoidance, Philip Hammond’s tax avoidance, Charlotte Leslie who took cash to ask Parliamentary questions – to name but a few.

The Trussell Trust has agreed to investigate the newspaper’s allegations – but it is important to remember that these were just a few instances of abuse, and only claimed – by a newspaper that is infamous for the poor quality of its reporting.

Nothing said in the article should be used to undermine the vital work of food banks in helping people to survive, after the Conservative-led Coalition government stole the safety net of social security away from them.

UPDATE: Already the Mail on Sunday is facing a public backlash against its ill-advised piece. A petition on the Change.org website is calling for the reporter who claimed food bank vouchers under false pretences in order to make a political point to be sacked. Vox Political has mixed feelings about this – it targets a person who was sent out to do a job by others who are more directly to blame for the piece, but then he did it of his own free will and this action brings all newspaper reporters into disrepute. Consider carefully.

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36 thoughts on “Food bank blow is new low for the Mail on Sunday

  1. Steve

    The MAIL has always been and still is a right wing nazi paper which is still allowed to print its vile lies in the UK…If I had my way this sort of bile would be banned and that would be the opinion of the majority of the UK people. Better still lets rid ourselves of this paper altogether.

  2. jeffrey davies

    how in all that’s h why oh why they get to boot the helpless again its diabolical the tories mouth piece off again isn’t it sad when even while making money from the starving the tt stands up to be counted in the ranks of those who need it yet upset those with their tables full wonder on this weekend of all they did the deed I wonder why yet tt in all its glory has been a shouter out of abuse of those in power I wonder will they ever be crucified for their abuse nah the devil protects his own jeff3

  3. John Peters

    I would normally voter Conservative but dirty tactics like this disgust me. I will not be giving them my vote in 2015

  4. Florence

    I hope that the naked political agenda is seen by everyone.

    Davethepious likes food banks at Easter, after a roasting from the church establishment, More people are aware of the Church’s letters on hunger than of Davethepious chameleon turns in his own Downing Street parties.

    This MoS story is there to put the balance right in case anyone actually thought there was any change in policy there from Davetheincompetant.

    IDSthehammerofthepoor hates food banks, and hates hungry poor people even more. The MoS is his sermon for Sunday.

    The sleaze and incompetence and the cronyism and the class war, and not least financial policies for the rich, are now so firmly entrenched they will not be able to slither out from it when the election comes.

  5. thoughtfullyprepping

    Scummy paper, scummy reporting, and Cameron’s party of thieves exposed all in one article. Good for you.

    As for the Trussell Trust. Keep up the good work guys and girls.
    The REAL people in life deeply appreciate what you are doing and why you are doing it.

    Election time will come soon enough and I can’t wait for some politician to knock on my door. Hopefully “IT” will be a conservative.
    Hope they like dogs, mine loves white meat, and as the sign goes, it can reach the gate in under 5 seconds..

  6. jess

    “Another claim – that “volunteers revealed that increased awareness of food banks is driving a rise in their use” is unsubstantiated, and is clearly an attempt to support the government’s claim that this is the case. But it is silly. Of course starving people will go to a food bank after they have been told it exists; that doesn’t mean they aren’t starving.”

    The DWP appear to be pushing this line rather hard, as their response to the public’s growing awareness of the scandal of food banks. Their argument, based on Say’s Law, is utterly fallacious, and they must know it is.

    Say’s Law, roughly formulated, is “”Supply creates its own demand”[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supply_creates_its_own_demand].
    In the present context it seems to have been first invoked by Lord Freud, and then taken up by his department.

    It will be familiar to most people through its mention by Keynes in his ‘General Theory’;
    “From the time of Say and Ricardo the classical economists have taught that supply creates its own demand; meaning by this in some significant, but not clearly defined, sense that the whole of the costs of production must necessarily be spent in the aggregate, directly or indirectly, on purchasing the product.” [http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/economics/keynes/general-theory/ch02.htm]

    But even the free marketeers regard Freud’s interpretation of Say as ridiculous;
    “W. H. Hutt once referred to Say’s Law as the most fundamental ‘economic law’ in all economic theory. In its crude and colloquial form, Say’s Law is frequently understood as supply creates its own demand, as if the simple act of supplying some good or service on the market was sufficient to call forth demand for that product. It is certainly true that producers can undertake expenses, such as advertising, to persuade people to purchase a good they have already chosen to supply, but that is not the same thing as saying that an act of supply necessarily creates demand for the good in question. This understanding of the law is obviously nonsensical as numerous business and product failures can attest to. If Say’s Law were true in this colloquial sense, then we could all get very rich just by producing whatever we wanted.” [http://www.fee.org/the_freeman/detail/understanding-says-law-of-markets]

    How then, did this silly ‘aphorism’ creep into the language of the DWP?

    One route may have been through the IEA and it’s then Director David G Green.. He wrote a couple of pamphlets in the late ’90’s advocating the demolition of Social Security, and a return to the Friendly Societies of Victorian England [Benefit dependency : how welfare undermines dependency.1998; An end to welfare rights : the rediscovery of independence 1999]

    Most people, at the time, thought Green was ‘off his trolley’, It is tragic that Say, and Green is being used to attack food banks. The last refuge of the destitute.

  7. Hayfords

    It is amusing to the comment above about ‘naked political agenda’. Of course the same can be said in relation to claims by the Trussel Trust. Looking at the two sides, I am more inclined yo believe the investigative journalists. In the article there are comments from Trussel admitting that there are people taking advantage of the system. No one knows the numbers abusing the system. You are just assuming that the numbers are small even though the numbers could be large. The increased volume of customers is clearly because of aggressive marketing and Trussels’s franchise model to give fast expansion. This means that there is probably no increased demand, just increased supply.

    1. Mike Sivier

      What absolute rubbish.
      You do realise I’ve started approving your comments, just so other readers can laugh at you?
      To address your claims: Any charitable or benefit system is open to abuse, but the amount demonstrated is clearly tiny, because the largest number of referrals are made by organisations that may easily check a claimant’s full financial situation. You yourself were claiming only yesterday that government organisations can look up practically every detail of a citizen’s life at the touch of a key. The system allows for people who come in without vouchers but has safeguards to check on them, so that side is also covered (although not in the hideously biased Mail on Sunday article). Regarding the increased volume of customers, see a fellow commenter’s words about Say’s law and why it is a fallacy. Your continuing adherence to your Tory masters’ claim about increased supply is not persuasive, just annoying. The Trussell Trust does indeed have a ‘naked political agenda’ – it is to provide food for people who have been left to starve by an uncaring money-grubbing government of cheats.

    2. JK

      Kind of a silly comment of the kind you get from people who have already made up their minds to adhere to a fallacy. Several years ago a friend of mine complained about a Big Issue salesman in the street trying to flog his wares with his dog beside him. “You realise that the social gives these people £10 a week to feed their dogs you know” he said. I replied that he was wrong. “Well I believe it” he said and we parted company. Just out of interest I wrote to my own MP querying this and asking whether the homeless received money from the state to feed pets. The answer was an unequivocal no. I showed the MPs letter to the friend who believed that the homeless could claim benefits for animals and you know what? – He still couldn’t be persuaded to stop believing his nonsense.

      Even with documentary proof.

      That’s the way it is with some folks: they think reality is based on their beliefs.

      Like Iain Duncan Smith for example.

      Enough said (now that we have reached rock bottom).

  8. Jenny Hambidge

    A couple in our local church arranged a Christmas meal for anyone to come to – hungry, disadvantaged, lonely, anyone needing company. They did not take the personal details and employment status before giving a hot meal and a drink and a chat to the recipient. Most of the people who came were poor: the food was free. There were no conditions made. I’m sure the Trussell Trust exists not only to supply food but to provide other help as well; at the point of need. It is not (yet) a government agency where you have to jump through hoops to claim help when you are desperate, and yet the implication is that you do. It is a charity with its own rules and standards and yet media like DM is implying that such charity is undermining the Government’s attempts to force poor people into work and to punish them for their poverty. Trussell Trust and the voucher agencies are already doing the government’s work for it by providing social security and by the questioning that is going on. I agree that they have to do something to divvy out the resources fairly, but for a DM reporter to be instructed to “find the dirt” on such charities is disgraceful.

  9. jaypot2012

    I’m disgusted with this piece and believe that the reporter and the editor should be sacked.
    Total lies, there in black and white, fraud, there in black and white – and then more lies on top!
    The reporter DID go of his own free will, he then committed fraud and then twisted everything to make it look as though people where getting free food no matter what. Those who read and believe this load of shit reporting are the ones that need to go and see just how desperate people are to go to a food bank. Take a look for themselves at the poverty that we have in the year 2014!

  10. beastrabban

    Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog and commented:
    in this detailed piece Mike demolishes the lies published in the Mail on Sunday about the rise in food banks being due to fraud and abuse by anyone willing to give a ‘sob story’. As Mike shows, this is simply not true. And this is an appalling new low for the Mail on Sunday. It’s bad enough when the wretched rag pours abuse and falsifications about welfare claimants and asylum seekers. Now that it has decided to attack what may for many people be the only thing standing between them and starvation – this is truly revolting.

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  12. Steve Cheney

    Please, do not feel any pity for the hack who did this. He comes from Nottinghamshire, he lives here, so he actively attacked his own community. While we may wish for editors to be held to account, that can only really happen if journalists can be held to account too. They cannot just be forgiven for what they do. Don’t paint this shill as a victim unless you know for a fact that he begged for the opportunity not to take the money and take a big wet crap on his local infrastructure, which based on his past work, I’d be very surprised if he did.

  13. [email protected]

    The only reason ppl can get a food voucher from job centre plus is because this government overturned labours ban on job centres giving the vouchers. You have to ask why they banned them in the first place? Also Ed Miliband was part of that govt

    1. Mike Sivier

      The Conservatives say Labour imposed a ban. I have already asked, elsewhere on this site, if anybody can produce the particular line from the rule book that states when Labour imposed it, how Labour imposed it, and why. Nobody has come forward with an answer so it seems likely that there was no such rule – it was merely the case that Job Centre advisors were not explicitly told they could refer to food banks. This should come as no surprise to anybody, though, because food banks had a different purpose while Labour was in office. You might not remember but they were set up primarily to help asylum-seekers who had arrived in the UK without any money or means of support, to ensure that they did not starve while their cases were going through the system. In that situation, it was not necessary for Labour to issue directives about UK citizens to the Job Centre. It was only after the Conservatives came into office and started forcing British people into such dire poverty that they would have starved without being able to go to food banks that the necessity for referring them there arose, and a new regulation was written in 2011. That has recently been rewritten, substituting the word “signpost” or “signposting” for the word “referral”. What difference is made by this semantic change is beyond me.
      So: There appears to be no proof that Labour banned JCP staff from referring to food banks.
      Food banks were for a different purpose when Labour was in office.
      The Tory-led coalition increased poverty and made referrals to food banks by JCP staff necessary.
      Isn’t it a shame the current government has stopped Job Centre staff from actually helping people?

  14. r crosbie

    I volunteer as an assessor at the CAB. NEVER in my experience is a clients visit flagged up to the Job Centre. The client may well be signposted there but the CAB is independent.

    1. Mike Sivier

      I have just amended the article, in fact. CAB would have ID’d the reporter as a fraud when he didn’t attend a follow-up interview with his documents. When he arrived at the food bank, they would have asked him questions, and it is his answers to those that would have been fed back into the system. The report doesn’t mention any questioning, which raises issues that the Trussell Trust will need to address. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t asked about his situation, though – just that he didn’t report it.

  15. buddyhell

    Reblogged this on Guy Debord's Cat and commented:
    Just when you thought The Daily Heil couldn’t sink any lower, it produces what it claims is a piece of “investigative journalism”, but is, in reality, a piece of cheap sensationalism written to an agenda. We all know how the Tories would like to ignore the issue of hunger caused by their welfare policies. We also know that they have a hard time grasping the fact that demand for food banks has increased since they came to office four years ago. Rather than deal with the problem of hunger, the Tories attack the food banks, claiming “people are more aware of them now” and “they’re better publicised”. But anyone who possesses a shred of humanity will recognise that the Tories are so desperate to deflect attention away from their heartlessly cruel policies, they will blame poverty and hunger on the food banks themselves or they will claim that everyone who has had to use a food bank to eat is somehow “cheating the system”. Run them out in 2015.

  16. jim rose

    Of course the reporter should resign. The Sieg Heil won’t sack him, he’s too willing a puppet.

  17. James

    Shame about the image. Not sure it’s helpful to refer to a Rothschild Bank. It’s important to be aware of the long history of anti-semitic obsession with the Rothschilds by conspiracy theorists – in reality I can’t see they ever behaved any different to anyone else in oligopolistic positions. But they currently don’t even play that huge a part in the UK banking sector afaik, so it’s doubly odd to refer to them in the British context.

    1. Mike Sivier

      It’s a meme that’s doing the rounds just now.
      Regarding the Rothschilds, it’s a widely-held belief that they own the banking systems of every country in the world, bar three, and I think that’s why their name is on the signpost. It isn’t anti-Semitism, it’s all about that particular banking family.

  18. Pingback: Food bank blow is new low for the Mail on Sunday | Kiruna Stamell

  19. etiennehanratty

    Reblogged this on etiennehanratty and commented:
    Two days later, I’m still angry about this story, but it’s a rage I’ve struggled to chanbel. The best I’ve managed are a couple of incoherent tweets and a message to Mr Slater’s Facebook account expressing polite disappointment. The writer below has managed to distill my feelings about this shameful episode whilst helpfully providing some content which establishes, beyond any doubt, that Messrs Murphy, Manning and Slater are guilty of an utterly despicable act.
    (That said, I wouldn’t advocate their dismissal-the Mail makes an ideal repository for ‘journalists’ like them though Slater appears to be a freelance and I suspect he might find that the offers of work dry up a little after this)

    If you’re as saddened as I am by this whole thing then I urge you to seek out and donate to the Trussell Trust.

  20. weltchysnotebook

    Excellently written reposte. I must admit to being a tad right wing with things like this, however your writing speaks volumes as to your passion against the mail article and can only find myself agreeing with what you say.

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