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“Lambie-Mumford, H., D. Crossley, E. Jensen, M. Verbeke, E. Dowler (2014) Household Food Security: A Review of Food Aid, report to Defra, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/food-aid-research-report[/ref] Every year DWP asks a whole battery of questions covering access to essentials such as…”
The DWP was faced with questions about why over 900,000 people needed help from Trussell Trust foodbanks last year – up from just over 340,000 the year before. The answer given has been used in literally hundreds of media outlets and is a master class in obfuscation, manipulation and deceit.[ref]
The line first appeared in a Daily Mail article in March 2014 with no DWP person quoted – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2583954/Food-banks-Britons-LEAST-hungry-developed-world-Number-families-say-eat-falls-past-five-years.html – and has been given out by DWP spokespeople in response to foodbank stories ever since. It has appeared on TV, national regional an local media. Below are some examples.
Number of food bank users up 163% in past year http://www.itv.com/news/story/2014-04-16/food-bank-use-up-163-in-past-year/
Food banks: on the front line with Britain’s poorest http://www.channel4.com/news/trussell-trust-figures-foodbanks-one-million-people-blog
Rise in food banks not due to welfare reforms says UK minister http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-27402400
Foodbank demand prompts hunger warning by archbishop http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-27039548
Food bank charity ‘is misleading the public’: Claim that 1m need food parcels ‘just self promotion’ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2606573/Food-bank-charity-misleading-public-Claim-1m-need-food-parcels-just-self-promotion.html
Britain’s hunger crisis: One MILLION food parcels handed out despite UK having sixth richest economy http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/food-banks-britain-handed-out-3417601
Exclusive: Food bank charity ‘was threatened with closure by Iain Duncan Smith’s aide’ http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/exclusive-food-bank-charity-was-threatened-with-closure-by-ministers-aide-9533456.html
More people relying on food parcels http://www.thecourier.co.uk/news/scotland/more-people-relying-on-food-parcels-1.341999
‘Shocking’ rise in food banks use” http://www.theadvertisergroup.co.uk/Daily-News/National-News/Shocking-rise-in-food-banks-use-2-8439673.xnf
Food bank referrals in the North East rise 463% in one year http://www.thejournal.co.uk/news/north-east-news/food-bank-referrals-north-east-6994577[/ref]
The DWP’s new – yet much too old – statement on foodbank growth:
“…..the OECD[ref]Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development which is a the group of 34 of the world’s wealthiest nations [/ref] say there are fewer people struggling with their food bills compared with a few years ago….”[ref]see 1[/ref]
The comparison is taken from the OECD publication “Society at a Glance”.[ref]Society at a glance: UK highlights http://www.oecd.org/unitedkingdom/OECD-SocietyAtaGlance2014-Highlights-UnitedKingdom.pdf or http://www.oecd.org/els/soc/OECD2014-SocietyAtAGlance2014.pdf for data on all OECD countries [/ref] The data is drawn from a single question[ref]Question asked was “Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?”. The question’s wording is more severe than the DWP statement suggests and was designed so that it could give comparable data across all OECD countries, alone it is an extremely bad way of assessing food poverty in the UK [/ref] in a Gallup opinion poll asked in 2006 and repeated in 2011 . [ref]Data is for FY2006/7 and FY2011/12, with UK polling performed at the beginning of the financial years.The answers given referred to the previous year ie FY2005/6 and FY2010/11.[/ref] Note the time frame – this data has absolutely no relevance to increases in hunger in 2013/14.
The wording strongly implies the data is relevant to today, when in fact it refers to the period between three and eight years ago. The rest of the quote and its context also imply the numbers reflect the situation now. While the authors of the statement may believe that they have left enough ambiguity to avoid a downright lie, I would strongly disagree. A reasonable person reading this statement would come away believing something that was not true.
DEFRA minister Lord De Mauley misleads Parliament on Foodbanks:
Indeed when a Minister from another Department quoted this statement in a parliamentary answer he referred to the data coming from 2014 and “the last 12 months” which is simply untrue.[ref]Lord De Mauley: ……. “It might be worth adding to the debate that, as part of its 2014 report on social indicators, the OECD reported that in the United Kingdom there had been a decrease in the number of households reporting that they had felt unable to afford food over the past 12 months when compared to 2007.” http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201314/ldhansrd/text/140320-0001.htm.[/ref] I do not believe Lord De Mauley intended to lie to Parliament – he merely took the DWP statement at face value and was himself deceived.
DWP uses figure which says over 5 million go hungry to deny increased need for foodbanks:
The numbers quoted by DWP, if read properly, indicate that three years ago between five and six million people were regularly unable to afford enough to eat.[ref]Multiplying up OECD “did not have enough money to buy food…” estimates.
UK population 2006 60.9 million x 9.8% =6.0 Million people , 2011 62.75 x 8.1% = 5.1 Million [/ref] To most people that would be a shocking and important point but instead the DWP takes this number and twists the data to imply foodbank growth is not their fault. Even more perversely on one hand Government uses a figure which states that over 5 million are going hungry while on the other Government continues to insist benefit levels are sufficient so that no one need go hungry.[ref]Downing Street: high benefits mean food banks should not be needed http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/jan/30/downing-street-benefits-food-banks[/ref]
DWP chooses to ignore its own evidence as well as everyone else’s:
The age of the data makes it irrelevant to the huge rise in food poverty today but just as importantly the Gallop Worldpoll is a strange choice on which to base conclusions on UK foodbanks. The poll is simply not designed to look at UK food poverty with any clarity.
There is however lots relevant of research available.[ref]Much evidence is referenced in www.jpit.org.uk/faithinfoodbanks. Really useful evidence published since that FiF includes publication from University of Sheffield http://speri.dept.shef.ac.uk/2014/04/09/food-banks-welfare-reform/ and http://speri.dept.shef.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/SPERI-British-Political-Economy-Brief-No4-Food-bank-provision-welfare-reform-in-the-UK.pdf [/ref] For example the government commissioned a study last year looking at foodbanks and the reasons for their use but chose not to mention it.[ref]Lambie-Mumford, H., D. Crossley, E. Jensen, M. Verbeke, E. Dowler (2014) Household Food Security: A Review of Food Aid, report to Defra, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/food-aid-research-report[/ref] Every year DWP asks a whole battery of questions covering access to essentials such as food in its UK Households Below Average Income survey. But the DWP ignores this in order to talk about a single question from a 3 year old opinion poll.
What the OECD did say – welfare reforms risk “entrenching poverty”:
The OECD publication the DWP chose to quote from is in fact strongly critical of Government’s welfare reforms and does indeed say things that are relevant to today’s food poverty. It says that UK incomes are falling faster than the OECD average; that “spending reductions are set to intensify” and are focused on the poorest; that these cuts are “more likely to hurt the poor” than in most OECD countries and that freezing and capping benefits “might entrench poverty for families”. The DWP chooses to quote one old and irrelevant number from this publication but ignores these appropritely evidenced points.[ref]Society at a glance: UK highlights http://www.oecd.org/unitedkingdom/OECD-SocietyAtaGlance2014-Highlights-UnitedKingdom.pdf [/ref]
DWP: Defending Ministers and ignoring reality:
The intention of this statement and many others that DWP makes about foodbanks does not appear to be to inform the press or the public. The intention of the statement appears to be to tackle the political problem that foodbanks present to Government ministers. This is one of a very long line of statements from ministers and the department which seek to minimise the politically sensitive issue of more people needing help from foodbanks.
If it was the DWP press office’s intention was to inform people about food poverty, credible sources of information would have been used. The story painted would have been compatible with the growing body of research into the rise of foodbanks. It should at least have been compatible with the DWP’s own research which says more people are going to foodbanks because more people are hungry.
As the DWP’s statement manipulated old data in order to paint a picture utterly incompatible with the evidence the only conclusion to be drawn is that the DWP was not trying to inform anyone about the reality of food poverty in the UK. Denying the well evidenced reality of increasing hunger is certainly politically useful to ministers but simply not credible
It goes without saying that the DWP should not be misleading the press, the public or even other Government Ministers. But questions should be asked if it be trying to solve the political problems of its ministers in the first place? Most importantly should the ministry charged with serving the UK’s most vulnerable citizens not respond to the rise of hunger in the UK with more than a vigorous political defence?