It has been widely reported that Lord Freud, speaking in a discussion in the House of Lords on Tuesday led to serious questions about his own judgement. Whilst a number of MPs were in Westminster Hall discussing the benefits of joint working between faith groups and local government, referring to examples such as Street Pastors and Food Banks, Lord Freud was giving his perspective on the impact of foodbanks, appearing to blame the organisers for creating demand for their services.
In response to the question about foodbanks, David Freud, the 63 year old Great Grandson of Sigmund said “My Lords, there is actually no evidence as to whether the use of food banks is supply led or demand led. The provision of food-bank support has grown from provision to 70,000 individuals two years ago to 347,000. All that predates the reforms. As I say, there is no evidence of a causal link.”
It appears that this wealthy journalist cum banker who serves our nation as the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Work and Pensions seriously thinks that the reason why the number of people using foodbanks has grown is because there are more foodbanks to attend. Its a tempting concept. A good idea in one location expands, not because there is need elsewhere (or a market if you prefer), but because the foodbank entices people to attend who were otherwise happy to buy their own food. Chris Mould is the Chairman of the Trussell Trust, the charity behind the largest network of foodbanks. He is persuasive and makes a good case for his charity. However he has not hypnotised the 100s of organisers and many 1000s of volunteers, let alone the 100’s of local Councils that are supporting these new charitable endeavours to set up unnecessary social provision. Every item of food that is given away comes from people and businesses, most of whom can ill afford to spend extra money on food themselves. All of those who attend a foodbank have been referred by another agency, primarily either part of Lord Freuds own DWP or by Local Government. Visiting a foodbank is not something that people are allowed to do every week, or even on a monthly basis. The experience whilst being made as easy as possible is not one that people would choose if they were not in desperate need.
David Freud is not un-educated. According to Wikipedia he is an old boy of Whitgift School in Croydon and Merton College, Oxford. This sort of education should provides its graduates with the intellectual rigour to test out hypothesis and research ideas. It is shocking that after several years of rapid expansion of foodbanks in the UK, that the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Work and Pensions who is responsible for all of the welfare reforms being imposed on communities in our nation has not investigated the true nature of these safety nets of last resort. Either this powerful legislator lacks the common sense that most year 6 students possess, or else he is being dishonest and deceitful.
Within 24hours David Cameron as part of PMQs was already distancing himself from the comments by his Minister who has never sought or received an electoral mandate from you and I. Unless David Freud is prepared to acknowledge his mistaken understanding, and ideally visit some of these foodbanks for himself, the Prime Minister must relieve him of his Ministerial responsibilities. This is not primarily because the food banks need a supportive Minister (although that would be fantastic) but because Freud is making decisions on a daily basis that effect the lives of people who in turn are forced to rely on a foodbank to help them at a time of crisis. If he can be so out of touch over this issue, how can we have confidence in his decision making on matters that do depend on his judgement. Across the UK there are 100’s of senior DWP Managers who are working hard to build trust and confidence with voluntary sector groups who are picking up the pieces created by the impact of the economic downturn and early welfare reforms. These men and women need someone at the helm who supports their work, not someone who could be described as an austerity denier!