On Fridays Radio 4 Any Questions a lady called Gabriella asked the question “who is responsible for feeding the hungry in Britain” which drew a range of responses. Jeremy Browne, a Lib Dem ex-Minister explained how he had met the volunteers at his local foodbank and his view was that they are remarkable people, and he doesn’t “look down on either the volunteers or the donors” what is a tragedy is that he did not take the time to do as the volunteers do which is to give his time to meet some of those visiting the foodbank and get underneath the real issues that they face. I would like to see all Prospective Parliamentary Candidates in Mays General Election volunteering their time to work in a foodbank. At least then when they articulate their views, they would be speaking with first hand understanding.
Jacob Rees Mogg was one of the other MPs on the panel and he explained that there are fewer delays in paying out benefits than was the case in 2010 and there are emergency loans for people who have run out of money during the course of the week, available on the day that you apply for them. In fact the delays in paying out benefits is a smokescreen as many of the longest delays are caused by claims by the DWP that they need to re-assess claims and when this happens the people affected are deemed to not be entitled to benefits as far as the statistics are concerned. As for the loans that Jacob referred to, whilst I am not an expert in benefits I know that these are much more difficult to obtain that Mr Rees Mogg is suggesting. However he then went on to say “The state can’t do everything, it can provide the funding but it can’t tell people how to run their lives” and also that it is good for charities to step in where the state cannot do so. He argued that much of the problem with foodbanks was caused by a lack of personal budgeting by those on benefits and on low wages and that the supply of foodbanks creates its own demand.
This last nugget is regularly trotted out by some of his colleagues, I have even blogged about it in the context of David Freud and more recently Matthew Hancock, two Government Ministers who have made this claim. The largest network of foodbanks run on guidelines set by the Trussell Trust. These guidelines make it clear that to receive a food parcel, people must be referred from another agency such as DWP. To their credit the coalition have allowed DWP to refer people to foodbanks, but all of the data I have seen shows that most of the growth in the food supplied is as a result of Government Policy or economic issues such as low wages and so called zero hours contracts. However to be fair to Jacob Rees Mogg, he is not without a heart as far as the poor is concerned, or that is certainly one way of interpreting his words. In an article in yesterdays Independent newspaper challenging Mr Rees Mogg’s record in declaring interests during debates, in a debate on the 2012 Finance Bill, Mr Rees-Mogg raised concerns about increases in tobacco duty that were opposed by tobacco companies, saying: “The measure is regressive and hits some of the poorest people in the country, so should the Government not be concerned?” It appears that when Mr Rees Mogg finds his own pecuniary interest lining up with the poor in society, he believes the State should act and when that does not happen, his view is that charities are the best source of assistance for the poor in society.