Panorama on the Rise of Food Banks

Monday’s edition of the BBC’s investigative documentary programme, Panorama, covered the massive expansion in food banks across the UK. Filmed in Bristol and Derby, the programme’s host, Darragh McIntyre, spoke to the organisers of the food banks, including a community of Anglican nuns in Bristol, the Sisters of the Church, who provide food to over 2,28 people, the unemployed and destitute forced to use them, and Tory spokesmen defending the government’s policies, including Edwina Currie. The people filmed using food banks including a young couple living in a homeless hostel. The young woman had been referred to the food bank by the staff at her hospital, as there were complications with her pregnancy and they feared that she was not eating enough. The reported stated that many of those being fed by the nuns had drug and alcohol problems. Another Bristolian using the food banks was Steve Hudson, who, although he was unemployed, was not yet on benefit. The man had gone without food for days on end, and there was literally nothing in his fridge except a bit of ketchup and a tin of kidney beans. He had to walk the four hours to the Jobcentre because he had no money for the bus fare to get there. The programme later returned to Hudson. By this time he had got a job, but it hadn’t worked out and he was back on the dole. He was again forced to use food banks as most of his dole money went to paying off the utility and debts. They also spoke to the head of the East Bristol Food Bank, Andy Irwin, which was run in partnership with the Trussell Trust. Three years ago the Trussell Trust had only 50 food banks across the UK. Now they have more than 300. The programme state that the food banks in Bristol feed about 8,000 people. The Trust claims that they supply food to hundreds of thousands of people across Britain, and that since 2012 demand has tripled.

Food Banks Created Through Poverty, Not Scrounging

The programme also reported the Tories claim that the existence of the food banks was responsible for the increasing numbers of people using them. They showed a clip of Ian Duncan Smith in parliament, reading out a statement from a member of staff at the Oxford Food Bank, stating that although food banks do a good job, the people using them were often those, who had asked members of the various welfare agencies, such as their social workers, to refer them. This claim was rebutted by Chris Mould, the chairman of the Trussell Trust, who stated that it was ridiculous as it suggested that the 18,000 members of the various agencies, that had signed referrals for the food banks, were somehow in collusion to rip the system off.

Anglican Bishops Condemn Rise of Food Banks and Government Policy

The programme also talked to one of the 27 Anglican bishops, who had written a letter roundly condemning the rise of poverty and hunger in Britain. This was after they had interviewed David Burrowes MP, the chairman of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, who claimed that the bishops were exaggerating the problem. He stated that although they had the right to address their concerns, they did it in the wrong way and so had been used as ‘pawns in a wider political agenda’. This was rebutted by the bishop of Manchester, David Walker, who said that it was ridiculous that they were being used as part of anyone’s agenda. He quoted Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said that there comes a time when, having fished enough people out of the river, you go up river to see why they’re falling in. And this, said the good bishop, inevitably draws you into politics.

Founder of Bristol Food Bank and Prof Elizabeth Dowler also State Food Banks due to Poverty

They also spoke to Mark Wing, an evangelical Christian, who runs the Matthew Tree in Bristol. This is the seventh food bank he’d opened in the city. When he was asked if Bristol needed seven food banks, he replied that it absolutely was. Wing aims not only to feed people, but also to reform their lives, and so those using the food bank are expected to show their bank accounts. They also interviewed Professor Elizabeth Dowler, the author of the government’s report Household Food Security in the UK. She too rebutted the claims that the explosion in the number of food banks was due to the number of people using them. She stated that it was simply because there were many more people in need. She pointed to the rise in food prices coupled with wages remaining the same or falling as a reason for the increasing numbers of people forced to use them.

Derbyshire County Council Funding Food Banks, Criticised by Edwina Currie

The programme mentioned the government’s view that the best way out of poverty was through work, and their statement that unemployment was falling. However, the programme pointed out that official figures show that 9.8 million people were living in relative poverty, that is, they had an income below 60 per cent of the British average. They also spoke to Julie Hirst, the Public Health Specialist on Derbyshire County Council. Previously the council had been concerned about healthy eating. Now they were worried about ‘food poverty’ – that people were not eating at all. As a result the county was investing £126,000 pound for its public health budget into food banks. They then invited one of the critics of food banks, Edwina Currie, to one run by a church pastor, Christian Thorpe, who church feeds 60 people a week. Currie was polite, but made her disapproval of the whole affair very clear. Shown the stores of food at the bank, she immediately picked at some of the items, asking whether they should really be giving food like it to the hungry. She objected to food banks, because they weren’t teaching people to live within their means, plan for a rainy day and not get into debt. Pastor Thorpe stated that they were indeed working with other agencies to teach people responsibility. Currie then stated that she felt food banks were ‘a bit of a trap’, and said that there wasn’t a need for food banks. She said that there should be more help for people with problems, but said that she didn’t believe there was food poverty. It was all due to people making the wrong choices. People, according to Currie, were not making the right, responsible choice because they knew they could get free food. Back in Bristol, Andy Irwin rebutted Currie’s remarks. 23 per cent of the people they saw, the largest single group of users, were people who had problems with their benefit, such as it being stopped. This was confirmed by the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. The government, however, denied that there was any link between their reforms and the increasing numbers of people forced to look for free food. They repeated the line that their reforms were encouraging the unemployed to find work.

People Forced to Use Food Banks Through Sanctions

The programme also spoke to Ian Hoswell, a man who had been sanctioned by the Jobcentre and had his benefit stopped for three months after he missed three interviews. McIntyre reported that for breaking the rules, you could have your benefit stopped for the minimum of a month to the maximum of three years. He also reported that the DWP had said that the conditions were made clear to claimants, and that they could apply for hardship payments and loans. Hoswell had applied for a hardship loan, but as you don’t get this for a fortnight, he had been forced to sell his CDs in order to eat. He was forced to go to the Matthew Tree for food because the £46 odd hardship payment left very little left over after he had paid his bills and also bought cigarettes. An increasing number of people are in Hoswell’s position. The programme cited government statistics that last year 875,000 people were sanctioned. They interviewed the founder of the Matthew Tree, Mark Goodway, who said that the people they saw were those who had no money. He felt that, while it could be debated whether the sanctioned claimants should have the money, they shouldn’t be starved while this was done. Back in London, Burrowes admitted that he realised that people went to food banks because they had no money, and that for many it was because they had been sanctioned, but the government was working to supply local authorities with funds for hardship payments.

McIntyre reported the ‘shocking statistic’ that in 11 months, over 133,000 sanctions had been overturned on appeal. This was almost 400 every day. It can, however, take weeks to overturn the DWP’s decision, during which time the sanctioned claimants were left with little or no money. He spoke to Dr David Webster, of Glasgow University, who has investigated and strongly criticised the immense number of people sanctioned by the government. He stated that there would be many more sanctions overturned if more people appealed. He also stated that part of the problem was the bureaucratic procedure, which people had to negotiate to overturn their sanctions, during which time they had little or no money. He stated baldly that people who started poor, would be driven into complete destitution. He talked to Susan Harkins, a woman with a partner and two young children. They had been forced onto benefit after her husband became to ill to do his job, and she lost hers. They were wrongly sanctioned, and placed on a low income of about £63 a week due to a clerical error. She stated that this meant that she and her husband had gone for days at a time in order to feed their children. They eventually managed to get the sanctioned overturned, but by that time they had been on an extremely low income for three months. She stated that her in opinion, such sanctions were simply a way for the government to save money.

Government Sanction Targets

In support of this statement, McIntyre showed the wall chart showing savings from sanctions, that was on display at a Jobcentre in Grantham last year. According to this, one three-month sanction would save £932. They spoke to Charles Law, of the Public and Commercial Services Union. Law stated that the government tells their members that there wasn’t a target, but then expects them to do the same as a cluster of other job centres over a week or month. He stated what was obvious: this was a target.

Needless to say, this was denied by the government, who said that the wall chart was only an isolated incident, which did not reflect policy, and that there were no targets for sanctions. Most of the decisions were correct, and the appeals process was an important part of the systems safeguards.

Part-Time Workers also Using Food Banks

McIntyre also reported that it wasn’t just the unemployed, who were forced to use food banks. He spoke to another Bristolian, Lisa Hall, who lived in one of the city’s suburbs. She worked in McDonalds, and had been forced to go to a food bank after going for days without food. Although she took home £900 a month, she was left with only a tenner a week after paying bills and debts. Her children had left home, and so with two empty bedrooms she had been hit by the government’s ‘bedroom tax’. They asked her the obvious question: why didn’t she move. She replied strongly that she didn’t want to, and explained at length that it was her home. She had managed to get another job, delivering pizzas, that kept her working sometimes till four in the morning. This meant she was earning enough not to need the food bank.

Food Banks funded by One Third of All Councils

McIntyre reported the government’s statement that food banks were not part of the welfare system. The lines were, however, increasingly blurred. In IDS’ own constituency of Chingford in London, the two councils which comprised it were spending £70,000 a year on food banks. The film-makers had contacted every council in the country, and 140 of them – a third – had confirmed that they were funding food banks. In the last two years, £2.9 million had been devoted to combating food poverty in the UK.

The Government’s Statement on Food Banks, but No Interview Given

The Trussell Trust’s Chris Mould stated that the concerns that food banks were becoming a part of the welfare state were valid, and that they should be tackled by politicians. Elizabeth Dowler of Warwick University declared that they were ‘an inadequate plaster over a gaping wound’ and the fact that they were being presented as a solution was ‘deeply immoral’. McIntyre said that they had tried to get someone from the cabinet to talk about their investigation into food banks, and had been shunted from pillar to post. The Department for Work and Pensions referred them to the Cabinet Office, and the Cabinet Office referred them back to the DWP. They were then referred back to the Prime Minister’s own press team at 10 Downing Street. They were not, however, given an interview. The government simply issued a statement that local authorities were now responsible for giving emergency help, and that they were being given additional funding to pay for it. It was giving help to families with the cost of living, and that thanks to its reforms three million households would be better off.

Do We Want People to Have to Survive on Food Hand-Outs?

The programme ended with Bishop David Walker saying that a clear statement from the government was needed whether or not food banks were part of the system, and if they were, how they could be improved. They reported some good news with the people they had interviewed using the food banks. Steve Hudson had now found work at a bar in Bristol’s city centre, while Lisa now had a full time job with B&Q. McIntyre ended with the statement that there was no doubt food banks are here to stay, and that they have helped very many people. He then asked the question, ‘Do we want to live in a society where people survive on food hand outs?’

Here’s the video

It can also be seen on Youtube at The video is on a channel by someone called Theworkprogramme, who has posted a number of other documentaries and excerpts also tackling poverty in contemporary Britain.

It was a very, very good documentary, and did show the immense hardship experience by people due to the government’s welfare reforms. For that reason, I expect that it has already attracted the ire of the Tory faithful, who believe that the Beeb is composed entirely of liberals, Leftists and Commies dedicated to destroying British values. I do have some criticisms, however.

Firstly, I don’t trust the government statistics showing that unemployment is falling. Mike’s devoted a lot of time on his blog, as have a number of other Left-wingers on theirs, showing that these figures are the result of manipulation and falsification. The government’s figures only deal with those, who have been unemployed for under a year and are on a particular type of benefit. Those, who have been unemployed for longer and placed on the Work Programme are not counted as unemployed.

Then there’s the government’s statement that hardship payments are available for those, who have been sanctioned. This is another falsehood. While it may have been true when the documentary was made, the hardship payments are now being withdrawn. See Johnny Void’s pieces on this. Moreover, they were another benefit, about which claimants were not told by the Jobcentre staff.

As for help being available for families, this is being cut all the time. Mike and the other blogger have also extensively demolished the government’s claims that their reforms will make three million people better off. The fact that no-one from the government wanted to be interviewed seems to demonstrate that the government knows this is a lie, and really don’t want to have to face any intensive questioning on this issue.

As for the question of whether we want a society where people have to survive on food hand-outs, my guess is that the government does. The unemployed in several American states are given food stamps, rather than a welfare cheque, and it seems to me that food banks are being used in the same way here. It’s a way of punishing and humiliating the poor for their own poverty, exactly as it was intended to be.

As you might expect, I was also resoundingly unimpressed by Edwina Currie. She clearly was there simply to parrot the government’s line that poverty was all due to people’s own wrong choices. This is the attitude of the American Conservatives towards the grinding poverty that exists in the land of the free. One of the contributors to Lobster in one of its articles mentioned how it never ceases to amaze him about the way American deluded themselves about the cause of poverty there. He had been in a commercial conference in one of the American cities. During the conference, there was a report on the local news that 50,000 local citizens were homeless. When he asked one of the American attending the conference about how that could possibly occur, he was blandly told that they had all chosen to be homeless. Her comments also showed the strong influence of social Darwinism and 19th century notions of the deserving and undeserving poor, as well as a doctrinaire adherence to the party line that there was no link between the government’s reforms and poverty. It was also evident from the outset that she was not going to give the food bank a fair hearing by the way she picked around some of the articles and pointedly asked whether the bank should be giving such foods – like biscuits – to the poor and starving.

But then, my impression is that for all her Oxbridge education, Edwina has never been the sharpest knife in the kitchen cabinet. I’ve mentioned before how she looked bewildered when she was booed on Clive Anderson’s show on Channel 4 after making sharp comments about pensioners This was along the lines of ‘that’ll teach them to wrap up’, after he had asked her about her remark when in government telling them to wrap up warm when Major’s administration cut the cold weather payment for the elderly. She also made the mistake of locking horns with Ian Hislop a decade or so ago on Have I Got News For You. She was talking about how she had one a court case against someone for libel. She turned on the editor of Lord Gnome’s much-sued organ, and said, ‘Aren’t you glad I didn’t sue you?’ To this Hislop replied, ‘Aren’t you glad, my dear.’ I will give her some credit, however. Unlike IDS, Cameron, McVey or anyone else from the government, she did actually turn up and speak on camera. The others just seem to have hidden in the cabinet office and issued a press release in the hope it would all go away.

Unfortunately, it won’t. The poverty and starvation the government is wilfully creating is here to stay, and as long as it does, it should be criticised and challenged, along with the government, whose punitive cruelty creates it.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

27 Responses to “Panorama on the Rise of Food Banks”

  1. prayerwarriorpsychicnot Says:

    Reblogged this on Gangstalked and slandered.

  2. Panorama on the Rise of Food Banks | Welfare, D... Says:

    […] Monday's edition of the BBC's investigative documentary programme, Panorama, covered the massive expansion in food banks across the UK. Filmed in Bristol and Derby, the programme's host, Darragh Mc…  […]

  3. whatsitcomingto? Says:

    And don’t forget some people who use food banks can’t even afford to cook the food they are given:

  4. Mike Sivier Says:

    Reblogged this on Vox Political.

  5. nollyprott Says:

  6. Big Bill Says:

    Perhaps someone should try drawing a set of concentric circles on Duncan-Smith’s forehead and reassuring him when he complains by saying, “It’s ok; it isn’t a target”.

    • beastrabban Says:

      It’s a great idea, but there are so many people wanting to let him know exactly what they think of him that I think you’d have to stand in line to get to him. Which is possibly why neither he, nor anyone else from Cameron’s government wanted to appear on camera.

  7. jaypot2012 Says:

    There are people out there that only listen to the words “food banks”, and away they go with chanting the fact that it’s free food! It isn’t! Did Panorama let people know that you can only go to a food bank 3 times a year? Did they keep repeating this so that it got through to some of those thick headed people who are “Call me Dave’s” worshipers? (I doubt it).
    Food banks should not be needed in the UK in 2014, but this unelected coalition has pulled this country down to a third world country!
    What a disgrace that we have starving people out there, and what a disgrace that we have starving people dying. All in a supposedly rich country!
    Tell the truth for once Dave, the rich have got money stashed away in offshore accounts because they know that there is no money for the country to stay stable – especially if the Scottish referendum is a Yes vote!

    • beastrabban Says:

      They didn’t mention that you could only go to the food banks three times in a year, Jaypot. They did say, however, that when you did go, you were only given enough for three days, which is obviously not a lot of help if you’ve been sanctioned for a month. As for the off-shore bank accounts and third world Britain, that’s exactly what they’re trying to create here. I’ve got a feeling that they’re trying to copy the nastier, ultra-capitalists running India and some of the other nations in the Developing World. I can remember reading a piece a long time ago in the Financial Times, in which someone from the Indian ruling class stated that India would soon be richer than Britain, because the Indian state didn’t have to spend its money on welfare or the NHS. The Sultan of Brunei certainly made that comment about his country to the Queen during an official visit back in the 1980s/ 1990s. It explains why the Sultan of Brunei and the Indian industrialists and upper classes are so immensely rich, while the mass of their countrymen are absolutely dirt poor. And their poverty is increasing, which is why there’s a Maoist revolution going on in parts of India.

      • Helen Maddock Says:

        I am currently in Devon and I was only given three food bank donations which were delivered by the kind church people who organise it locally.
        However I was not told there would only be eligibility for three donations at the time leaving me very confused as to what had had happened.If one is aware of this limitation from the onset then appropriate budgeting can be made and one could spread those three food donations over a long period rather than three in a row as seems to be the standard case now.
        I was referred by a council official who had visited to assess me for a hardship payment due to council tax benefit payment being reduced so that squishes the scrounging argument . I was referred by a concerned official I was not banging on a food bank door to milk the system.
        Most people are still unaware that the 3 times a year eligibility for foodbank donations even exist, in their ignorance to a man I have found that they believe its a weekly perk allowing shiftless wastrels to spend their benefits in gin parlours and opium dens….such is their collective thought outdated.
        I watched this programme and I thought it gave a fair account and was quite balanced compared to some of the deluded rhetoric we have been subjected to of late….apart from Eggie of course but then she should have been sectioned years ago….in my humble peasants opinion.

  8. jaypot2012 Says:

    Reblogged this on Jay's Journal and commented:
    Free food – erm no you rich pillocks!

  9. Mike Says:

    Great post as ever Beastrabban. Could we re-post on as before with atttribution? Thanks for considering, take care.

  10. PendanticGeek Says:

    One day IDS won’t be a minister and won’t get armed guards, people have memories longer than political careers.

    • amnesiaclinic Says:

      No, IBS is just a human who is very misguided and sad. We do not have to take revenge – that just contributes to the spiral of violence and we shall never be rid of this horror. We need to focus on the solutions – what we can do as individuals and collectively. Very simple things like getting your MP to come and talk to the people using the food banks and the people running them and getting jobs and people growing their own food in their own communities.
      Start by supporting local farmers, growers and shops in your community and stop the corporations ruining the economy and the communities and the planet. We all have choice.


  11. amnesiaclinic Says:

    An excellent, thoughtful article. I did invite my MP to visit our local food bank but it hasn’t happened yet. Mainly because I’m in the process of moving…
    But I think the only way forward is to keep the issues alive in the local press and to keep up the pressure. Where did I see some appalling comments by teachers on children falling asleep in class and the children talking about their hunger and fantasising on the teacher being made of food. Tragic. Immoral and disgusting. There is also the report on malnutrition having skyrocketed in hospital admissions.

    • beastrabban Says:

      I’m sorry to hear that he hasn’t visited your local food bank yet. I hope you’re finally able to persuade him to come. I hadn’t heard of the story that children are now going to school hungry and fantasizing about their teachers being made of food. That’s deeply disturbing. A friend of mine, who was involved in Black community work and who went to live with his wife in South Africa told me that they had that problem there. I’m not really surprised – despite the affluence of the wealthy White minority, the average Black wage in South Africa was lower, according to a report I read back in the 1980s in a copy of New Internationalist, than that of the surrounding Black African countries. There was also the problem of severe unemployment, which meant that many houses in the townships really had no food coming in. The government’s solution to that was the ‘Mandela Feeding Programme’: at school, the kids were given a meal. He told me it was only a peanut butter sandwich, but it was something. Horrifically, this was often the kids’ only meal. This, if nothing else, shows how badly our government compares with Nelson Mandela. Mandela gave starving schoolchildren something to eat. This government has taken it away from their families, although they are talking about extending free school meals.

    • Florence Says:

      I had a relative teaching primary school in the 70’s. When the free school milk was removed (Thatcher the milk snatcher) she remarked that the milk was often the first thing most kids had since the school lunch the previous day. This is not to point out that poverty will always be with us – far from it – but that things like free school milk were brought in because of poverty, and the need has now gone up, not down. I weep at the thought that I almost just wrote that we need school feeding programmes. We don’t! We need access to social security to be restored, the system that was designed to universally remove destitution and hunger. It is now used as a weapon against millions of our fellows, including children.

      I just hope that the current DWP and IDS are hauled before courts and international tribunals, and that their evil hounding of the working and non-working, that has in itself created more hunger & poverty than ever, is consigned to political history. It is a case study of what can happen even in the 7th richest country in the world when it is high-jacked by the psychopathic aristocratic self interest group that wages economic war on the nation to line their own pockets. You would think that even the thickest of them would realise that the working “stock” (as Fraud called us) were actually the real wealth generators, and that they were killing the golden goose?

  12. Darren Says:

    What a superb article. How people can write blogs like this without losing their temper and ending up with blood all over the page beats me. If I’d tried writing this, I’d have been spitting bones by the end of it.

    And don’t stand in front of Drunken Scmidt, FGS – you’ll risk being hit by the bullet! OK, it seems to be taking the long way round, but it’s coming…

    • beastrabban Says:

      Thanks for the appreciation, Darren. I’ve found simply reading the paper and watching the news at times equally difficult. Some of the things the government does and their blithe excuses and prevarications really can makes once blood boil, or leave you utterly depressed and debilitated. I guess writing this blog acts as I kind of outlet.

      As for the bullet heading in IDS’ direction, somehow I don’t think it’s only going to be one. Though from the way he turned up before the Work and Pensions Committee in parliament surrounded by armed goons and bodyguards, he’s already very, very worried on that score.

      • Darren Says:

        He’d better be worried, because if the Tories are kicked out in 2015 he will cease to be entitled to those protections.

        There is a day of reckoning coming for Mr George iain Duncan Smith, and I’m in the market for a front row ticket if you know who’s selling them. 🙂

  13. stewilko Says:

    Reblogged this on stewilko's Blog.

  14. The Swans New Party Says:

    Starvation from sanctions of benefits or never gaining them in the first place, or losing them on assessment, is not solved by Food Banks.

    As the professor in the Panorama programme said, Food Banks are a sticking plaster over a gaping wound.

    This is my blog on the subject.

    There is more than enough food to feed everyone each and every day in the UK, going to waste every day.

    Jobcentres are a waste of taxpayers’s money being both cruel and useless.

    Daily soup kitchens could feed:

    – adults and their children of the working poor,
    – part time workers,

    – women aged 60-66 within the working poor who have also lost rightful age payout of state pension at 60

    – meals on wheels for housebound elderly and disabled / chronic sick.

    The EU donates money to food banks, but in Europe these are daily soup kitchens giving out cooked food and hot drink.

    Council staff remain on duty at these soup kitchens, even if there is an anti-austerity strike, so that the cashless do not starve.

    The cashless are the same people as in England. We are a Greece and have been since 2005 under Labour who began Welfare Reform, brought in Atos and invented the Bedroom Tax.

    The EU also stated that the JSA and ESA and the state pension were all below the proper rate of £138 per week benefit under the Social Contract.

    We have to ask ourselves?
    What is trade unionism donating to the Labour party?

    Why is the 50 somethings of the working class men going in droves to UKIP, when they could not care less about pensioners, just as all parties at the moment?

    Why is the new socialist party, Left Unity Party, also totally uninterested in over half the population who are over 50, over 60, and being bashed again and again from all sources of pensions?

    Because pensions are threatened from all sources.

    In Hungary, when their debt crashed, they nationalised all pensions from all sources and used that to pay national debt.

    In Greece, the bail-outs have taken from works and state pension funds to pay off national debt to French and German banks.

    Pensioners are the people who shop in town centres, and their losses have caused the huge loss of jobs on the high street.

  15. Say it aint SO | Dorset Eye Says:

    […] ; […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: