David Blackburn

Foodbank statistics present problems for the coalition – and for Labour

Despite the stream of very good economic news (as described by Fraser and James), you won’t catch ministers saying that the crisis in living standards is ‘over’ because there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

The Trussell Trust, the Christian charity, has today published new statistics on food bank use. The headline figure is shocking: “913,138 people received three days’ emergency food from Trussell Trust foodbanks in 2013-14 compared to 346,992 in 2012-13”. The trust says that this is merely ‘the tip of the iceberg’ because the figures do not account for other foodbank providers. There is also, the trust says, no way of estimating how many people are too ashamed to use a foodbank and prefer to go hungry instead.

There is some doubt about the accuracy of the Trussell Trust’s statistics, which are vague and may have double counted users. There is also doubt about the validity of comparisons of foodbank use extending back to 2000, when statistics were even more vague. There is no doubt, however, that demand for foodbanks is high. That fact has opened a political battleground.

600 religious leaders – including more than 40 Anglican bishops – have written a letter to the leaders of the three main political parties. They describe the situation as ‘terrible’, and urge the leaders to ‘begin rising to the challenge of this national crisis’ by engaging with the newly created all-party parliamentary inquiry into the causes of food poverty and hunger.

The leaders will, in all probability, do so. Foodbanks are a social good that work to negate the effects of social ills. There is nothing to be gained by ignoring them and the reasons for their existence.

A more immediate political question is: to what extent will the statistics shape the welfare debate in the run up to the general election?

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