It is well worth reading Paul Waugh’s interview with Iain Duncan Smith in the House Magazine for a number of reasons – not least his hint about docking child benefit in the future. But the Work and Pensions Secretary also makes an interesting comment about food banks:
‘We are not responsible for food banks, that policy area generally is Cabinet Office and so it should remain. I’m happy for people to visit food banks, I don’t have a particular problem with them.’
I’ve written before about why people visit food banks, and why even if we had a very good benefits system that paid people the right amount of money on time, there would still be a need for these examples of strong communities. But IDS does drop a hint here about a row that raged between departments about who on earth was responsible for food banks. I hear that the policy area was bounced between Owen Paterson’s Defra department, IDS’ DWP, Eric Pickles’ CLG dept, and the Cabinet Office. None wanted to have oversight of food banks, arguing that they weren’t a central part of their operations. In some instances, this is reasonable: DWP taking responsibility for food banks would suggest that ministers were happy for them to become part of the welfare state. Recently Panorama investigated food banks, but no minister would speak to them, leaving Conservative PPS David Burrowes to respond as chairman of the Conservative Christian Fellowship.
Food banks have become a toxic issue. But that’s partly the fault of the Conservatives for failing to respond to the issue and allowing Labour to frame it, and this bickering between departments won’t have helped.