Although food banks are not a Department for Work and Pensions or Government responsibility, Department representatives and Ministers—myself included—have on occasion had cause to meet representatives of food banks, including the Trussell Trust.
A decade ago at Easterhouse the Secretary of State said how important small, grass-roots community organisations are. If he really believes what he said then, when he spoke the rhetoric of broken Britain, is not it time he set a date, met the representatives and listened to what they have to say about food poverty in the United Kingdom?
I have two points for the hon. Lady. First, I have just said that all of us have at some point met representatives of the Trussell Trust. Secondly, I absolutely think that those involved in food banks and in supporting those who are in difficulty or in need are very valuable members of the community, and I celebrate the work they do. I believe that it is the right thing for them to do. I think that all those involved in food banks are decent people trying to do a decent bit of work for those in need of help, and we support that in general terms as constituency MPs. However, I must say that the over-politicisation of this issue has done no help at all, as some leaders of food banks have attested over the past week.
The Trussell Trust has been exposing the real impact of Ministers’ policies, so out of pique they have refused to meet the trust’s representatives since last summer. Now that they have been overruled by the Prime Minister, who met trust representatives last week, will DWP Ministers at last step up to their responsibilities? Was not the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster absolutely right when he said last week that
“there shouldn’t be people living with nothing, in destitution, in a country which is as prosperous as this”?
I have two points for the right hon. Gentleman. First, he, his party and others have deliberately set out to politicise the issue of food banks—[Interruption.] Well, those are not my words. The person who runs the Oxford food bank has said:
“I think this whole debate has become hopelessly politicised.”
Food banks do a good service, but they have been much in the news. People know they are free. They know about them and they will ask social workers to refer them. It would be wrong to pretend that the mass of publicity has not also been a driver in their increased use. The Opposition, notwithstanding the fact that under them the number of food banks increased tenfold, are trying to make a political issue out of this. They have done no service to those who need help and support and no service to those who run the food banks.