John Howell, MP for Henley, values the work foodbanks do – and says the best way forward is to keep calm and carry on
I was struck by something Frank Field MP, the former Labour Minister, is reported to have said: “Even if we abolished all the welfare reforms that the Government had done, we would not abolish the need for foodbanks.”
It is worth recalling that the use of foodbanks increased tenfold under the last Labour Government and that Germany, Australia, and Canada have seen significant rises in their use.
So it is wrong to target the Government’s welfare reforms and seek to blame them.
I do not believe that compassion is shown by perpetuating a failed benefits system. That is not the way out of poverty and it is right to reform the system. The growth of foodbanks is the result of a complex variety of factors.
I value the contribution foodbanks make.
It was this Government after all which freed up Job Centre Plus to refer people to foodbanks in the first place.
It is still highly undesirable that anybody should feel the need to visit a food bank.
But, recent analysis has shown that 65% of people only visited a foodbank once.
The solution lies in delivering growth to the economy as a whole; in taking more people out of tax; in making sure that people keep more of the cash they earn.
The projections that consumer spending is set to rise by 1.5% is good news in this respect.
So why are people going to foodbanks? If you look at the research, one of the causes is delays in benefits payments and I am sure that there is more to do in this area. Progress is already being made and universal credit will bring further improvements.
The way to fix the problem long term is to carry on with the reforms we have introduced.
Despite a tough economic backdrop, we are making good progress with our long term economic plan.
As the Rowntree Foundation pointed out, foodbanks may well be meeting a need that was previously going unmet.
But they do not help look at the bigger picture which is that reforms are required to the benefits system, that Universal Credit will help and that the Department of Work and Pensions needs to deliver benefits on time and with the appropriate sanctions regime.
John Howell OBE is the MP for Henley and a member of the Conservative Party