Food banks are a fine and noble thing

Sometimes in the debating chamber a cloud of unreason seems to descend on my colleagues from the Labour Party. They become emotional, they make speeches that are unwittingly mock-heroic.

It seems to happen whenever they sense an opportunity to demonstrate their superior passion and humanity. It is seldom, if ever, linked to any practical action. There is a new and useful term for this kind of behaviour: virtue signalling.

There was a veritable orgy of virtue signalling just the other week when the subject of food banks came up in debate.

Labour acts as though the growth of food banks is a searing indictment of Tory Britain. They seem to think its proves that food poverty is on the increase.
But it isn’t and it doesn’t. Personally, I think it is a fool’s game trying to claim that British people are hungrier now than they were ten years ago say. Some will be of course, but some won’t.

It is certainly true, that for those living only on benefits, the welfare cap and other reforms have not made life any easier. But for those moving into work, the government has not only increased the minimum wage, it has raised the personal allowance. And it has also helped those living on the state pension.
So there have been winners as well as losers. There are other reasons for suspecting that there is no causation or even correlation between food poverty and the rise of food banks. According to the OECD, the number of people in the UK saying they had been unable to afford food in the previous 12 months actually fell between 2007 and 2012.

One also reads that there are many more food bank users in Germany and France than there are here in the UK. Does that prove the French and Germans are hungrier than Britons? I don’t think so, and you certainly won’t be hearing Labour make that claim.

During the debate, Labour drew heavily on a recent report on local food banks by the Kensington and Chelsea Social Council (KCSC). It’s a useful report which sheds some light on the issue but in it KCSC acknowledges the lack of accurate figures. Without them, it says, “the issue remains one of speculation…, especially when seeking to influence public and policy debate.” Indeed. So rather than politicking about them, why can’t we just agree that food banks are making a welcome and important contribution to our welfare arrangements?

Living on benefits is really difficult. If there is a bureaucratic delay with payment people can find themselves in a very tight corner indeed. Without food banks some might well go hungry. So to those who set up, donate to, and staff food banks, I applaud you. It is a fine and noble thing you are doing.

And should you be one of that small band curious as to why the Council declined to embrace the food bank motion at the Council meeting the other week, well it might be because we are “nasty” as the Leader of Labour Group has suggested in this newspaper, or it could be that we simply prefer to prioritise the hundreds of other ways in which we are striving to alleviate the distress of our most vulnerable residents, ways which we think will do more good in the end than the ragbag of measures proposed in the motion.