An instance of misdirection, once repeated online, can spread very fast indeed. A number of bloggers have claimed that the 296 MP’s who voted against Labour’s opposition motion last week voted against ‘investigating food bank use’ (http://agirlcalledjack.com/2013/12/19/the-296-mps-who-voted-against-investigating-food-banks-use-and-uk-hunger-the-list/)
This is not the motion that was voted upon. The full text of the motion can be found here:http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debate/?id=2013-12-18b.806.2
Only one of the five separate parts of the motion related to researching food bank use – the call ‘to publish the results of research into food banks commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’.
The motion did not propose the investigation of food banks, instead one sentence within it called for the publication of existing research.
A comprehensive study by DEFRA into the effectiveness of emergency food provision in the UK is ongoing. The project is being led by researchers from the University of Warwick and its results will be published in due course.
I am pleased that DEFRA have commissioned this report in response to requests from backbench MPs, and hope that it will analyse in full the varied and frequently localised factors that are driving food bank use in the UK. The issue of food bank use can only be addressed once it is fully understood.
The DEFRA report forms only one part of wider academic research into food aid in the UK. This research includes:
- A study published by the Church Urban Fund in September 2013 into the response of UK churches to food poverty. The Report, supported by the Church Commissioner Tony Baldry MP and drawing on surveys of church groups providing food aid, can be found online at http://www.cuf.org.uk/hungry-for-more
- A PhD study by Hannah Lambie-Mumford of Sheffield University. Hannah is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and her work is mapping the rise in national-level, formalised, voluntary sector emergency food provision in the UK, and seeking to evidence and understand the increase in this provision and investigate the drivers and social dynamics behind it.
- A study conducted by NatCen on behalf of FareShare, a charity that redistributes surplus food from the food industry to frontline charities. The study seeks to evaluate the value and impact of Fare Share’s work in addressing food poverty.
- A joint study undertaken by the Church of England, Church Poverty Action Group, Church Action on Poverty and the Trussell Trust to explore the reasons people are using Food Banks. The study hopes to identify interventions that would reduce the need for Food Bank use in the future, with results published in September 2014.
In addition, some food bank operators, and those working with them, are retaining records on why people say they are accessing these services. A number of MPs, including me, have a weekly presence at food banks in their constituencies in order to provide advice and support for those in need. This data on food bank use is important evidence to be considered alongside academic analysis.
Research into food bank use is already underway, and there are plans to draw it together. With the support of colleagues, I am working with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, the independent providers of expert scientific and social sciences information to MPs and peers, to establish a POST Food Bank Research Conference to be held in the Spring of 2014. This conference would allow existing evidence and analysis to be shared and discussed.
Whilst is it pleasing for some to paint a narrative of MPs looking forward to a Christmas of gorging whilst prohibiting research into how we best help those affected by food poverty, this picture belongs to the realms of Dickensian fantasy. In reality MPs of all parties are deeply concerned by food poverty in the UK, and are behind extensive efforts to better understand food bank use. Here is just one good example of the speeches from the debate, highlighting the work colleagues are doing in their constituencies: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2013-12-18b.806.0&s=speaker%3A24855#g839.2
In addition to continuing to provide help and support to people using food banks in my constituency, my focus for the New Year is on moving this research onto the next stage, using our enhanced understanding to develop enhanced help for those in need.