Volunteers sort through donations of food at the headquarters of the Trussell Trust Foodbank Organisation in Salisbury. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Ministers can no longer deny the link between food banks and benefit cuts

The long-delayed government-commissioned report slipped out today contradicts claims by ministers that food bank usage is driven by supply.

People, it turns out, are going to food banks because they’re hungry and in need. This finding, which chimes with the experiences of those of us with on-the-ground experience (including prominent members of the Catholic Church), emerges from a long-delayed report commissioned by ministers at Defra, and quietly slipped out today. It contradicts welfare reform minister Lord Freud’s assertion that food bank usage is driven by supply (if you build food banks, people will come for the free food).
In fact, as well as finding "no systematic evidence on the impact of increased supply" and that "hypotheses of its potential effects are not based on robust evidence", the report found that food bank use is "a strategy of last resort". People are proud, the evidence shows, and will tend to use them only once they’ve cut back on everything they can, and exhausted all other possible avenues of support. Indeed, food bank use is probably the tip of the iceberg: the report finds that, internationally, only one in five of those who are food insecure will tend to use emergency food support. Unfortunately, we don’t measure food insecurity in this country, but with food banks springing up across the country, from those linked to big national networks to small independent operations, perhaps we should.
The research looked at various sources as to why people are seeking food aid. In order of ranking, they found that reasons included: "loss of, reductions in or problems associated with, social security payments; low income; indebtedness; homelessness". A study the report cites from Citizens Advice found that the two main reasons for referrals for a food parcel were benefit delays and benefit sanctions. With sanctions at an all-time high, and the government proposing to make people wait for seven days to claim JSA after losing their jobs, these issues are only going to get worse.
The Defra pocket book (2012) highlights the compounded effects of falling income and rising food prices over recent years, which had "produced a double effect of reducing food affordability by over 20 per cent for households in the lowest income decile". Overall, the report makes clear that people go to food banks for both reasons of short-term crisis – job loss or problems with the social security system – and of long-term poverty – low income or indebtedness. 
The report also bemoans the lack of systematic UK evidence of why people go to food banks. We, like many others, are seeing the urgency of the issue daily in our work, and policy makers need to gain far greater understanding of the growing food poverty crisis. The explosion in food bank use is a national emergency, and it is imperative that we understand its causes so that we can eliminate hunger from British children’s lives.
In the meantime, there is a lot that can be done to tackle the issues we already know about. Jobcentre Plus advisers need to start making much better use of short-term benefit advances. To tackle the longer-term causes of food poverty, we need more action on the inadequacy of incomes, on supporting people into work that pays enough to live on, backed up by high-quality, affordable childcare, and on the structural problems in the social security system that are edging many towards destitution. 
Ultimately, food banks are a symptom of deeper problems. No child should be going hungry, and no child should be living in poverty. As part of its legal obligation to end child poverty by 2020, the government must publish its new Child Poverty Strategy by early April, and will be consulting on it shortly. It is a great opportunity for them to set out their roadmap to giving every child the nourishment they need, and the start in life they deserve. 
Moussa Haddad is senior policy officer at the Child Poverty Action Group 
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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.