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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Winning Scottish independence will be even harder than before - but it may be the only choice

Independence campaigners will have to find answers on borders, currency and more. 

The Brexit mutiny has taken not just the UK economy and its relationship with Europe into uncharted waters. it has also imperilled the union between Scotland and England. From Sir John Major to the First Minister, both Unionists and Nationalists had warned of it. The outcome, though, has made this certain. The Leave vote in England and Wales contrasted with an overwhelming Remain vote north of the border.

That every region in Scotland voted to stay In was quite remarkable. Historically, fishing and industrial communities have blamed the European Union for their woes. That antagonism was probably reflected in lower turnout - an abstention rather than a rejection. 

The talk now is of a second referendum on independence. This is understandable given the current mood. Opinion polls in the Sunday Times and Sunday Post showed a Yes vote now at 52 per cent and 59 per cent respectively. Moreover, anecdotal evidence suggests even arch No vote campaigners, from JK Rowling to the Daily Record, are considering the option.

The First Minister was therefore correct to say that a second referendum is now “back on the table”. Her core supporters expects no less. However, as with the economy and Europe, the constitutional relationship between Scotland and England is now in uncharted seas. Potential support for independence may be higher, but the challenges are arguably bigger than before. The difficulties are practical, political and geographic.

Of course the Little Englanders likely to take the helm may choose a velvet divorce. However, given their desire for the return of the Glories of Britannia that’s improbable. They’re as likely to wish to see Caledonia depart, as cede Gibraltar to Spain, even though that territory voted even more overwhelmingly In.

Ticking the legal boxes

Practically, there’s the obstacle of obtaining a legal and binding referendum. The past vote was based on the Edinburgh Agreement and legislation in Westminster and Holyrood. The First Minister has indicated the democratic arguments of the rights of the Scots. However, that’s unlikely to hold much sway. A right-wing centralist Spanish government has been willing to face down demands for autonomy in Catalonia. Would the newly-emboldened Great Britain be any different?

There are no doubt ways in which democratic public support can be sought. The Scottish Government may win backing in Holyrood from the Greens. However, consent for such action would need to be obtained from the Presiding Officer and the Lord Advocate, both of whom have a key role in legislation. These office holders have changed since the first referendum, where they were both more sympathetic and the legal basis clearer. 

Getting the EU on side

The political hurdles are, also, greater this time than before. Previously the arguments were over how and when Scotland could join the EU, although all accepted ultimately she could remain or become a member. This time the demand is that Scotland should remain and the rest of the UK can depart. But will that be possible? The political earthquake that erupted south of the Border has set tectonic plates shifting, not just in the British isles but across the European continent. The fear that a Brexit would empower dark forces in the EU may come to pass. Will the EU that the UK is about to leave be there for an independent Scotland to join? We cannot know, whatever European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker may be saying at the moment. The First Minister is right to start engaging with Europe directly. But events such as elections in France and the Netherlands are outwith her control. 

Moreover, currency was the Achilles heel in the last referendum, and hasn’t yet been addressed. George Osborne was adamant in his rejection of a currency union. The options this time round, whether a separate Scottish currency or joining the euro, have yet to be properly explored. A worsened financial situation in the 27 remaining EU members hampers the latter and the former remains politically problematic. 

The problem of borders

Geography is also an obstacle  that will be even harder to address now than before. Scotland can change its constitution, but it cannot alter its location on a shared island. In 2014, the independence argument was simply about changing the political union. Other unions, whether monarchy or social, would remain untouched. The island would remain seamless, without border posts. An independent Scotland, whether in or out of the EU, would almost certainly have to face these issues. That is a significant change from before, and the effect on public opinion unknown.

The risk that's worth it

Ultimately, the bar for a Yes vote may be higher, but the Scots may still be prepared to jump it. As with Ireland in 1920, facing any risk may be better than remaining in the British realm. Boris Johnson as Prime Minister would certainly encourage that. 

David Cameron's lack of sensitivity after the independence referendum fuelled the Scottish National Party surge. But perhaps this time, the new Government will be magnanimous towards Scotland and move to federalism. The Nordic Union offers an example to be explored. Left-wing commentators have called for a progressive alliance to remove the Tories and offer a multi-option referendum on Scotland’s constitution. But that is dependent on SNP and Labour being prepared to work together, and win the debate in England and Wales.

So, Indy Ref The Sequel is on the table. It won’t be the same as the first, and it will be more challenging. But, if there is no plausible alternative, Scots may consider it the only option.

Kenny MacAskill served as a Scottish National MSP between 2007 and 2016, and as Cabinet Secretary for Justice between 2007 and 2014.