Ministers reject food charities’ 20million meals figure: Charities in row with Government after it emerges half of meals are handed out to good causes such as lunch clubs
Charities said a growing number of people are turning to food banks500,000 children are living in families that cannot provide a minimum dietBut Department for Work and Pensions has disputed the claims
Published: 23:41 BST, 8 June 2014 | Updated: 12:12 BST, 20 June 2014
Food charities plunged into a row with the Government yesterday after claiming that 20 million free meals were handed out last year to people too poor to buy food.
The charities, led by the aid giant Oxfam, said that there was a rise in numbers of desperate people turning to food banks in even the most affluent parts of the country, and that half a million children are living in families that cannot provide ‘a minimally acceptable diet’.
But the claims were challenged yesterday after it emerged that more than half of the free meals were not given out to people who cannot afford to eat but to other good causes such as pensioners’ lunch clubs.
Revelations: It has emerged that more than half of the free meals from food charities were not given out to people who cannot afford to eat but to other good causes such as pensioners’ lunch clubs (file picture)
Sources close to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith have disputed the charities’ figures.
‘It is simply not possible to draw conclusions from these unverified figures drawn from disparate sources,’ a spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions said.
The three charities published a report, Below the Breadline, which said that ‘food banks and food aid charities gave more than 20 million meals last year to people in the UK who could not afford to feed themselves.’
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It said this was a 54 per cent increase on the previous year, and that the need for food aid was a result of ‘a perfect storm of changes to the social security system, benefit sanctions, low and stagnant wages, insecure and zero-hours contracts and rising food and energy prices.’
The report, released in the name of Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty, and the Trussell Trust food bank organisation, said 20,247,042 charity meals were provided in the financial year that ended in April.
However critics said the numbers could not be considered to count meals given to people who are unable to afford to feed themselves, because more than half were supplied by a charity called FareShare, which does not feed the hungry, but instead gives food to other charities.
FareShare, which was responsible for 12 million of the 20 million meals counted in the Oxfam report, collects unsold food from Sainsbury’s and other supermarkets which would otherwise be destroyed or disposed of, and distributes it to charities that can use it.
These include, according to its website, lunch clubs for pensioners, including some run by the Royal British Legion, charities that help vulnerable adults, and women’s refuges.
Backlash: Sources close to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith have disputed the charities’ figures
One example is the Central Street Cookery School, near London’s fashionable Old Street district, where chefs teach families and children how to cook healthy meals.
The school’s manager is quoted by FareShare saying: ‘We tried running the classes at a cost of £5 but people said, although they would like to come, they couldn’t afford to. Because of FareShare, we can now open up the workshops at a low cost to low income families.’
Critics of the Oxfam report said such meals are not going to people who are too poor to feed themselves.
‘The largest share comes from FareShare,’ a source close to Mr Duncan Smith said.
‘FareShare redistribute food from supermarkets to around 1300 charities and community groups, which is then used in places such as community cafes, domestic violence refuges and elderly drop-in centres.
‘This supports charities by helping them to keep their costs down while cutting down on food waste – which is clearly very different to provision of emergency food aid through foodbanks.’
Most of the remainder of the meals suppled were 8,218,242 provided by the food bank operator the Trussell Trust. The Trust hands out packages of food to last people three days, which the Oxfam report calculated as nine meals.
It is unknown how many people claimed the 900,000 or so packages provided by the Trust, because it counts only the number of food parcels handed out and takes no account of numbers of repeat visits.
However figures from one Trust food bank, in Salisbury, suggest that fewer than half its clients visit only once and more than one in five apply for food on more than three occasions in a year. Thus suggests the number of people using its food banks is in fact much lower than 900,000.