This post brings together two important themes that we have written about over the past few months: Food Banks and Government misinformation.

With regards to the food banks, we have exposed not only the shaming increase in the number of people relying on them but also the government’s role in creating the conditions under which they have become so common place across Britain. Additionally we have shown the government’s distasteful attitude towards food banks and those people who Clegg, Osborne and Cameron have forced into using them.

With regards to the government misinformation we have reported on the misuse of statistics by the Government and the supply of constantly misleading information churned out by our local Lib Dem MP, Greg Mulholland. We also reported that in November this year the Conservatives removed a decade of speeches from their website and from the main internet library – including one in which David Cameron claimed that being able to search the web would democratise politics by making “more information available to more people”. You will recall that he promised his government would be the most open ever!

Open Government and Food Banks
In what follows we report on two examples where it appears government is deliberately keeping secret damaging reports that connect their austerity measures and anti-social security policies with either the increase in the rise of food banks and/or the increase in malnutrition. The first example concerns national government and the second a county council local government.

Coalition Government Secrets
In a letter to the British Medical Journal published on 4th December, a group of doctors and senior academics from the Medical Research Council and two leading universities said that the effect of Government policies on vulnerable people’s ability to afford food needed to be “urgently” monitored.
Here is the author’s press release (04/12/13):
“Food poverty in the UK “has all the signs of a public health emergency,” warn experts in a letter to The BMJ this week.
“David Taylor-Robinson from the University of Liverpool, and colleagues show that the number of malnutrition-related admissions to hospital in England has doubled since 2008-09.
“Furthermore, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has reported a decrease in calories purchased and substitution with unhealthier foods, especially in families with young children, while data also show an exponential rise in the number of people being issued food bank vouchers by frontline care professionals.
“This has all the signs of a public health emergency that could go unrecognised until it is too late to take preventive action,” warn the authors.
“Malnutrition in children is particularly worrying, they add, because exposures during sensitive periods can have lifelong effects, increasing the risk of cardiovascular and other adult chronic diseases.
And they argue that because the government has delayed the publication of research it commissioned into the rise in emergency food aid in the UK, ‘we can only speculate that the cause is related to the rising cost of living and increasingly austere welfare reforms.’
“And they call for urgent monitoring of the effects of these policies on nutritional status in the most vulnerable populations.
“’Access to an adequate food supply is the most basic of human needs and rights. We should not allow food poverty in the UK to be the next public health emergency,’ they conclude.” (our emphasis)
The letter can be found here.

The number of admissions to hospital of malnourished people has grown (standing in 2012 at 5,499) at roughly the same rate as the increase in the number of users of food banks (standing in 2012 at around 350,000 of which 33% were children).

So, is the Government covering things up?

In February this year the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) commissioned a report on the effect of Government policies on vulnerable people’s ability to afford food. This is the report to which the healthcare professionals and academics refer to in their letter to The BMJ. It was completed by an academic at Warwick University. However, the publication has not been published but deliberately held back.
The Defra website makes no reference to the report and we do not even know its name. Chris Mould of The Trussel Trust, the largest food bank provider in the UK, says he has tried to engage with the government but they don’t want to talk. The Independent quotes Mr Mould: “We want to see that research. It was commissioned by Government, pulled together by a highly reputable academic and we want to see what it says. We understand that the reason it has not been published is that DWP has queried aspects of the data in it and has been preventing its publication for months. That, we think, is not acceptable.” (our emphasis).

According to the Independent, a Defra spokesperson said that the food aid report would be published after a “necessary review and quality assurance process” was complete. For further information on the Independent article see:

Petition:
A petition which has been backed by the Unite union and the national food bank charity the Trussell Trust was launched on Monday by the writer and former food bank user Jack Monroe. See:
In her appeal on the Change.org website, Ms Monroe called on supporters to “make politicians confront what is happening.”
“I don’t think this is acceptable in the seventh richest country in the world – and I’d really like to know the reasons why it’s happening so we can stop it…” she said. “We need to stop turning a blind eye.”
If you share ours and Jack’s concern please sign the petition.

Kent County Council
During the first week of December, Kent Online published an article by its political editor, Paul Francis, under the headline: “Homelessness, violent crime and debt on the rise after government welfare reforms, says Kent County Council.”

Francis reported that a study commissioned by the Tory-controlled Kent Council identified a link between the Government’s welfare reform including the benefit cap and the bedroom tax and “a rise in homelessness, violent crime, people in debt and the number of children relying on food banks to get by in Kent.”
The study’s report finds that:
– The number of families dependent on food banks has “increased sharply”. Between April and September, the figure rose to 3,195 – nearly double the number for the whole of the previous year.
– More children are using food banks, with 1,357 turning to them between April and September – that is 652 more than were recorded for the whole of the previous year.
The most common reasons for people using food banks are:
– changes to the benefit system, including changes to crisis loan eligibility rules,
– delays in (benefit) payments, Jobs Seekers Allowance sanctions and sickness benefit re-assessment.
The demand for food bank use is certain to be medium to long term.
Francis notes that Kent Council believes the figure is likely to be higher, as they do not include help given by other charities and voluntary groups.
He also explains that the report concludes that the sharp rise “is the most compelling evidence of the impact of welfare reforms on individuals and families.”

We cannot confirm the veracity of Kent Online’s story because the Tory Council has withdrawn the report. However, the Guardian picked up the story. The Guardian’s journalist Patrick Butler writes: “No sooner had Kent Online reported the details of an official Kent county council report linking welfare reform to rises in homelessness, food bank use and violent crime, than the report was suppressed.”

Butler continues, “Council leader Paul Carter, whose name was apparently on the report even though he hadn’t read it, told Kent Messenger Group political editor Paul Francis that he had he decided to take it down from the council website because he did not agree with its conclusions.”
The full Guardian report here.

Conclusion
1. David Cameron tells us that he wants his government to be the most transparent in history.
2. Both the Lib/Dem and Tory coalition government and Kent’s Tory-controlled local government commissioned research concerning the most vulnerable people being forced into using food banks in Britain.
3. They don’t like the results so they then want to keep them secret?

It is clear that Cameron and his cronies don’t want anyone to know the extent of the damage their austerity policies are having.

Well, tough luck Flashman you’ve been rumbled – again.

Britain Can Be Better Than This

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