Government must provide ‘basics’ to support charities’ work, says Trussell Trust director

04 Oct 2023 News

Helen Barnard is the Trussell Trust's director of policy, impact and research

Government must provide basic support to vulnerable people during the cost-of-living crisis to enable charities to “do their thing”, a Trussell Trust director has said.

Helen Barnard, director of policy research and impact at the Trussell Trust, which aims to end the need for foodbanks, spoke on a fringe event panel at the Conservative Party conference this week.

“Tackling the issue, we're talking about hardship, it doesn't come down to any one actor in society, it's not just government’s job, and it's not only the communities’ job,” she said.

“What you need is communities helping each other, voluntary community groups, businesses, employers.

“There are certain basics that we need the government to have in place to allow all those other actors to do their thing.

“If you've got somebody who we've already helped them claim all the benefits that they can get, we've already helped them deal with debt, and they still can't afford enough food and to keep the lights on, actually that then kicks the legs out from what the community groups are doing. 

“Whereas if we can get that basic system in place, just covering the essentials that is the key, all the others can flourish, and the individuals can flourish in their community.”

‘Sticking plasters aren’t really enough’

Barnard said the charity’s data this year is showing people are struggling even more than during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We're seeing more people having to come to food banks, more people dragged into debt, more people who just can't keep up with the bills,” she said. “This is undermining the other priorities that government's got.” 

Barnard added: “I think the positive side is when we look back over the last couple of years, the government has taken some really effective action.

“So, we saw the temporary £20 uplift in Universal Credit during the pandemic, we've seen the cost-of-living payments, we've seen household support funding. And all of those, you can see an immediate impact.”

Food bank volunteer Ben Parnall spoke on the panel about his lived experience using the services.

Some of the most vulnerable people in society “are coming to us because the state is not providing for them what they need to maintain a basic level of human existence through being able to afford the basic essentials, like food, utilities, essential household goods”, he said.

He said: “Although the government has taken some actions towards helping this situation, these sticking plasters aren't really enough, all you have to do is spend a day in your local food bank and see the usage is higher than ever.”

Former charities minister: ‘Let’s not bid for the next shiny thing’

Former charities minister Mims Davies spoke about the importance of creating “a whole system approach”.

She said: “Let's be forensic where the policy goes wrong, and things don't work. And that's what I'm absolutely spending my time on.”

Davies added that due to financial hardship growing up, “I would have gone to a food bank if they had existed at that point”.

She said: “What I think we all love, and I was the charities minister for some time, is to just stop this bidding for the next shiny thing. Why are we still doing that? Let's not bid for the next shiny thing. 

“Let's make sure that we're pooling government resources and working together to make sure that we can keep long-term support that we know is right, and that we focus on outcomes of our spending and outcomes that people need, and that we keep on funding that.”

Meanwhile, Caroline Ansell MP for Eastbourne and Willingdon, said: “I do worry about the end of foodbanks. Because it's not just about the food. There's so much more to them.”

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