Foodbanks took centre stage in PMQs today as David Cameron and Ed Miliband sparred over welfare cuts and poverty.
Just a few days ago, BBC news reported from a foodbank in Rotherham, part of a piece about an increase in shoplifting.
These references show foodbanks are now firmly part of the popular consciousness. Neither the BBC reporter nor the politicians explained what foodbanks were. They just assumed that the public and the House of Commons already knew. A year ago, this would not have been the case. It is a sign of the astonishing growth foodbanks have seen recently.
With this prominence, foodbanks will come under increasing pressure to enter the political debate surrounding welfare, poverty and the role of the state. Foodbanks claim to be wholly a-political, only interested in helping those in need. As seen in PMQs, this neutrality will be tested as they have grown to be a genuine player in this most political of issues.
Both sides tried to frame foodbanks. For Ed Miliband, foodbanks are an indictment of the government’s failure to look after the most vulnerable in society. For David Cameron, they are a shining example of ‘Big Society’- enterprise and compassion directed not by responsible citizens rather than the State.
Who knows where the Trussell Trust really stand? The social justice and affirmative action they practice has a left wing feel, but the tough love and conservative Christian values lean more to the right.
Of course, it’s a slightly meaningless question. Foodbanks are a large network, no doubt encompassing a great deal of motivations and ideologies. Equally, there is no reason why we can’t take the Trust at their word and accept their neutrality.
But it is question that is going to be asked a lot in the near future. To maintain its neutrality, the Trussell Trust must be extra vigilant and aware that it’s no longer just a regional charity, but a national body with considerable authority.