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Trussell retiring chairman ‘optimistic’ about political climate

02 December 2016


Stepping down: Chris Mould

Stepping down: Chris Mould

IN HIS 12 years at the Trussell Trust, Chris Mould has seen a single food­bank expand to more than 400, warned of “scandalous” levels of hunger, and endured the wrath of Iain Duncan Smith, who, when he was Work and Pensions Secretary, accused the charity of “scare­monger­ing”.

In a valedictory interview this month — he is stepping down as chairman — Mr Mould wel­comed a “radical shift” in the politi­cal climate, and spoke of his delight at securing a meeting with Mr Smith’s successor, Damian Green.

”I am ever the optimist, and everything says to me the climate is different,” he says, pointing to the range of people agreeing that there is “something inhumane and funda­mentally wrong with the sanctions system”. But, he continues, “it took several years, and, during that time, tens of thousands of people have had their lives ruined in a system that was cruel.”

While he is hopeful about his forthcoming meeting with Mr Green (he speaks of a “new level of dialogue with the current Govern­ment that is profoundly encour­aging”), he admits to being “very dis­appointed” by the Trust’s diffi­culties in gaining access to policy-makers under previous govern­ments, including Labour.

The Trust’s relations with the Coalition Government, and the Conservative Government under David Cameron, in particular, were frequently acrimonious. In 2014, Mr Mould spoke of “ongoing efforts to belittle the organisation” by the Government; and Mr Duncan Smith accused it of both “scare­mongering” and “political messaging”.

”We were offering to help, and have something to say which would have enabled people offering services to improve it,” Mr Mould says. “There is something about resistance within Government departments to hearing that things are not going right.”

Research exploring the reasons for the expansion in foodbanks has not always been embraced by White­hall. There were claims that demand was linked to the Trust’s stated aim of expansion, greater awareness, and an emphasis on the complexity of problems faced by users.

For Mr Mould, the reasons that people need foodbanks are “very clear. There is great consistency to our history and experience. It’s be-
cause they do not have enough money to make ends meet.” Under differ­ent governments, it has remained the case that a “significant number of people find themselves in finan­cial crisis, and are in need of help, be-
cause of failures in the social security system”. He agrees with the Govern­ment that “work is the way out,” but says that “it needs to be work that pays.” Precarious employ­ment and zero-hours contracts are making it “impossible to live effectively”.

He denies that those coming to foodbanks are “overwhelmed by complex chronic needs”. Two-thirds need less than two interventions in a six-month period, he says.

For the media, he has nothing but praise, describing them as “friends and partners” in the Trust’s mission to “raise awareness about the fact that hundreds of thousands of people were going hungry”. It is “a great credit to our nation that we do have a wonderful range of com­mitted and experienced journalists who want to understand problems”.

Today, it is estimated that four million people will donate food to a Trussell Trust foodbank this year, and that 45,000 will serve as volun­teers. People tell him that the organisation “changed the hearts of the nation”. The network is a “remarkable testimony to a vibrant society that cares”, he says.

About 12,000 churches are involved in the network, and Mr Mould is clear that the organisation “would not exist” without them. “The courage to take the lead, to take the risk of setting up an insti­tution — if you start this you won’t be able to shut it down — has been something that marks out the Christian faith community.”

The last report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger suggested that demand for food­banks might be levelling off (News, 11 December). The latest statistics from the Trust suggest that demand is “just a couple of per­centage points up”, Mr Mould says. While refusing to “crystal-gaze”, he wants to empha­sise that “there is a great deal that can be done now to prevent people falling into crisis.”

He was moved to tears watching Ken Loach’s latest film, I, Daniel Blake (Comment, 11 November), which he considers “extraordinarily real. It resonates with the hundreds of people I have spoken to over the last 12 years, who are in despair, as they do not know what to do in the face of the system like the one you see in that film.”

This week, the National Audit Office warned that the Government was not doing enough to find out how sanctions affected people on benefits. The Trust is bracing itself for a surge in demand. Last Decem­ber, there was a 45-per-cent increase on the monthly average of supplies provided.

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