Why ‘exposing’ food banks is not okay

I know how being a journalist works. You have to dig around and find stories, otherwise you’re simply no good. There’s a lot of pressure for you to find something worthwhile, something people will actually care about enough to click on a link. If you can’t find stories, chances are you will be fired. That’s the job, take it or leave it.

I’m a freelance journalist and I know what it’s like to sit in front of your computer and realize you’ve got nothing to write about. It sucks because if you don’t write, you don’t earn. If you don’t find stories, you don’t get paid. I understand this kind of desperation.
But as difficult as being a journalist is, there is no excuse for a journalist to pose as a low-income father and use it to generalize the poor in the UK. This is exactly what Mail on Sunday reporter Ross Slater did. He pretended to be a person in need of food to feed his family and got some food from a food bank.

Despite the incredible work food banks do every year (which has been increasing because of the Tory government’s cuts in benefits), the MoS used this fraudulent ‘investigation’ to write a sensationalized report about how easy it is to fool the food banks. There are countless reasons why this is completely unethical and I am being nice enough, Ross Slater, to list them below.

The ‘investigation’

This report is essentially a non-story. Man pretends to be in need for food, food bank questions him about his unemployment, food bank gives him £40 worth of food to feed his family. So food banks are basically doing their job – what Slater is ‘proving’ is that there is a minority of people who might take advantage of this system. Which we already know.

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In an attempt to destroy Trussell Trust’s reputation, presumably because of the MoS’s historical opposition and sensationalization of benefits or any aid to poor people, all that Slater managed to do is prove food banks are essentially doing their jobs. You’re the scum here, mate.

The language

The language in this report is absolutely appalling. It is a far cry from impartial – subtly, every line implies that food banks are lying when they say people genuinely need emergency food. Hey, Simon Murphy and Sanchez Manning, I am looking at you.

“The charity, which runs more than 400 of Britain’s 1,000 food banks, acknowledged that a third of the food was given to repeat visitors, but insisted the rise was based on genuine need for emergency food.”

They insisted because they want to convince us of something that’s not true. I get is, MoS! Thank you for revealing what awful gargoyles food banks are! Let’s make this 100% clear: there is no way the MoS can know the reasons for the repeat visitors to come back to food banks with more pleas. Although they seem completely okay with implying they’re all fraudulent criminals, just like their own reporter Ross Slater.

The headline is perhaps the most telling bit of all:

“No ID, no checks… and vouchers for sob stories: The truth behind those shock food bank claims”

MoS is directly preying on the poor who need food by calling their situation ‘sob stories’ and generalizing people who are in need as criminals who fraud their way through the system. Vilifying a system that helps needy people is disgusting and immoral, especially in the way this was done. Low income people, unemployed people, people on the dole – they do not need any more stigma and prejudice.


(…) The woman, called Katherine, who was in her 60s, asked our reporter a series of questions about why the food bank vouchers were needed.”

Nothing beats a controversial sub headline, I guess. Honestly, no comment.

Also, why does it matter that Katherine was in her 60s? Are they implying she’s gullible because of her age? Oh.

And then, of course, Ross Slater told his ‘sob story’.

“He explained he had been unemployed for a few months and had been caught out by higher than expected winter fuel bills and was strapped for cash and food. He added that his wife had left her job and was not earning and that they had two children to care for. After asking for details of how much Jobseekers’ Allowance was received, the assessor’s questions turned to the dietary requirements of the reporter and his family.”

Posing as a needy person to get free food is disgusting in itself – doing so to get a story out of it is a disgrace. Although many Slater defenders might say he is just doing his job and that he later returned the food, he still took advantage of his privilege to stereotype and stigmatise those who need food, simultaneously trying to destroy the Trussell Trust’s reputation… to push the MoS’s political agenda against the poor. In telling these lies, Slater was minimizing the needs of hungry people who cannot afford to feed their own families. I don’t really see how committing this crime in the name of ‘journalism’ is any better than the crime Slater claims to be ‘investigating’.

What the MoS and Slater seem to ‘forget’ is that there are people who are unemployed and can’t afford heating. There are people who have ‘sob stories’, as patronizing as that is, and they are straight up living them, with difficulty. Slater is fortunate enough to have a job, be white (can’t wait for people to cry racism on this one – having white privilege is a fact. Educate yourself) and write for a newspaper with incredible reach.

But obviously, it seems Slater and his counterparts (who actually wrote the article) are incapable of using privilege for good.

The image

Here is a photo of Slater posing as a needy person. The imagery is impossibly offensive: he’s sitting on the ground, looking miserable, with hand out spread on the floor around him.

If the language and ‘investigation’ failed to enforce low income people stereotypes, this photo certainly does it. Posing as a needy person obviously means sitting on the ground with your food, with an unshaved face and an unhappy look. Needy people do not need this kind of image representing them.

So congratulations to the Mail on Sunday, Simon Murphy, Sanchez Manning and Ross Slater for preying on the poor. That’s what the world really needs right now, to discredit those who can barely survive.

ETA: The MoS report on Trussell Trust has resulted in a surge of donations to food banks


4 thoughts on “Why ‘exposing’ food banks is not okay”

  1. Well said Nicole – I couldn’t agree more with your sentiments on this. The MoS seems to think Food Banks need to be run like a visit to the DSS if they are to be genuine. In other words, people who ‘claim’ (what a difficult word that is!) to be in need have to ‘prove’ their neediness by prostrating themselves in front of a panel of do-gooders and exposing all of their failings, their job loss, their indebtedness, their disabilities etc.
    If that reporter had been genuine, what he had to do to get his food parcel would have been totally humiliating. Everyone who walks into a food bank has to leave their dignity outside. If they’re ready to do that they deserve to be treated with respect and not required to show in even greater detail just how awful their circumstances are and what a failure they are.
    I used to be a social worker and we would get clients coming in every day ‘claiming’ to have lost their purses or that their benefits cheque was late and they had children to feed. Sometimes they were lying. So be it. I’d rather give a liar a free packet of fags than see a child go hungry.
    If food banks become like DSS offices we really will have hit a new low in institutionalised humiliation.

    1. I loved that you said this: “I’d rather give a liar a free packet of fags than see a child go hungry.”

      isn’t the benefit of the doubt better than letting a family go hungry on the off chance that the person is lying?

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Imagine if Ross Slater had gone to his local A&E feigning the symptoms of a heart attack. They would probably have treated him. Shock horror. That the Mail on Sunday feel the need to criticise a charity for, well, being charitable, says so much about them and their readership.

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