Mail on Sunday food banks probe: 'Sad day when investigations into use of public money condemned'

The Mail on Sunday has responded to the social media backlash over its undercover food banks investigation by saying: “It is a sad day for journalism when investigations into the use of money given by the public are condemned”.

Meanwhile, food bank charity the Trussell Trust has reported an “unexpected boost” in donations after Sunday’s report.

The charity told Press Gazette that its Help Crack UK Hunger appeal received £50,000 of donations in two days and that its general funds have also been boosted since the coverage.

In this week’s edition the Mail on Sunday published a two-page article headlined: ‘No ID, no checks… and vouchers for sob stories: The truth behind those shock food bank claims’.

Undercover reporters posed as foodbank workers in London and Nottingham, and as a food claimant. The paper reported that insufficient checks meant the foodbank system was open to abuse.

The story prompted some high-profile Twitter users to urge their followers to donate money to the Trussell Trust.

The Trussell Trust said in a statement: “The publication of the article on Easter Sunday which criticised the charity outraged many. Thousands of people took to social media to express their support for The Trussell Trust and its food banks; starting something momentous.

“Well-known names like the author Mark Haddon, musician Billy Bragg and comedian Jon Ronson donated to the Trussell Trust Easter appeal to show their support and encouraged others to do the same. Over 4,500 people have donated to the Help Crack UK Hunger online appeal so far, raising more than £50,000 in just two days. We've also seen donations to our general funds rise too”.

The charity has said it will investigate the Mail on Sunday’s allegations that it was failing to carry out proper identification checks of claimants: “The Trussell Trust has processes in place which allow them to investigate any allegations of fraud or abuse of services provided by charities operating a Trussell Trust food bank and the Trussell Trust will investigate further and conduct a full audit of this particular food bank.

“We will also ensure that the local charity makes sure its volunteers there are fully aware of, and complying with Trussell Trust policies.

“The Trussell Trust feels that these undercover methods, used by Mail on Sunday journalists, to enter the premises of our voluntarily run food banks is an unacceptable attempt to tarnish not only the name of the Trussell Trust, but also the valuable efforts of the 30,000 volunteers who selflessly give up their time to provide a valuable service to people in real need.”

A Mail on Sunday spokesman said: “The article was a legitimate investigation into whether or not the good work of charities like the Trussell Trust is being undermined by fraudsters who cheat the system to obtain undeserved hand-outs.

“Our reporter tested the system in order to find out what checks are being made. All the goods he obtained were returned immediately.

“We have been cooperating with the Trussell Trust to discuss our findings. The trust said it would investigate and re-train anyone who was giving vouchers to those not in genuine need.

“It is a sad day for journalism when investigations into the use of money given by the public are condemned.

“We applaud the work of the Trust, its selfless volunteers and generous supporters.

“A report by Coventry University in 2011 said that the food bank system was open to abuse and there have been other suggestions that people have been obtaining vouchers by pretending to be in need.”

Mail on Sunday reporters have themselves been targeted for abuse on Twitter as a result of the story.

A petition on Change.org calling for Mail on Sunday reporter Ross Slater to be sacked has attracted more than 2,300 names.

Slater pretended to be an unemployed father of two in order to claim a foodbank voucher at Nottingham Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

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