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Foodbank app run by newly elected Tory MP charges charities to use it

Tim Wyatt
Miriam Cates with Boris Johnson at the Conservative Party conference this year: PA

A newly-elected Conservative MP has been criticised after it emerged she owns an app which charges foodbanks to include their shopping lists of needed items.

Miriam Cates, who won the seat of Penistone and Stocksbridge in South Yorkshire in Thursday’s election, and her husband Dave are behind the app called Foodbank.

Launched in 2014, the app allows individual foodbanks to register which particular items of food they need, so people keen to donate can ensure they purchase things actually needed by their local facility.

However, any foodbank which wishes to sign up to the app must first pay a fee of £180, which the company says is to cover the cost of setting up the new charity within the app’s system.

Ms Cates’s defeated Labour opponent in Penistone and Stocksbridge, Francyne Johnson, said she was very concerned by how the Foodbank app sought to profit from food poverty.

“This revelation is deeply worrying, especially when you consider how the use of food banks has increased massively due to Conservative party policies,” she told the Novara Media website.

“Food banks are charitable services often run by local churches and charities helping the most vulnerable in society, and any attempt to profit from them would be appalling.

“I have worked with families in Penistone and Stocksbridge who are struggling to scrape together the bus fare to even get to the food bank because of the severe hardship caused by the Tory government.”

On Facebook, Ms Cates said it was “incorrect” that she had been trying to make a profit off foodbanks.

“We developed the app for free, using our time, resources, staff and money and did not charge S6 Foodbank for its use. The commercial cost of an app like this would be tens of thousands of pounds – we developed it for free,” she said.

“As a small business we did not have the resources to continue to develop the app for free so we had to charge Foodbanks a small set up charge to allow us to continue to support and update the app. However this fee works out at less than the monthly cost of a Just Giving subscription – something that the Foodbanks get for free using our app.

“Foodbanks also saw their financial donations increase directly as a result of the App.”

Many of those working in the foodbank sector blame Conservative actions in government for the rise in food poverty.

Figures from the Trussell Trust, by far the largest network of foodbanks in Britain, show that a record 1.6m food parcels were given out in 2018.

Its statistics show a fifth of all referrals to foodbanks were connected to delays in receiving benefits. The Trust has repeatedly criticised the five-week delay in first receiving benefits when people are moved onto the Universal Credit system in particular.

When the Foodbank app was launched in 2014 it said 40 local foodbanks had signed up to take part, but it is not clear how many are using it today.

The Foodbank app is not the only similar service available to local charities, and nor is it the only service which charges individual foodbanks.

Any foodbank which joins the Trussell Trust’s own network has to pay a joining fee of £1,500 and then £360 a year after that.

The Trust says this helps towards the costs of delivering their services to foodbanks, including £1.3m-worth of funding in 2018.

Ms Cates and the Conservative Party did not respond to requests for comment.

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