A shocking 913,138 people in the UK were given three days emergency food and support between 2013 and 2014. The expanding need for food banks is a ‘phenomenon’ most of us have heard about, but little has been heard from Parliament in terms of practical and clear solutions. It seems a first stage in this battle for change has finally occurred, and it’s the church leading the way.
A report, ‘Feeding Britain’ has been published today. It is the result of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the United Kingdom, led by Labour MP Frank Field, The Bishop of Truro and largely funded by the Archbishop’s charitable trust. Right from the start the report is clear there needs to be urgent action from our politicians asserting “this simple but devastating fact that hunger stalks this country should confront each of the main political parties with a most basic and fundamental challenge”.
It can be difficult to understand the struggle of those using food banks in this country but Welby tries to emphasise the embarrassment and difficulty families in this situation face in an article he wrote for the Mail on Sunday. He describes a family he met, “they were hungry, and ashamed to be hungry”. It seems from articles like these, and from reading the report, that the further the food crisis in this country is researched the more urgent the need to tackle it appears. Clearly, less time should be wasted explaining who is to blame and all attention should be placed on what can be done to tackle this.
The report calls for a £150 million state backed system to combat hunger called ‘Feeding Britain’. This would link together all the organisations and charities currently helping those suffering from hunger and would also call for an increase in the amount of waste food these groups receive, which is currently just 2%. It would also include eight members from the relevant cabinet offices attributed with food provision. The report also goes on to identify benefit sanctions as the single biggest reason for the poor resorting to food banks, highlighting a loss in the margin of income which once allowed families to survive financial crisis.
The Arch bishop has urged that the practical recommendations of the report be taken on by politicians, highlighting the need for a wide range of support for the hungry. He also touched on the harshness of benefit sanctions, pointing to a story where a man stopped to help someone on the street “missed his appointment and lost his benefits”. He also makes a point of asserting that having a job does not necessarily take people out of the risk of turning to food banks anymore.
The response to the report, and the Archbishop’s comments have been varied. A Cabinet Office spokesperson responded to these comments and the ideas in the report arguing “sticking to this Government’s long term economic plan is the best way to improve living standards”. A Tory has also been reported as arguing the increase in use of the food banks is a result of their higher publicity although it’s clear from the report this is not true. Nick Clegg, on the other hand, has responded suggesting a ‘traffic light system’ should be put in place so that people get warnings before their benefits are sanctioned.
Time and time again the bible tells us God wants us to help the poor. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve – that should be the churches' objective too. This report has put serving others at its heart. Plastered over many newspaper pages this morning, and inevitably filling the conversations, and attention of many key politicians today is what the church has said about the hungry in this nation. The Church has said this needs to end, and the Government and the media have heard – let’s hope these fantastic starting points for a framework to support the work of food banks and tackle hunger at its base are implemented, and soon.