Sunday, 27 April 2014

"Foodbank shame is no laughing matter" - Cornish Guardian

My column in last week’s Cornish Guardian focused on food banks. It was as follows:

It is only a month since I wrote about the dramatic rise in the use of foodbanks, but I feel obligated to revisit the topic because of the recent release of shocking new statistics.

The Trussell Trust has stated that, last year, it gave out 913,138 food parcels, massively up from the figure of 346,992 in the previous year. Shockingly, 330,205 of the beneficiaries were children.

The Trust is responsible for less than 50% of the 1,000-plus food banks across the UK, so the number of emergency handouts is much, much greater.

One of the most telling comments came from Eddie Izzard, a prominent comedian and political campaigner. He recounted how he had “seen food parcels handed out many times in work with Unicef or for Sport Relief,” saving lives in famines in developing countries, adding that he never thought he would “hear of them handed out in my own country, in the UK in 2014, in the sixth richest country in the world.”

Izzard is right when he says the information from the Trussell Trust “should shame every single member of the Government … when you add all the work being done by Fareshare, by churches, by grass-roots charities, the statistics make a national scandal.”

Forty-five Anglican bishops (out of a total of 59) and around 600 other church leaders have meanwhile signed a joint letter to the leaders of the three largest political parties in the UK. They have challenged David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband to “tackle the causes of food poverty,” and address issues such as “low wages, rising food prices and an inadequate welfare benefit safety net.”

They also pointed out how the “total number of people going hungry in our country today” almost certainly exceeds the data from the food banks and includes “those too ashamed to visit their local food bank,” while adding that many families are not in crisis but are much more worried about “keeping the cupboards full … one in four is cutting portion sizes and half are cutting their household food budgets.”

This is the second time in three months that prominent religious leaders have challenged the political classes on food poverty and the hardship faced by so many families struggling to exist on extremely low-incomes.

I personally think that the intervention of the church leaders is to be applauded and, as stated by Eddie Izzard, I agree that Coalition MPs should be ashamed that it has come to this.

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