Last week over 60 Anglican bishops and 600 other religious leaders sent a letter to Prime Minister Cameron, Deputy Clegg and Shadow Milliband asking them to tackle the causes of food poverty. In Britain.
The latest figures to be published show that more than a million Britains have sought aid from food banks in the last year. The causes of food poverty are ever increasing; wages are lower, the price of food is rising, the welfare state is under pressure to cut, cut, cut.
In the letter, the religious leaders said that the period up to Easter was a "sorrowful and deep reflection" of our multi faith society and that we, as a nation should "begin rising to the challenge of this national crisis". Their precise request was for an all party inquiry into the causes of hunger and food poverty in this country today.
Figures released by the Trussell Trust (the Christian charity that is the UK's biggest food bank network) showed an increase in use in 2013-14 of more than 163%. That’s nearly a million people, in a country with a population of 63 million.
This is the second call from leaders of religious communities for the Government to take action on food poverty. In February, the Daily Mirror published a letter signed by 27 bishops saying that Cameron had a moral duty to act on the rise in food poverty.
The Archbishop of Wales, Barry Morgan, said "What we are saying to the Government is ... can you at least acknowledge that there is a real problem here? It's incredible that in a country as relatively wealthy as ours, where we talk of economic recovery, there are still people who have to depend on food handouts to feed their families."
It’s a complicated situation. The Chairman of the Trust says the figures are the "just the tip of the iceberg" and that over 50% of food parcels go to those reliant on benefits and are facing cuts or delays in payments.
But a spokesman from the Department for Work and Pensions said the figures could be misleading due to double counting i.e. people that had visited a food bank more than once.
"We're spending £94bn a year on working age benefits so that the welfare system provides a safety net to millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed so they can meet their basic needs. The truth is that the employment rate is the highest it's been for five years and our reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities by promoting work and helping people to lift themselves out of poverty."
The fact (accurate or not, because children must eat) is that 913,138 people – including 330,205 children – were the beneficiaries of its food parcels in 2013-14.
That does not include local independent food banks or soup kitchens.
Or those that go without because they are ashamed, or they go hungry, or there is simply no food back nearby.
At the moment, the government has introduced sanctions for those on benefits i.e. if you miss a job interview, your benefits will be interrupted, probably stopped for one month.
With my MIE Scottish Correspondent hat on, I got a few facts and figures on what was going on north of the border.
As in the rest of the UK, nobody can just turn up at a food bank and get a parcel, they have to be referred by a social worker, job centre staff or a religious leader. 72,000 people visited a food bank this year from 14,000 last year, among them were 23,000 children. The population of Scotland is just over 5 million. Most of those who visit food banks are in work, but very low paid work. If people visit a food bank more than 3 times in 6 months, they are referred back to the welfare services to see if they can get more help with their plan to ‘break out of poverty’
A food parcel consists of food with good nutritional value and a long shelf life, tins of stew, pasta, instant mash and dried milk. Last year while the numbers visiting food banks increased by 107%, there was only a 76% increase in the number of banks themselves, there are 40 on Scotland, which have collected 700 tons of donations. Another five are opening soon. They do not take supermarkets’ out of date food, but ask shoppers to buy one or two extra items and donate them on the way out the door from doing their weekly shop.
The food banks UK wide are not supported by the Government but the Scottish Government has announced a minimum of a million pounds support package for food banks.
This is a direct lift from the Trussler charity website.
“For Charlotte, the food bank was a life saver…
21 year-old college student Charlotte had not eaten properly for weeks and could not afford gas to heat her flat when she came to the food bank in January. After leaving state care she was determined to make something of her life and was funding herself through college. Working two evening jobs to make ends meet, she was made redundant from both within a month. As a 21-year-old in full time education, with no children, she did not qualify for benefits. She sold everything she had and, with nowhere else to turn, she asked her local councillor for help; they referred her to the food bank. When she arrived she was ill, dehydrated and in the first stages of malnutrition. For Charlotte, the food bank was a life saver. She says she has no idea what she would have done without it. She was so impressed by the support she received that she began volunteering at the food bank.”
As the advert on the TV says, in a country with the seventh strongest economy on the face of the planet, why are folk going hungry?