Tim Thornton, the Bishop of Truro, co-chaired the Inquiry Into Food Poverty and Hunger which produced last week’s Feeding Britain report. In this guest blog, Bishop Tim shares his own reflections on the factors driving food poverty – and the best response.
I found it a privilege co-chairing the inquiry that has led to the publication of the report Feeding Britain. It was very good and hopeful working alongside people from across the party political spectrum who were focussed on trying to do something about the scandal of hunger in our country today.
It was also fascinating and encouraging in one way to travel around the county and to have large numbers of people submitting evidence which made it clear that thousands of people, the vast majority of whom are motivated by their faith, are working hard to get alongside people who are suffering from hunger in our country.
It was also a privilege to be able to put together a report which attempts to change the language and the mindset of people in our country more generally.
The evidence is clear and stark. There are people going hungry day by day across this land. There is real inequality and for many households keeping their head above water is very difficult and it only takes one minor issue to place them into debt.
Launching our report in Advent seems entirely appropriate of course as we speak within the prophetic line and tradition. Inequality and injustice are wrongs that the prophets speak about throughout the biblical tradition. Sadly they are still very real today and the scandal of hunger and the scandal of food waste need to be named.
However as well as the recommendations, of which there are a number attempting to change the reality of people’s lives in our country today, there is a wider issue at stake here. I am clear from listening to people across the country that there is a deeper problem: the relationships in our communities are not good. Time after time listening to people, I became clear that we are living in an increasingly individualistic and atomised world. This has been the direction of travel in our country for a long time, and I fear that even within the church we have succumbed to ways in which this is also being made real.
It is surely a good and important thing that the then Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple was involved in the creation of the welfare state. His book Christianity and the Social Order was a seminal work. Today by our language and our deeds, we show time after time that we demonise sections of our society, and that we believe welfare is what happens to other people.
Surely the underlying philosophy of the welfare state was that we should all have wellbeing, and in order for the whole community to flourish every member of it needs to flourish.
If we are interested – as I believe the gospel calls us to be – in flourishing churches in flourishing communities, then again we need to take seriously the underlying reasons why food banks and other emergency food aid provisions have grown so rapidly in this country.
The answer is not to blame one group or even the government. The answer is not to ensure there are food banks for ever more, as wonderful as all the volunteers are. The answer is to look at our relationships one with another and to ask some deep questions about how we live in our society today. As we celebrate the incarnation, we need to learn again that every single human being is loved by God, valued and important, and we can only truly flourish ourselves when other people flourish too.