The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights is visiting the UK in November 2018. Church Action on Poverty is doing what we can to ensure that during his visit, he hears the stories of the real experts – people with lived experience of poverty.
Today (19 July), the findings are published from one of the most systematic and detailed studies yet conducted of people receiving emergency food in the UK. Still Hungry has been prepared by University of Oxford and University of Chester researchers, drawing on statistical data from West Cheshire Foodbank, an ally of Church Action on Poverty.
Dear Prime Minister
The litmus for your One Nation Premiership will be your ability to reach out and tackle foodbank Britain.
The vison you set out on the steps of Number 10 for a Premiership committed to social justice and One Nation compassionate Conservatism was bold. The challenge of uniting a country divided by inequalities of health, life expectancy and opportunity is great.
But to achieve your goal of uniting the country, you will have to reach out far beyond struggling middle Britain of working families with mortgages and anxieties over getting their kids into a good school.
The past few years have been marked by the growth of foodbank Britain. Of families in and out of work struggling to put food on the table; of children turning up at school hungry and returning to school after summer holidays without the benefit of free school meals, poorly fed, with their educational attainment and life chances diminished as a result. Of families being forced to turn to foodbanks as a result of delays, errors and missing benefit cheques and over-zealously applied benefit sanctions.
Under David Cameron’s premiership, the Government sadly failed to grasp the nettle of Foodbank Britain. At times the Government gave the impression of being in denial about the scale or the problem, that problems with the benefits system had any role in exacerbating the problem or that the Government more generally had any role in seeking to address it. At others, it seemed to simply want to pass the buck to hard pressed teams of volunteers struggling to fill the gap by handing out emergency food parcels.
As a One Nation Prime Minister you can and must do better. You have a fantastic opportunity to reach out to the tens of thousands of volunteers and hundreds of thousands of people at the sharp end of foodbank Britain.
Nothing would demonstrate better that your Government is for everyone, than by setting a goal of halving the numbers needing to go to foodbanks by 2020. Nothing would demonstrate your qualities of moral and political leadership, than by committing Government to work with civil society, business and others to develop a coherent plan for achieving this.
You could start by challenging each of your new Cabinet colleagues in charge of a Department which has a stake in the issue – DWP, Health, Education, DEFRA, DCLG – to step up to the plate, and to come up with a plan for how they can help put an end to Foodbank Britain.
You can rest assured that if you give the lead, civil society, faith groups and the countless organisations involved in addressing these issues on the ground across the country, are ready and waiting.
Join with us. Work with us. Together we can end hunger within out shores.
Church Action on Poverty
A parable of sharing
A sermon for Church Action on Poverty Sunday (7 February 2016)
Kath lives with her three teenage sons. Her youngest son has several serious medical conditions and requires intensive support. After her partner left 4 years ago, Kath gave up work to become his full-time carer. This left the family finances in precarious financial position:
‘We live very close to the edge… we don’t have many things. My 17-year-old needed a passport to get a part-time job and I had to say no. My youngest, who’s 14, has never been on a school trip, and I can’t afford the art supplies my other son needs for his course.’
The family were just about managing when their Child Tax Credits were halved without notice. Kath had arranged her finances so that she relied on her tax credits to pay for food and other daily necessities, so the effect was catastrophic.
When Kath contacted HMRC, she was told her credits had been cut because she had failed to tell them that her two older sons were staying in education. Kath says she did update them. She was assigned a case worker and given a number to call, ‘and that’s where the problem started’.
‘I called them every day all day and couldn’t get through. And every time I got put through to the answer machine we got charged. It was awful. I’d go back to the helpline and say “I can’t get through”, and they said “Well, that’s the number”. They didn’t help at all. It went on for eight weeks.’
Kath was horrified by how she was treated. ‘When our money was stopped, there was no compassion, there was no way to get support.’
Martin Cooper, a member of the justice and peace group at St Mary the Virgin church in Monkseaton, Tyneside, wrote this article about our new campaign on the Right to Food for his church newsletter, and has kindly given permission for us to reprint it here.