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Plea to Cameron on 'scandalous' food poverty

AsdaLoading350The UK’s largest Foodbank network the Trussell Trust, which includes a fast-growing number of centres across Norfolk, has called on Prime Minister David Cameron to launch an urgent enquiry into the ‘scandalous’ level of food poverty in the UK. Keith Morris reports

Over 350,000 people received three days’ emergency food from Trussell Trust foodbanks, including a burgeoning number across Norfolk, between April and September 2013, triple the numbers helped in the same period last year
The Trussell Trust says that UK hunger is getting worse and the charity is calling on Prime Minister David Cameron to launch an inquiry into the causes of UK food poverty, a call echoed by Norwich Foodbank manager Grant Habershon
Grant said: “In July, August and September we gave three days of food to 1667 adults and 847 children a total of 2,514 local people. Last year at the same time, 1057 adults and 431 children totalling 1488 local people were helped. That is a 69% increase in the total”
In the last year alone, new foodbanks have opened in locations across Norfolk including Cromer, Sheringham, Aylsham, North Walsham, one in Hunstanton just last week, with another due to open in Holt very shortly
Grant said: “I believe that as we develop more care agency contacts, we are helping a larger percentage of the local people who are in crisis. Unfortunately however, a larger part of this massive increase is because more and more local people are finding themselves in great need because of the impact of recent benefit changes, delays in payment of benefits that people are due by the DWP and local councils and the fact that food and energy prices are far outstripping wage and benefit increases”  
Yesterday, to coincide with World Food Day (October 16), Trussell Trust executive chairman Chris Mould called on David Cameron asking him to look into the causes of food poverty
“We said in April that the increasing numbers of people turning to foodbanks should be a wake-up call to the nation, but there has been no policy response and the situation is getting worse,” said Chris. “The level of food poverty in the UK is not acceptable. It’s scandalous and it is causing deep distress to thousands of people. The time has come for an official and in depth inquiry into the causes of food poverty and the consequent rise in the usage of foodbanks. As a nation we need to accept that something is wrong and that we need to act now to stop UK hunger getting worse”
Evidence from Trussell Trust foodbanks shows that rising living costs and stagnant wages are forcing more people to live on a financial knife edge where any change in circumstance can plunge them into poverty. Even marginal shifts in prices when people don’t have elasticity in their personal finances can have a major impact. Food prices have risen by 12.6% above inflation over the past six years and rising energy prices this winter are likely to see more people forced to choose between eating and heating. People at foodbanks have started giving back food items that need cooking because they can’t afford to turn on the electricity
Many people on low-incomes are also being impacted by the implementation of April’s welfare reforms. Trussell Trust foodbanks are reporting increased referrals as a result of the spare room subsidy, sanctioning and confusion caused by the devolution of the Social Fund
Chris Mould says: ‘Problems with welfare are not new, they have existed for years, but the reality is that when welfare provision breaks down, people go hungry. We’re talking about mums not eating for days because they’ve been sanctioned for seemingly illogical reasons, or people leaving hospital after a major operation to find that their benefits have been stopped or delayed. It’s not right that so many more people are now being referred to foodbanks due to problems with welfare, especially as much of this is preventable
“This is not about pointing fingers, it’s about finding solutions. That’s why we believe an enquiry is now essential”
Grant Habershon in Norwich said: “I would back an independent inquiry into why so many people are having to turning to foodbanks and I would also urge people to read the recent report called “Truth and lies about poverty” commissioned by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church
The report says:  “The myths exposed in this report, reinforced by politicians and the media, are convenient because they allow the poor to be blamed for their poverty, and the rest of society to avoid taking any of the responsibility. Myths hide the complexity of the true nature of poverty in the UK. They enable dangerous policies to be imposed on whole sections of society without their full consequences being properly examined
“Churches have a special interest in speaking truthfully about poverty. The systematic misrepresentation of the poorest in society is a matter of injustice which all Christians have a responsibility to challenge," says the report
Oxfam has also backed the call for an enquiry. Chris Johnes, Oxfam’s UK Poverty Programme Director, said: "These figures lay bare the shocking scale of destitution, hardship and hunger in the UK. It is completely unacceptable that in the seventh wealthiest nation on the planet, the number of people turning to foodbanks has tripled”

Reproduced from the Network Norfolk website. Used with permission.