We have reported the growth in the use of foodbanks across Britain on our website on many previous occasions. We do so again, without apology, because the latest annual survey by the Trussell Trust of its foodbanks not only makes harrowing reading but represents an indictment of the Coalition government.
The Trussell Trust is a Christian organisation that manages the largest number of foodbanks in Britain. It is strictly non-political but does take seriously its mission to provide comfort and sustenance to the poor.
This is how the Trust’s press release of its report on 16th April begins:
LATEST FOODBANK FIGURES TOP 900,000: LIFE HAS GOT WORSE NOT BETTER FOR POOREST IN 2013/14 – AND THIS IS JUST THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG.
913,138 is almost THREE times the number of people using foodbanks compared with the previous year. The figure DOES NOT take into account those people using foodbanks provided by other organisations or those who do not have a foodbank near them or those who are too proud to seek help. This is why the Trust’s chairman, Chris Mould, says that 900,000 is just the tip of an iceberg.
What does the report reveal?
– 83% of the Trust’s foodbanks report that ‘sanctioning’ is causing rising numbers to turn to them. Half of foodbank referrals in 2013-14 were a result of benefit delays or changes. A paper published by Policy Exchange reveals that 68,000 people during the course of the year were unfairly sanctioned by the Department for Work and Pensions. For a survey of just how cruel the sanctions system is see: http://stupidsanctions.tumblr.com
– Whilst there has been a 163 percent increase in foodbank use there has only been a 45 percent increase in the number of new Trussell Trust foodbanks opening in the last year.
– Foodbanks that have been open for three years or more have seen an average increase of 51% in numbers helped in 2013-14 compared to 2012-13, showing that well established foodbanks are experiencing significant uplift in demand.
– The Trussell Trust’s figures further reinforce evidence from the recent government-commissioned DEFRA report that increased foodbank use is not a question of supply, but of meeting a real and growing need.
Not for the first time Church leaders have called on the government to act to address this shameful stain on the nation’s conscience.
47 bishops and over 600 non-conformist leaders and clergy from across all the major Christian denominations in Britain have co-signed a new letter calling for urgent Government action on food poverty.
Letter signatories include the Archbishop of Wales and leaders from every major Christian denomination in the UK; Anglican, Catholic, Evangelical Alliance, Methodist, Baptist and United Reform Church.
The letter calls the situation “shocking” and asks the Government to “commit fully to the independent inquiry on the rise of UK hunger”.
Faith leaders are growing increasingly concerned at the inaction by politicians to protect the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Indeed, the Government has yet to act on a previous letter, signed by 27 Bishops in February, or acknowledge a 75,000 strong change.org End UK Hunger petition, delivered to Downing Street last month ahead of the March 2014 budget. (More information on the new letter here.)
The letter does not, however:
– say that the situation is directly caused by government policy concerning a whole tranche of benefit cuts and new sanctions. It is!
– say that Cameron and Clegg ignored or rebuffed previous Christian leaders’ appeals for support; They did! (For the government’s usual response, see: http://www.greenbenchesuk.com)
– remind Cameron of what he said in 2009 on BBC One’s Songs of Praise: “I believe in God and I’m a Christian and I worship – not as regularly as I should – but I go to church. Do I drop to my knees and ask for guidance whenever an issue comes up? No, I don’t. But it’s part of who I am.” He did!
On the same day the Trussell Trust published its findings, Mr Cameron was visiting Bethlehem.
With regard to welfare issues it seems he was in defensive mode.
According to BBC News, Cameron acknowledged that the government’s welfare reforms were “controversial”, but added: “I sometimes feel not enough is made of our efforts to tackle poverty …. It is through the dignity of work, the reforms to welfare that make work pay, and our efforts to deliver the best schools and skills for young people, that our long-term economic plan can best help people to a more secure future.”
Of course it is clear, as Cameron himself admits, that Christians do not have a monopoly on virtue.
However, we suggest that if he says that his policies somehow fit with a Christian worldview, then he should at least read the small print.
Perhaps, he should take a lesson from the Trussell Trust whose mission is explicit, based on New Testament teaching and published on its website homepage:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me…” Matthew 25:35-36.
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