This week a new foodbank has opened here in Leeds NW – at St Paul’s church, Ireland Wood.
The rise of food banks in 21st Century Britain is a tragedy and a disgrace – and one which affects us right here in our own community. People are going hungry – and good people locally are rallying to help them. We need policies to tackle food dependency at its root.
Figures from the Trussell Trust show that the number of people using food banks has increased from 41,000 in 2009-10 to 913,000 in 2013-14.
Meanwhile, the number of jobs paying less than a living wage has gone up by 1.5 million from 3.4 million to 4.9 million (a 44% rise) under the LibDem/Tory Coalition.
And there are now 1.8 million zero hours contracts in the economy.
The huge rise in the number of people using food banks in the last few years shows that the social security system in the hands of the Tories and their Coalition partners is too often letting down those who need its support, with job centre advisers given unfair targets for sanctioning people rather than providing the support to help people back to work.
The Coalition’s cruel targets for sanctions added to benefit delays, low pay, and cruel and unfair measures like the Bedroom Tax have created the conditions for rising food bank use.
As it happens Labour has this week announced its own plan to reduce food bank dependency
1. Tackling low pay is fundamental – by raising the minimum wage to at least £8 an hour before 2020, promoting a Living Wage, and ending exploitative zero-hours contracts so that working people can bring home enough to feed their families.
2. Ensuring a co-ordinated Government approach to food policy is essential, ending the chaos in food policy under the Tories and LibDems where no minister has taken responsibility for tackling food bank dependency.
3. Delayed benefit payments are an important cause of food-bank use. We need to get a grip on delayed benefit payments, including Jobseekers Allowance, and Personal Independence Payments for disabled people, which are pushing more people to food banks. Labour will set a target to bring down the number of people who cite delays or mistakes with their benefit payments as their reason for using food banks by the end of the party’s first year in office.
4. We will also abolish targets for benefit sanctions, and ensure the system is implemented fairly by raising awareness of hardship payments, reducing waiting times for hardship payments, and making sure protections are in place for the most vulnerable including those with mental health issues, carers, pregnant women and people at risk of domestic violence.
5. And finally – but not least, we’ll abolish the Bedroom Tax, which has hit over half a million people, two thirds of them disabled, pushing many into debt and through the doors of food banks.
Here in Leeds NW Leeds North Foodbank has opened an outlet at St Paul’s church. There are already foodbanks in Otley, Moortown, Horsforth and Woodhouse. We desperately need to tackle the root problems which are producing this need.
If you want to help secure a Labour government which will do just that – and support the campaign for Alex Sobel here in Leeds NW sign up now.