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PM visits food banks amid warnings about their increased use

22 February 2013

PA

Cuts: Protesters from the Fuel Poverty Action campaign form a roadblock outside the Department of Energy and Climate Change, in Whitehall, last Saturday

Cuts: Protesters from the Fuel Poverty Action campaign form a roadblock outside the Department of Energy and Climate Change, in Whitehall, last...

THE Prime Minister has visited two food banks at churches, in the wake of warnings by parliamentarians, including bishops, that people are relying on them for food. His visits were not publicised.

On Tuesday, a spokeswomen confirmed that Mr Cameron had been to the Community Emergency Food Bank, based at St Francis's, Hollow Way, Bladon, on 9 February, and the Oxfordshire West Food Bank, at the Elim Chapel, Witney, last Friday.

Mr Cameron has been challenged consistently in the House of Commons to visit a food bank. Last month, the Labour MP Dave Watts asked: "Why is the Prime Minister frightened to go and visit a food bank? Could it be that, if he visited one, he would see the heartless Britain that he is creating?"

On Monday, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, delivered a lecture, "Freedom from Hunger: Realising the right to food in the UK", at an event organised by Just Fair, which is leading a consortium of charities that are monitoring the growth of food poverty in the UK.

"The right to an adequate diet is required under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights," Mr De Schutter told The Independent on Sunday. He said that the Government had invited him to conduct an investigation into the food situation in the UK.

Figures from the Trussell Trust, a network of more than 300 food banks, show that the number of people fed by them doubled between 2011 and 2012, from 61,468 to 128,697 (News, 11 May). It expects this number to increase to 250,000 this year.

On Monday, the executive chairman of the Trussell Trust, Chris Mould, who shared a platform with Mr De Schutter, said: "We would like to see food banks everywhere, but want to see far fewer people needing them far less often."

He attributed the expansion to three factors. It was "the fruit of a long-term endeavour" to see a food bank established in every community, through the franchise model (the Trust estimates that another 300 are needed). But "there would not be so many food banks if there weren't an awful lot of people in this country in significant difficulty."

Since 2008, he said, "an increasing number of peope who live on low incomes have found it very much more difficult than it used to be to make ends meet." Those earning less than the median average wage had seen their buying power "hit harder by the decisions the Government has taken to manage recovery [than those on higher incomes]". Third, he spoke of the "extraordinary phenomenon" of communities' commitment to food banks.

On Monday, the Priest-in-Charge of St Catherine's, Wakefield, the Revd Helen Collings, said that the emergency foodstore operated from the church had "mushroomed" since October. "The economic situation means that people reach that emergency situation that much quicker than they might do in better times," she said.

"It does tend to be an emergency situation, like they have had a crisis loan, and have to repay that . . . [or] they have suddenly been made redundant, and are waiting for benefits to come through. They might have had a suspension of benefits." The area was "very deprived", and she believed that, "with changes to the welfare system this year, it [the demand] is likely to increase rather than decrease over the coming year."

This month, among new food banks that are opening are ones at St Leonard's, Penwortham, Preston, and at St George's Crypt charity shop, in Armley, Leeds.

Last week, in the House of Lords, the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, warned that "we are heading in the direction of a US-style welfare system . . . where visits to the food bank are not an emergency response to an economic crisis, but an integral part of the welfare state" ( News, 15 February).

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