IN 1942, Penguin published a book by the new Archbishop of
Canterbury, William Temple, Christianity and Social Order.
It is a remarkable work that was instrumental in the creation of
the Welfare State in this country. It is time for another such work
to ask fundamental questions in a very different world, in which we
need to argue again that, as a society, we show our values by the
way in which we behave, especially to those most in need.
We believe it is time to review the fundamental values that led
to the creation of our Welfare State. We propose a strategy for
renewing the Welfare State so it can better reflect and encourage
the relationships which contribute to the wellbeing of our
citizens, including the poorest. We think such a rationale is
needed at a time when, sadly, we appear to be drifting towards more
and more atomisation and less and less sharing of common
Whilst it is essential to accept that we all have rights, it is
also essential to accept that we all have responsibilities. A sense
of being interdependent is a core aspect of being human, yet we
live in an age when that fact needs to be articulated afresh and
made evident in the way we behave.
The issues people face relating to hunger and food poverty are
exacerbated and heightened because there are hardly any of the ways
and means that once did exist for people to support each other. We
believe that the rise in the use of food banks is a sign of the
breakdown of this core value in our society. We see it as evidence
that many people are living individualistic and isolated lives, and
the natural and vital relationships between people do not exist as
once they did. To use shorthand, the glue that once held us
together and gave life to our communities has gone.
It became clear throughout our Inquiry that the vast majority of
people who spoke to us were people of faith, although some were
people of no faith. But, for all of these people we met, their
morality is expressed in their helping of others. We want to
celebrate this, and to reflect on our hopes of living in a country
where people do share values and virtues centred on a sense of
interdependence, underpinned in all we do by recognising the
intrinsic worth and value of humanity.
We also want to avoid the easy mistake made by reports such as
this which all too easily "blame" some groups and point the finger
at particular institutions, although there are lessons to be learnt
by all. It cannot be right, for example, that in the 21st century
children and adults are going hungry whilst many others (including
some of our large institutions) waste food in scandalously huge
REASONS for the (increased) use of foodbanks, other than their
more comprehensive provision around the country, include: delays
and errors in the processing and payment of benefits, the sometimes
heavy-handed issuing of benefit sanctions by Jobcentre Plus, a
sudden loss of earnings through reduced hours or unemployment, the
absence of free school meals, the accumulation of problem debt or,
for some, even a lost purse.
A further group of factors similarly exposes the vulnerability
of many poor families. The poor are penalised for their poverty
with a raft of disproportionate charges for basic utilities. They
pay more for their energy through prepayment meters, are more
likely to be charged to withdraw cash from their local machine, and
often are unable to take advantage of the best mobile phone
contracts - meaning they are likely to be just one bill away from
needing to use a foodbank.
There are also structural reasons for the use of foodbanks and a
difference between the seeking of help that offers a hand-up to
families who quickly re-establish command of their budgets, and
individuals and families who have deeper-seated problems.
The first of these deeper-seated reasons for the use of
foodbanks is the size of debt with which many families struggle.
Debt is often undertaken in order to meet an unexpected bill or
replace a broken household appliance. The debts themselves all too
often escalate out of control because of the grotesque interest
rates that are imposed upon them.
The other force at work is the addictions that many individuals
and families have, but which particularly sharply affects the
budgeting of low-income families. A family earning £21,000 a year,
for example, where both parents smoke 20 cigarettes a day will
spend a quarter of their income on tobacco. Budgeting support is
terribly important, but budgetary support alone is often not enough
to equip families to kick their addictive habits when addiction is
being fed and defended by some very powerful lobbies. In our high
streets, for example, it is hard to walk a matter of yards without
passing payday loan shops, pawnbrokers, home credit retailers or
bookmakers filled with electronic gambling machines. Supermarkets
and other outlets selling alcohol at rock bottom prices are never
too far away.
A considerable number of our poorest families and individuals
find themselves trapped thereby in a vicious circle of addiction
fed by debt, at the expense of being able to put food on the table.
The tackling of these serious addictions is as crucial for the
overall health of our society as it is in restoring a sense of
dignity and the control individuals have over their own lives and
their own budgets. We make recommendations on how food can be used
as a way of kick-starting a recovery process for individuals who
find themselves in such desperate situations.
The Rt Revd Tim Thornton is Bishop of Truro.
This is an edited extract from Feeding Britain: The
Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the