DELAYS in paying benefits are the cause of more than one third
of referrals to foodbanks, an inquiry into hunger in the UK has
On Monday, the Archbishop of Canterbury launched Feeding
Britain. a new report on foodbanks, funded by his charitable
trust, and produced by the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into
Hunger in the United Kingdom. The response from the Government has
The report, based on oral evidence from 155 witnesses and 246
written submissions, rejects previous assertions by the Government
that a rise in demand for foodbanks is due to increased supply.
It suggests that the inquiry's very existence would have been
unthinkable 30 years ago, when it was assumed that "nobody in
Britain could be hungry unless they wished to be."
Foodbanks, described in the report as "a social Dunkirk", were
responding to "unprecedented levels of need" in a society in which
the poorest had suffered most from rising costs, while being
exploited by "rip-off merchants", who charged them more for credit,
mobile phones, gas, electricity, and water. Britain's poorest
households were now spending 40 per cent of their income on food,
fuel, and housing, up from 31 per cent in 2003. By contrast, the
wealthiest households were spending 17 per cent, up from 13 per
The panel's 77 recommendations, praised by the Archbishop as
"eminently practical" and "not unreasonably expensive", include
urgent reform of the benefits system. It suggests that benefits
should be paid within five instead of 16 days, and that a "yellow
card" warning should be used before sanctions are applied. It has
emerged that the length.
The report also calls for a rise in the minimum wage, and
increased adoption of the Living Wage. The food industry is also
asked to end waste: the destruction of surplus food is described as
Previewing the report, Archbishop Welby wrote in the Mail on
Sunday: "Hunger stalks large parts of our country." He said
that he had been more shocked to find hunger in the UK than in
Speaking at a packed launch in Portcullis House, Westminster, on
Monday, he said, none the less, that the "complex roots" of the
rise in foodbank use meant that "party-political approaches will
not work". Politicians across the board were "absolutely committed
to ensuring the well-being of their constituents and all the people
in their country", and "guided by a strong moral compass".
The report is the latest attempt to explore the reasons for the
explosion in the number of foodbanks in recent years. While
previous efforts by NGOs have received short shrift from the
Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), the cross-party composition
of its panel represents a new tack.
Nor are the Government's welfare reforms left unexamined: "It is
the sheer scale of the reform programme itself, as well as the
acute financial vulnerability of low-income households affected by
the reforms, having just kept their heads above water for the past
decade whilst their financial cushion was being steadily worn away,
which has turned a crisis into a catastrophe for many people."
Speaking at the launch, the Conservative MP for Salisbury, John
Glen, acknowledged the need for "refinements and improvements" in
the benefits system, but argued that "instead of getting into
shrill attacks on different government departments we need to look
more broadly into society and see what we can do."
Also on Monday, Archbishop Welby accepted an invitation to be
president of a new network, Feeding Britain. The report envisages
that this will be government-funded and include the foodbank
movement, the food industry, and representatives from eight
While emphasising that food-banks should not take the place of
statutory welfare provision, it recommends that they "evolve" to
provide "constructive, local solutions to food poverty". It
observes that: "In a country where the Church is seen as being in
long-term decline, it is the churches through their membership who
have brought forward this most extraordinary voluntary welfare
Despite the Archbishop's desire to avoid party politics, the
contributions of the panellists on Monday emphasised the very
different viewpoints on the inquiry panel.
Emma Lewell-Buck, Labour MP for South Shields, laid the blame
squarely at the feet of the Government. "Since the Coalition
brought in their welfare reforms, we have seen a harsh and punitive
regime, and a culture that no longer talks to people about their
circumstances or tries to understand their hardship but sanctions
them without hesitation, and cuts them off from any means of
financial support without a care."
A Conservative panel member, Baroness Jenkin of Kennington, a
asserted: "Poor people don't know how to cook." She later
apologised for any offence caused.
The report suggests that "a number of individuals and families
are unable to prepare or cook decent meals from scratch," but notes
that "many families manage to cope on a shoestring budget for
extended periods of time."
Charities welcomed the report. Chris Mould, chairman of the
Trussell Trust, said that, if acted upon the recommendations would
"make a massive dent in the problem of hunger".
Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action
Group, said that it reinforced the findings of its report last
month produced with the Church of England, the Trussell Trust, and
Oxfam, and made "a very strong case for reform of the benefits
In the House of Commons, the Archbishop's plea for cross-party
consensus was largely ignored. The Shadow Work and Pensions
Secretary, Rachel Reeves, described foodbanks as "the shameful
symbol of this Tory-led Government".
Her opposite number in the Government, Iain Duncan-Smith, said
that it was "rather ridiculous to assume that every single person
who goes to a foodbank does so because of what the Department for
Work and Pensions does. . . These are often people with
dysfunctional lives - people who have been caught in drug addiction
and family breakdown, people who have a serious illness and are not
claiming benefits and get into difficulty."
He took the report "seriously", he said, and would launch a
publicity campaign to ensure claimants were more aware of the
availability of short-term benefit advances.
STORIES FROM THE BREADLINE
In an article for The Mail on Sunday, the
Archbishop of Canterbury described being more shocked during a
visit to a foodbank in Britain than one to a refugee camp in the
Democratic Republic of Congo: "It was less serious, but it was
The evidence review attached to the report claims that
the Inquiry was "touched and overwhelmed" by the testimonies it
heard, noting that people driven to use foodbanks felt "ashamed and
Among the individual stories featured are:
- A man sanctioned and without money for 17 weeks. He was
scavenging in a bin when the lorry came, picked him up, and he was
crushed to death. (YMCA Wirral)
- In a wealthy town in Berkshire alone, a woman in the advanced
stages of pregnancy was discovered with her partner, living in a
child's toy tent in winter, with nothing to eat, down a lane less
than 200 yards from one of the churches. (Diocese of Oxford)
- A primary-school governor in Birkenhead said that "For
the first time I have ever known, we have had children crying at
the end of the day, as they did not want to go home to a cold dark
home with no food."
- A former soldier who had gone 11 weeks without a benefit
payment was living on the streets cooking on a makeshift
brick-and-wood fire. (Northampton Food Bank)
- A claimant with serious health problems was sanctioned
for not turning up to a job club because he had to look after his
young son at short notice. He was driven to begging and stealing