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Oxfam advert raises a political storm

13 June 2014


A CONSERVATIVE MP has referred Oxfam to the Charity Commission, accusing the charity of "highly political advertising".

Conor Burns, the MP for Bournemouth West, wrote to the Commission on Tuesday, in response to a tweet posted by the charity on Friday. The tweet read: "Lifting the lid on austerity Britain reveals a perfect storm - and it's forcing more and more people into poverty." It was accompanied by a picture of a spoof film poster (above): "The Perfect Storm. Starring: zero hours contracts, high prices, benefit cuts, unemployment and childcare costs".

Mr Burns told The Daily Telegraph: "Many people who support Oxfam will be shocked and saddened by this highly political campaigning in domestic British politics. Most of us operated under the illusion that Oxfam's focus was on the relief of poverty and famine overseas. I cannot see how using funds donated to charity to campaign politically can be in accord with Oxfam's charitable status."

The tweet trailed the publication on Monday of a new report by Oxfam, produced with Church Action on Poverty, Below the Breadline: The relentless rise of food poverty in Britain. Based on data from three providers of food aid - the Trussell Trust, Fareshare, and Food Cycle - the report suggests that the number of meals provided by the three main food-aid providers increased by 54 per cent in the past year - to more than 20 million.

It attributes the increase in meals provided to "a perfect storm of changes to the social security system, benefit sanctions, low and stagnant wages, insecure and zero-hours contracts and rising food and energy prices".

Recommendations are listed. All parties should commit to "reinstating the safety net principle as a core purpose of the social security system" and to the Living Wage. The Government should commission "independent systematic research on the reasons for referrals to food banks", and review both zero-hours contracts and benefit sanctions. The charity is encouraging supporters to email their MP with these demands.

On Tuesday, a government spokesman said of the report: "It's simply not possible to draw conclusions from these unverified figures drawn from disparate sources."

On Wednesday, Charlie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover, told Today on Radio 4 that Oxfam's claims about austerity were inaccurate.

"We have got a Government that is reforming zero-hours contracts; we have seen a fall in unemployment by 400,000; we have seen inequality . . . falling; we have seen relative poverty falling, and we have seen food poverty falling, according to the OECD figures," he said.

On Wednesday, Oxfam's campaigns and policy director, Ben Phillips, said: "Oxfam is a resolutely non-party-political organisation - we have a duty to draw attention to the hardship suffered by poor people we work with in the UK.

"Fighting poverty should not be a party political issue - successive governments have presided over a tide of rising inequality."

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said: "We are aware of concerns relating to a tweet by the charity and are currently assessing whether it raises any regulatory concern.

"From lobbying politicians to running online petitions, charities can engage in a range of activities to support their charity's aims. But charities must never be politically biased."

Fractures. Two weeks ago, Caring Hands, an outreach project of King's Church, Medway, gave out 397 meals in a single day. The average previously was 280. The founder, Matthew Guest, who is also pastor of King's, believes that there have been failures in the Government's implementation of welfare reform.

"It's causing fractures in society because people are not being counselled through it," he said on Tuesday.


by a staff reporter

THOUSANDS of tonnes of surplus food are being thrown away by retailers each year, and are turned into energy, compost, or landfill rather than donated to charities for the hungry.

Just two per cent of surplus food is being donated to charities such as FareShare, which "rescues" food that is still edible from supermarkets and other food retailers, and donates it to charities that provide meals for the hungry, through lunch clubs, breakfast clubs, and women's refuges.

FareShare gave the figures in evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger and Food Poverty, chaired by Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, and the Labour MP Frank Field.

The charity said that 3.9 million tonnes of food is wasted each year by the food and drink industry, and if just one per cent was redistributed, the charity could provide 70 million meals for those in food poverty.

Last year, FareShare contributed food for 12 million meals.

The food director of FareShare, Mark Varney, said that it was currently cheaper for retailers to send food to government-subsidised anaerobic digesters - where it is turned into biogas - rather than pay to deliver it to FareShare's depots.

The parliamentary inquiry last week published its interim recommendations, calling on the food industry to set targets to reduce the amount of surplus food that is sent to landfill, or turned into compost or energy, by 100,000 tonnes each year.

Charities such as Fareshare should also be given resources to double the meals that they are able to supply, which would save the voluntary sector an estimated £160 million over the next Parliament.

The inquiry also called on the Government to allocate the UK's share of a European Aid fund for the most deprived to FareShare and other charities that are working to distribute surplus food.

Publishing the recommendations, Mr Field and Bishop Thornton said: "The poorest households have most felt the pinch over the past decade, meaning the last resort of turning to foodbanks has become a reality for an increasing number of people. . . We are setting out some immediate steps we feel could stop people from going hungry now, by making better use of the food we do have."


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