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Debate escalates over foodbanks and welfare reform

03 January 2014

by a staff reporter


"Reaching out": Margaret Tobin, a volunteer, checks items off a list of food to give out at a food bank in St Luke's, in West Norwood, London, in April 

"Reaching out": Margaret Tobin, a volunteer, checks items off a list of food to give out at a food bank in St Luke's, in West Norwood, London, in Ap...

DEBATE over the causes underlying the tripling in demand for foodbanks in Britain reached new levels over Christmas, as more than 350,000 people were fed by food parcels in the run-up to Christmas Day.

The Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, criticised the country's largest foodbank provider, the Trussell Trust, and the charity Church Action on Poverty, accusing them of political "scaremongering".

He in turn was admonished by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams, who is patron of the Cambridge City Foodbank. Lord Williams said that Mr Duncan Smith's comments were "extraordinary and disturbing".

He told the Cambridge News: "It is not political point-scoring to say that these are the realities of life in Britain today for a shockingly large number of ordinary people - not scroungers, not idlers - but men and women desperate to keep afloat and to look after their children or their elderly relatives.

"The real scaremongering is the attempt to deny the seriousness of the situation by - in effect - accusing those seeking to help of dishonesty as to their motivation.

"I would urge the Secretary of State to visit any foodbank he chooses, and to listen to the accounts of what is actually happening."

The Archbishop of Canterbury referred to the "misery and want" faced by many, in his Christmas Day sermon at Canterbury.

Archbishop Welby said: "We see injustices at home. Even in a recovering economy, Christians, the servants of a vulnerable and poor Saviour, need to act to serve and love the poor: they need also to challenge the causes of poverty. . .

"Our response is not political, but love delivered in hope. The action of the Churches in the past five years is extraordinary, reaching out in ways not seen since 1945. Yet no society can be content where misery and want exist, unless through our love collectively we also challenge the greed and selfishness behind it."

Church Action on Poverty released a strongly worded pre-Christmas message, using a poster saying "Britain isn't eating", mimicking the Conservative Party's "Britain isn't working" advertising campaign from 1979. Its strapline says that "thousands are going hungry because of benefit changes". In a new report, Walking the Breadline, issued jointly with Oxfam, it estimates that 500,000 people are "now reliant on food aid".

But, in a letter to the chairman of the Trussell Trust, Chris Mould, which has been leaked to the press, Mr Duncan Smith said that he rejected any suggestion that the Government was to blame.

"I strongly refute this claim and would politely ask you to stop scaremongering in this way. I understand that a feature of your business model must require you to continuously achieve publicity, but I'm concerned that you are now seeking to do this by making your political opposition to welfare reform overtly clear."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Work and Pensions said: "There is no robust evidence that welfare reforms are linked to increased use of food banks. In fact, our welfare reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families."



Bishop warns of risk to safety-net.

The Bishop of Warrington, the Rt Revd Richard Blackburn, has said that the Government's new universal credit will "risk losing the safety-net that the benefit system should provide".

In a letter to all clergy in the diocese of Liverpool, where he is acting as the diocesan bishop, he said that the welfare changes were hitting the most vulnerable people the hardest, even though some reform of the system was "long overdue".

"We daily hear the stories of those forced into desperate choices between food, rent, and clothing," he wrote, referring to "conversations with churches in Warrington and Wigan, where universal credit is being piloted, that there are grave concerns".

He said that it was worrying that "governments seem not to care so much" about the fate of the poorest.

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