THE Archbishop of Canterbury
has delivered a strong riposte to suggestions that a new report on
foodbanks, funded by his charitable trust, represents an attack on
On Sunday, he wrote in the
Mail on Sunday: "Hunger stalks large parts of our
country." But on Monday he told a packed room in Portcullis House,
Westminster, that "this cannot be a party political issue."
This was a few hours after the
Guardian front page announced a "Church v state rift over hunger".
Archbishop Welby claimed 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 wellbeing of their
constituents and all the people in their country" and "guided
by a strong moral compass".
The report of the All-Party
Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the United Kingdom 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
Its findings, however, repeat
warnings sounded by its antecedents - who claimed vindication on
Monday - notably its discovery of a "colossal weight of evidence"
on the impact of benefit delays and errors. More than a third of
referrals to foodbanks were due to benefit delays, it
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."
On Monday, the Conservative MP
for Salisbury, John Glen, a member of the panel, 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."
The report, based on oral
evidence from 155 witnesses and 246 written submissions, rejects
previous assertions by the Government that a rise in provision by
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, "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 are 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 are spending 17 per cent, up from 13 per
In his forward to the
report, the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, co-chair of
the panel, said that the rise in use of foodbanks indicated "a
deeper problem in our society: the 'glue' that used to be there is
no longer there in many instances."
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 also calls for a rise in the
minimum wage, and increased adoption of the Living Wage. The food
industry is also asked to step up to the plate: the destruction of
surplus food is described as "indefensible".
On Monday, the Archbishop of
Canterbury 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 government departments.
While stressing that foodbanks
should not take the place of statutory welfare provision, the
report 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 development."
Despite the Archbishop's
emphasis on the avoidance of party politics, the contributions of
the panellists on Monday emphasised the very different viewpoints
that the two chairs had had to reconcile during the report's
Emma Lewell-Buck, Labour MP for
South Shields, laid the blame squarely at the feet of the
"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," she said.
"Time and time again, people
cited the changes in the welfare state as a primary driver to the
food bank. It would be an injustice to them not to admit that here
A Conservative panel member,
Baroness Jenkin of Kennington, a Conservative peer, asserted: "Poor
people don't know how to cook". She later apologised for any
offence caused, although the report does emphasise evidence from
various groups calling for better education on food and meal
preparation. It also refers to "the unpleasant truth that some
children, we do not know how many, are hungry when they reach
school because of the chaotic conditions in their homes."
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
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, Trussell Trust and Oxfam, and made "a very strong case for
reform of the benefits system".
Whether the report receives a
more favourable reaction from the DWP than its predecessors have is
not yet clear. Stephen Timms, shadow employment minister, pointed
out that no DWP minister was present at the launch.
On Sunday, Matthew Hancock, the
business minister, speaking on Sky News, said that "before we
came to power, food banks were not allowed to advertise their
On Monday, a government
spokesperson said that the report was "a serious contribution to an
important debate". In the afternoon, the Secretary of State for
Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, said that he
would launch a publicity campaign to ensure claimants were
more aware of the availability of short-term benefit advances. New
guidance would be issued to Jobcentre Plus staff to ensure that
claimants at risk of hardship were aware of emergency payments.
Stories from the
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 here".
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 humiliated".
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
In a wealthy town in
Berkshire, 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
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
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 for food.