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Rise in foodbank use ‘lamentable’ says Bishop of St Albans

25 April 2019


A pavement sign outside Edinburgh Central Foodbank

A pavement sign outside Edinburgh Central Foodbank

NEARLY 1.6 million food parcels were handed out by Trussell Trust foodbanks in the past year, figures published on Thursday show. The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, called the record figures “lamentable”.

The data, which was recorded between April 2018 and March 2019, shows that 1,583,668 three-day emergency food supplies were given to people in crisis in the UK. This is an 18.8-per-cent increase on the previous year; 577,618 of the parcels went to children.

Dr Smith said: “It is lamentable in one of the richest countries in the world [that] 1.6 million people have needed food parcels over the past year to make ends meet.”

One third of people said that they needed emergency food parcels because benefits were consistently not covering the cost of living. Delays in benefit payments being and changes to benefits being paid were among the other reasons cited.

The number of emergency supplies increased by 73 per cent over five years, the Trussell Trust said.

Its chief executive, Emma Revie, said: “Enough is enough. We know this situation can be fixed: that’s why we’re campaigning to create a future where no one needs a foodbank.”

She urged the Government to end the five-week delay on Universal Credit. It was “unacceptable that anyone should have to use a foodbank in the first place”, she said.

The Department for Work and Pensions responded that it was “not true” that people had to wait for five weeks for Universal Credit. In February, however, the Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd, told MPs: “It is absolutely clear that there were challenges with the initial rollout of Universal Credit — and the main issue that led to an increase in foodbank use could have been the fact that people had difficulty accessing their money early enough.”

Dr Smith said: “Clearly, the Government needs to look again at the details of Universal Credit and other benefits, as well as the wide scale problem of in-work poverty.

“We in the churches are standing by, and we are keen to work with government to see how we can improve the situation.”

Demands for Universal Credit to be fixed have come repeatedly from C of E bishops, including a group of 32 in October (News, 19 October 2018).

Last November, the United Nations rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, said that the Government had caused “great misery” for British people, with “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies (Comment, 23 November).

Ms Revie said: “No charity can replace the dignity of having financial security. That’s why, in the long term, we’re urging the Government to ensure benefit payments reflect the true cost of living, and work is secure, paying the real Living Wage, to help ensure we are all anchored from poverty.”

Dr Smith said: “Having visited a number of foodbanks here in the diocese of St Albans, I am aware of the problems that many people are facing, as well as the amazing work being done by many churches in providing food and through volunteering in foodbanks.

“Working in partnership with others, their charitable work is a sign of grass-roots commitment to social justice. I am grateful for the hard work that they undertake, often with little recognition.”

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s chief executive, Campbell Robb, said: “When the use of foodbanks reaches a record high, we are beyond the language of warning signs and wake-up calls. Unless we take bold action to solve poverty we risk undermining what we stand for as a country.”

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