Frank Field MP
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A route map to ending hunger as we know it in this country

10 December 2015
Food bank

A cross-party group of MPs and Peers, chaired by Frank Field MP, today publishes a route map to ending hunger as we know it in the United Kingdom.

One year on from its first report, Feeding Britain, which documented an unprecedented tide of hunger in post-war Britain, the cross-party group reports that:

- The number of people relying on food parcels remains at a level previously unseen since the Second World War.

- A dangerous combination of unreliable income from wages and benefits, and the inability to pay the bills from this income, has in many parts of the country brought with it a sense of defeat. Widespread vulnerability to hunger in these communities is now accepted as a permanent fact of life. It has been woven into the lives of people for whom going without food on a daily basis is now almost inevitable.

- This struggle is not confined to those of our fellow citizens existing for months or years on end below the poverty line. The problems tipping families over the edge are those that can affect any one of us, although they are particularly pronounced amongst the poor whose diets have been worn away by market prices.

Frank, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger which commissioned the report, comments: ‘Despite the terrific efforts by thousands upon thousands of volunteers we report one year on from Feeding Britain that hunger still stalks our country. The greatest failure of our cross-party group has been our inability to stem into government that same sense of urgency that has motivated to such effect the Big Society.

‘The Government seems to treat the scandal of hunger as little more than a boil of no significance on our society. Nothing could be further from the truth. The body of our country is wreaked by a raging fever called hunger.

‘I address again the Prime Minister to act this day, as I did in Prime Minister’s Questions as long ago as 2012. When the country is faced with a national emergency the Government mobilises the full force of the state through what is called a Cobra Committee. This brings together all the relevant departments of government to concentrate urgently on action that day.

‘Please will the Prime Minister show a similar urgency over the hunger that stalks our land and act through a Cobra Committee to counter hunger?

‘Each day an unknown number of children go to bed hungry and take that hunger with them into school. At the same time we taxpayers pay supermarkets and food manufacturers to turn into energy the food that could end that hunger. This amounts to a huge national disgrace.

‘There are some evils in this world which we find impossibly hard to counter. That should not be true of hunger in Britain. Will the Government today begin to show the urgency that the Big Society has now had to show for too long in countering the indescribable horror of hunger that dominates far too many of our fellow citizens’ existence?’

The cross-party group’s key recommendation is for the Government to give serious consideration to the Health Select Committee’s recommendation to introduce a small levy of 20p per litre on drinks that are high in sugar content, and top slicing 4p per litre of this levy to fund a national programme of school holiday food and fun provision. Such a policy could reduce substantially the need for food banks in this country and all but abolish child hunger during the school holidays.

The cross-party group also reports that the nation might just be witnessing a turn in the tide signifying the first inroads that are so necessary to abolish hunger as we know it by 2020. For example:

- Over half of Feeding Britain’s recommendations have been put into action over the past year.

- The Food Bank Plus model recommended in Feeding Britain that addresses some of the root causes of hunger during a first food bank visit is popular, spreading, and beginning to cut down the length of time for which individuals are hungry.

- Progress has been made to speed up the time taken to process new benefit claims.

- The Government is to pilot Feeding Britain’s proposal for a Yellow Card early warning system before a sanction is applied to existing benefit claims. Where the level of sanctioning has fallen generally so has the level of food bank use.

- Demand for emergency food parcels from some food banks seems to have reached a plateau and, in a few cases fell in 2015. The reasons may include, but are not limited to fewer sanctions being applied to benefit claims; fewer agencies that are able to issue food bank vouchers; stricter eligibility criteria attached to food bank vouchers; demand being spread more thinly between different food banks; the effectiveness of Food Bank Plus in limiting the number of times people have to visit a food bank; and a reduction in need following the recent increases in the number of people in work.

In his foreword to the report, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, writes: ‘This document demonstrates clearly that there are still many people going hungry in our country today. It is a tragedy that such a reality still exists in our country. I welcomed the Feeding Britain report when it was published a year ago and I applaud the work done over this last year. However I remain saddened because there is clear evidence here that there are far too many people continuing to struggle to feed themselves and their families in Britain in the twenty first century.’

Through the Feeding Birkenhead project, which was set up to enact some of Feeding Britain’s recommendations at a local level:

- 65% of people helped by a benefit advisor during their first visit to Birkenhead’s main food bank, as part of Feeding Birkenhead’s Food Bank Plus model, have had their problems resolved there and then, meaning they no longer had to return to the food bank.

- A reformed welfare contract is being piloted right now in Birkenhead Jobcentre Plus, as part of the Feeding Birkenhead project. People making a new claim for benefit are being given information on the help available with the costs of gas, electricity, water and communications, to help make their limited funds stretch further while looking for work.

- Wirral Council has enacted Feeding Birkenhead’s proposal to automatically register all eligible children for free school meals. It has identified 700 children across the borough who are eligible, but previously were not registered. This move will guarantee these children a hot meal each day and deliver hundreds of thousands of pounds in additional Pupil Premium funding to support their education.

- Emergency help has been delivered to those families who cannot afford the gas to cook the contents of an emergency food parcel. Between July and October 2015, as part of the Feeding Birkenhead project, 402 households, totalling 824 people, received emergency vouchers worth a total of £11,730 from the npower Fuel Bank at Wirral Food Bank. The pilot has proved to be an invaluable source of help, freeing up vital resources for households who have hit rock bottom and who cannot afford to top-up their prepayment

- At an average cost per child of £6.75, the Feeding Birkenhead project laid on hot meals alongside cooking and craft activities in the October half term for 360 children who might otherwise have gone hungry in the absence of free school meals. Having likewise fed over 2,000 children in the Summer Holiday, this provision will continue into the Christmas holiday.

- Initial discussions have been held to establish a Feeding Liverpool project early in 2016.

You can read the report, A route map to ending hunger as we know it in the United Kingdom: Feeding Britain in 2015-16, here.


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