MPs reduced to tears by story of Dad who said it was his 'lucky week' after his family was invited to eat leftover funeral food

Daily Mirror - 05 Dec 2017

MPs were reduced to tears today, on hearing a harrowing story of destitution and hunger from Birkenhead MP Frank Field.

Tory Heidi Allen openly wept as Field told the story of a desperate father who was so poor he said it was his ‘lucky day’ when a neighbour invited his family to a funeral so they could eat leftover food.

And he revealed almost 146 staff from the Department for Work and Pensions had volunteered to help his local foodbank fill Christmas hampers for struggling families.

Speaking during a debate on a Labour bid to force the Government to release secret documents about the bungled rollout of Universal Credit, Field said it was the first time he’d been able to tell the story without breaking down in tears.

He said the introduction of Universal Credit had not happened in isolation, and the “cumulative impact” of cuts to benefits had left many of his constituents in destitution.

Field recounted the story of a man who had visited his last constituency surgery in Birkenhead on Friday, and a family who visited a nearby food bank.

He said: “For the first time ever, a gentleman rose after we’d spoken and I’d tried to convince him not to commit suicide. Such was the desperateness that he saw the future for himself. And I realised the hand that shook my hand was wet. He’d been crying and the hand that shook my hand was the hand that wiped away those tears.

“On Friday, Feeding Birkenhead, which is the most brilliant, but ought to be unnecessary organisation reported a family coming in of husband, wife and young child. The child was crying with hunger. The family was fed.

“The father said it had been a lucky week for him, because neighbours had taken pity and invited him to a funeral so that they could finish off the food after the other guests had been fed.

“When the little boy was shown the shelf where toys were - but also on that shelf were lunch packs, he chose the lunch pack.

“This is the background of growing destitution that I see in my constituency and against which we have to judge Universal Credit and the debate we are having today.”

He turned on Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke - suggesting his own staff don’t share his “confident view” of Universal Credit.

And he revealed almost 150 staff from the Department for Work and Pensions have signed up to help his local Feeding Birkenhead fill Christmas hampers for struggling families.

He said: “Saturday, we are filling thousands upon thousands of Christmas hampers.

"Amongst the volunteers filling those hampers are 146 DWP staff. They know where this benefit is going and they are unhappy.”

Field paused to note that Gauke was “mumbling” as he spoke.

He went on: “Their inability to show their normal compassion by having discretion is an issue of such importance that we will return to that soon.”

Following his speech, Tory MP Heidi Allen broke down in tears, saying: “I don’t know where to start, after that.”

She said she was humbled by the Labour MP’s heartbreaking story, adding: “No government is perfect, no debate, no motion is perfect, but by God - we work together and make this better.”

As she struggled to hold back the tears, she said: “I’m not very good at this job, am I Mr Speaker.”

Field took pity on her, intervening to give her a moment to compose herself, and saying: “I’m just amazed that for the first time I’ve been able to report those events without weeping.

"I am so affected by them, I’m as affected as she is. That’s the debate that we’re really having.

"How do we represent here the desperateness of many of our constituents when many of us feel we cannot offer them hope.”

During the debate, Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke caved to pressure from Labour and agreed to release their reviews of the bungled rollout of Universal Credit, which they had kept secret for two years.

The documents will be provided to the Work and Pensions Committee, but Gauke said they would only be released on the condition that they would be confidential and would not be published.

Mikey Smith, Daily Mirror