Emma has warned that a failing benefits system, rising food prices and falling incomes under the Coalition are leading to rising food poverty in Britain, as the parliamentary inquiry into food poverty published its report today.
Emma is a lead member of the All-Party Inquiry into Hunger in the UK, and spoke at the report’s launch on Monday alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Inquiry’s Chair Frank Field MP.
“It is clear that prices have not kept pace with incomes and that supermarkets waste a lot of food, and these issues are addressed in the report. But in the past we had a welfare state with a supportive safety net. When I was unemployed, when members of my family and I fell on hard times, I was proud to live in a country where I and they would be able to get help. This is no longer the case. I am still proud of my country, just not of those at the top making the decisions.
“Because the reality is this safety net no longer exists. 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.”
The report highlights a number of factors that have led to the massive expansion of food bank use since 2010, with over a million people receiving food aid in 2013/14. It calls for action to increase the National Minimum Wage, stop benefit delays and make the sanctions regime fairer.
The report also calls for better use of our food supply, including steps to reduce waste and re-distribute surplus food, and the creation of a new organisation, Feeding Britain, to help food banks meet demand. The full report can be read here.
The inquiry team has spent most of this year taking evidence from charities, retailers and Government departments, as well as touring the country speaking to food aid charities and food bank users.
In July the inquiry visited South Shields and spoke to local charities including Hospitality and Hope, KEY Project and South Tyneside Foodbank. They told the inquiry about cases where unfair sanctions had left households unable to afford food.
In one case, a man who was five minutes late for an appointment at a Job Centre because of heavy traffic had his Jobseekers Allowance cut off, meaning he couldn’t afford to feed himself and his young son.
Local charity KEY Project said that demand for emergency food had more than doubled in the last year alone.
Speaking after the launch, Emma said:
“This report should be a wake-up call to the Government about the scale of food poverty in Britain today. It is outrageous that in one of the world’s most advanced countries we have people who can’t afford to put food on the table, and our report calls for urgent action so that hunger does not become a normal part of life in modern Britain.
“The Government has tried to deny the link between their welfare reforms and food poverty. They should admit that the safety net is failing people right now, and put in place the report’s recommendations to stop the unacceptable benefit delays and sanctions that are pushing people into poverty.”