What is the social/environmental problem/issue that this project will address?
Government policy is now causing destitution and hunger on a huge scale. There has been an explosion in food poverty in the UK in recent years, which has accelerated since the Coalition government took power and began cutting and reforming the benefits system.
Churches and other groups are responding by setting up food banks. Accordong to the Trussell Trust, the largest network of food banks, up to half of all people referred to food banks are going hungry because their benefits have been delayed, stopped or cut.
There is a real danger that food banks – intended to be an emergency service – are becoming institutionalised as part of our system, as the state abdicates its responsibility to provide a ‘safety net’ for all its citizens. Upcoming benefit reforms are likely to leave even more people hungry, and food banks may not be able to cope with the demand.
Can you give us some statistics on this problem?
More than 350,000 people turned to Trussell Trust food banks for help in 2012–13, almost triple the number who received food aid in the previous year, and 100,000 more than anticipated. 128,697 were fed by Trussell Trust food banks in 2011–12, up from 68,486 in 2010–11. The Trussell Trust has launched almost 150 new food banks in the last year, and is currently approving three new food banks a week.
A wide array of local churches and other projects are also providing emergency food aid. On this basis, we estimate the real number now reliant on food aid to be in excess of half a million people, and this number is set to grow as changes to the benefits system take effect.
In 2012-13, nearly a third of the Trussell Trust’s clients had been referred to food banks because their social security benefits had been delayed. A further 15% came as a result of their benefits being cut or stopped (up from 11% in 2011–12). The Trust said the majority of people turning to food banks were working-age families.
What is your solution?
To persuade the government to take action on this, we must first make them acknowledge the scale of the problem. At the moment, they do not gather any data on the use of food banks or the impact of benefit reforms on food poverty.
Our first step must therefore be to persuade the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee to conduct an urgent inquiry into the relationship between benefit delay, error or sanctions, welfare reform changes, and the growth of food poverty.
How will you deliver this?
To ensure that the government takes action, we need to keep this issue in the news, mobilise large numbers of people to speak out, and demand that individual MPs and other policy-makers respond to our concerns.
Our proposed publicity campaign will secure us more coverage in the media, recruit more supporters to speak out in support of the campaign, and confront politicians with the scandal of hunger once again.
We have already achieved significant coverage in the national news. The launch of our report made headlines, and the issue continues to be featured in the news as politicians debate it.
We have also mobilised thousands of campaigners to contact their MPs about this, through emails, postcards, petitions and face-to-face meetings. The majority of MPs have now received messages about this issue from concerned constituents.
Both Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty have been invited to give evidence to the Select Committee – but they have not yet committed to launch an inquiry. We therefore need to maintain the pressure and ensure that this issue is not ignored.