DOZENS of bishops and hundreds of faith leaders including the Bishop of Durham will today (Wednesday, April 16) demand the Government take urgent action to tackle the growing food crisis engulfing the UK.
In the biggest Christian intervention on UK food poverty of modern times, faith leaders including the Archbishop of Wales will brand the situation “shocking” and demand the Government commit fully to an independent inquiry.
Their call comes as new figures reveal more than 900,000 people turned to foodbanks for emergency help in the last 12 months – a near three-fold increase on the previous year.
In the North-East, the jump was even more marked: the region’s nine Trussell Trust foodbanks reported a 463 per cent rise in demand in just 12 months.
Peter MacLellan, co-ordinator of Durham Foodbank, said the increase was amazing, appalling and shocking; and Trussell Trust chairman Chris Mould claimed the figures were only the tip of the iceberg.
In a blow to the Coalition’s welfare reform programme, the Trussell Trust claimed benefit delays or changes were to blame for more than half of people using foodbanks in the past year.
So-called sanctioning, the withdrawal of Jobseeker’s Allowance including for missing an appointment or training or being unavailable for work, came in for particularly strong criticism. More than four in five foodbanks reported the tough new rules had resulted in more people needing their help.
Static incomes, rising living costs, low pay and under-employment were also highlighted.
The figures come in the week a Netmums survey found one in five working parents had been forced to choose between paying an essential bill and putting food on the table in the last year and an All Party Parliamentary Group launched an inquiry into hunger and food poverty.
In this region, the Trussell Trust now runs nine foodbanks in the North-East and 23 across Yorkshire and Humberside, part of a 400-strong network nationwide.
A total of 59,146 adults and children in the North-East received three days’ emergency food relief in the last 12 months – up from 10,510 the year before.
In Yorkshire and Humberside, the figure was 37,403 (up from 10,380) – of which 5,874 were in North Yorkshire.
Responding to the figures, a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokeswoman said they were misleading, failing to distinguish between new and repeat visitors to foodbanks and claimed the Trussell Trust’s marketing had “grown their business”.
The DWP is spending £94bn on working age benefits, processing times are improving and fewer people are struggling to pay food bills, she said.
“The truth is that the employment rate is the highest it’s been for five years and our reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities by promoting work and helping people to lift themselves out of poverty,” the spokeswoman added.