A TOP-level Parliamentary inquiry team visited South Tyneside yesterday for an insight into the impact of food poverty on the poor.
Members of the all-party parliamentary inquiry into hunger and food poverty called at the Churches Together Key Project at St Mary’s Centre, in Whitehead Street, South Shields.
They then held a discussion session at St Jude’s Church Hall, in Rekendyke, South Shields, and visiting the New Hope Food Bank, in the town’s Robinson Street.
They heard poignant personal accounts from young people forced to rely food banks.
What they learned will influence the recommendations the team will make to the Government on the extent of hunger across the country and the actions needed to address it.
The visit was organised by South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck, a member of the inquiry team, co-chaired by fellow MP Frank Field and the Rt Rev Tim Thornton, the Bishop of Truro.
Figures show that more than 1,680 people in South Tyneside visited food banks last year.
Mr Field said: “It’s amazing that you can run a welfare system where you can be left for weeks without money. For whatever reason, we now have a group of people in this country who have no money.
“We want to know what people want from the next stage. What do politicians have to do so we we don’t have food banks multiplying everywhere?”
Mrs Lewell-Buck said: “I was very keen for people to come to South Shields to hear from local people how things are affecting them in terms of hunger and food poverty.
“There are people coming to my office saying they have not had any money for weeks on end.
“There is no compassion any more in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
“If somebody now doesn’t attend for their appointment, there is no investigation as to why. They are immediately sanctioned and have no money.
“As far as the DWP is concerned, it is black and white, and it can take a long time for that to be investigated and overturned, and it is very difficult when people are hungry and don’t have a single penny to live on.
The Rt Rev Mark Bryant, the Bishop of Jarrow, said: “What I have learned today is that, when sanctions are administered, there is meant to be a reduction in benefit.
“But what we are all discovering, right across the North East, is that when people are sanctioned, all their benefits are removed.
“I hear about people who are budgeting really well who turn up to get their benefit and, for some reason, the benefit hasn’t arrived that week and, with the best will in the world, however well they try to do their budget, it just completely falls to pieces.”
Father Chris Fuller, of St Hilda’s Church in South Shields, a member of the Key Project board, said: “I hope today will enlighten the politicians so they know what it is like at grass-roots level.
“The statistics that come from the Key Project show that there has been a huge increase in food parcels. The other key area is sanctions imposed on people who don’t sign on at the right time. It is supposed to be proportional, but in reality, it appears to be absolute.”