MEASURES needed to tackle food poverty across Britain are being scrutinised in South Tyneside today.
Members of an all-party Parliamentary inquiry team, including South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck, visited the town’s Churches Together Key Project, at St Mary’s Centre, last summer as part of a fact-finding exercise.
The team also held a discussion session at St Jude’s Church Hall at Rekendyke, South Shields, and visited the New Hope Food Bank, in the town’s Robinson Street.
They heard poignant personal accounts from young borough people forced to rely on food banks to survive, and they were told that more than 1,680 people in South Tyneside had visited food banks in 2013.
Everything the team learned in the borough has helped inform the recommendations they made to the Government on the extent of hunger across the country and the actions needed to address it.
Today Mrs Lewell-Buck and the Rt Rev Mark Bryant, the Bishop of Jarrow, are among those meeting at South Shields Town Hall to discuss the findings of the hard-hitting report.
The report identifies a clear link between the use of food banks and tougher restrictions on access to benefits.
It insists that, contrary to Government claims, food banks have spread because of greater need.
Among a raft of recommendations, the report calls for bigger food banks to distribute more free food and advise people on how to claim benefits and make ends meet.
And it recommends a rise in the minimum wage and the provision of free school meals during school holidays for poorer children.
The report says: “We do not believe food banks should take the place of statutory welfare provision in this country, but our evidence suggests there is a strong desire for longer-term interaction between food banks and vulnerable households, and an eagerness for these relationships to become embedded within local communities so they can help people overcome the deep-seated causes of hunger.”
Mrs Lewell-Buck said: “We’ve had a great response to our report, and we’ve managed to get the Government to accept that some aspects of the benefits system aren’t working and are causing a lot of hardship.
“I think the Government’s priority needs to be dealing with low-paid and insecure work, as well as the harsh way benefit sanctions are being imposed.
“The group’s work doesn’t stop with the report, however. This is an ongoing mission to put an end to food poverty, and that is why I am holding today’s meeting to discuss the next steps for the group and for Shields.”
The Government is now considering the findings of the inquiry team.
A Government spokesman said: “This report is a serious contribution to an important debate, with many good ideas, and recognising that the reasons behind demands for emergency food assistance are complex and frequently overlapping.
“As a country, we have enough food to go around, and we agree that it is wrong that anyone should go hungry at the same time as surplus food is going to waste.
“There is a moral argument, as well as a sustainability one, to ensure we make the best use of resources.”
SOME OF THE REPORT’S 77 RECOMMENDATIONS:
n The Government should provide support for 12 pilot projects across the UK to draw together voluntary and public expertise to eliminate hunger.
n All supermarkets should follow the example of Tesco and add 30 per cent to any food given by its shoppers to food banks.
n Local authorities should work with food organisations to free up land for food production, retail and storage.
n Credit unions accounts’ should be made eligible for receipt of universal credit to encourage use among low-income households.
n Local authorities should begin collecting information on whether landlords in receipt of housing benefit are providing basic cooking facilities for their tenants.
n The Government should reform the benefits system so it can deliver payments within five working days.
n The Department of Work and Pensions ought to simplify access to hardship payments.