Calls to address rise in numbers going hungry in Britain
The All-Party Inquiry Into Hunger in the United Kingdom was chaired jointly by the Labour MP for Birkenhead, Frank Field, and the Bishop of Truro, The Right Reverend Tim Thornton.
The inquiry held regional sessions and heard evidence from people in Cornwall, as well as in Birkenhead, Salisbury, and South Shields.
The inquiry has made a total of 77 broad-ranging recommendations in a bid to stem a rising tide of hunger. The recommendations are to government, the utility companies and regulators, the supermarkets and food suppliers.
The inquiry heard that some schools were reporting anything up to a quarter of pupils arriving hungry each morning and that up to 38% of poor children were not receiving free school meals – despite being entitled.
The causes of hunger were many. In many cases help from foodbanks in the shape of one, two or a maximum of three food parcels enabled people to re-establish control over their finances. This in itself indicated that many were living on a knife-edge, although for some people the problems were longer-term and more deep-seated. Around one in four people using the services of a foodbank is in employment.
Problems that led to hunger among the population included benefits delays and sanctions by Jobcentre Plus, reduced employment, and the accumulation of problem debt. The inquiry heard that the poorest people in society pay most for their energy through pre-payment meters, are more likely to be charged for making cashpoint withdrawals and cannot afford cheaper telephone contracts.
To co-ordinate the national response to the growing hunger problem, the inquiry has recommended setting up an organisation called Feeding Britain. The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Reverend and Right Honorable Justin Welby, has agreed to be the president of this new organisation, and Bishop Tim will be a trustee.
It is suggested membership of Feeding Britain will be composed of the food bank movement and other providers of food assistance, voluntary organisations redistributing fresh surplus food, the food industry, and representatives from each of the eight government departments whose policies affect the number of people at risk of hunger.
The report was launched today in London.
In the introduction to the report, Bishop Tim wrote: “We believe it is time to look again at the state of our country and to review the fundamental values that led to the creation of our welfare state.
“We propose in Feeding Britain a strategy for renewing the welfare state so it can better reflect and encourage the relationships which contribute to the wellbeing of our citizens, including the poorest. We think such a rationale is needed at a time when, sadly, we appear to be drifting towards more and more atomisation and less and less sharing of common values.”
The report’s 77 recommendations include the following:
• The co-ordination of food waste prevention by working through the supply chains of food retailers and manufacturers, and, for example, harvesting and donating farm crops rejected by retailers because of their appearance.
• Developing a One Stop Shop/Food Bank Plus model, in which food assistance providers become an integral part of local hubs that help people out of hunger by addressing some of its root causes such as problem debt, addictions, access to benefits, and difficulty coping on a low income.
• That the Government grants itself powers to instruct Ofgem to work with energy suppliers to establish a national minimum standard for fair energy prices for all prepayment energy customers.
• That Ofwat finds out how many low-income households would be better off without water meters, and directs that they should have their bills capped at this level.
• That Ofwat, Ofgem and Ofcom oblige all utility companies to transfer immediately all public telephone numbers from higher to standard regional or free rates.
• That the teaching of budgeting and parenting skills are embedded in the National Curriculum.
• Compelling landlords in receipt of housing benefits payments to provide basic cooking facilities for tenants.
• That the DfE prioritises poor children from working families in any future expansion of the free school meals programme.
• The Government continues to pursue policies which seek to raise the National Minimum Wage, increase take-up of the Living Wage, and to reduce the total amount of tax taken from low-paid workers.
• That the Government ensures all of its directly employed, outsourced and agency staff are paid at least a Living Wage. Likewise local authorities, beyond and including paying their own employees a Living Wage, should use their procurement strategies to encourage local businesses to become Living Wage employers.
• The reform of the benefits system so it is able to deliver payments quickly within five working days.
• That Jobcentre Plus staff should be able to exercise discretion as to whether a requirement was missed through error or circumstances beyond the claimant’s control.
• That benefits claimants should be given a ‘Yellow Card’ warning with the chance to provide an explanation for a first ‘offence’ before a sanction is applied.
• That the DWP should assess whether some claimants, particularly those in rural areas, or with caring responsibilities, could be given the right to sign on and report regularly on job search activity without always having to travel to a Jobcentre Plus office.
• That the DWP reconsiders its decision to remove such a vast number of telephones from Jobcentre Plus offices, as we have evidence suggesting that claimants are struggling to afford the cost of telephone calls they are required to make to apply for jobs.
• That the DWP immediately phases out the use of higher-rate telephone numbers for claimants wishing to speak to somebody about their benefit claim.
The inquiry heard evidence from the Government, churches, voluntary organisations, academics, food redistribution organisations and food assistance providers from London, the South East and South West. A research summit was also held in the House of Commons with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST).
Oral evidence was given by 155 witnesses and there were 246 written evidence submissions.