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A few weeks ago I started a petition to get Parliament to debate hunger in the UK and why there's been a rise in the use of foodbanks. I thought I'd work steadily towards 100,000 signers over a few months and aim for a debate by Spring. How wrong was I?
Within a day more than 60,000 people had signed and the campaign made the frontpage of the Independent newspaper. Within two weeks people helped the campaign reach 142,000 signers and on Wednesday we secured our goal of a debate in Parliament.
People going hungry in the UK has been a quiet secret for too long now, often only seen by the volunteers dealing with an increasing number of families turning to foodbanks. This petition changed that: #Foodbanks was trending on Twitter, the campaign reached the newspaper frontpages -- and most importantly MPs sat for three hours and heard story after story of what it is like to struggle in modern Britain.
Over 60 Labour MPs requested to speak at the debate and they took turns to tell the stories of their constituents. We heard about the ex-serviceman who turned to a foodbank while waiting for four weeks for Atos to deal with his appeal. The story of two hungry young boys who came to ask for one packet of cereal and one packet of drinking chocolate as a treat. And we heard of the man whose benefits were sanctioned when he couldn't attend an assessment interview because he was in hospital with his wife who was seriously ill with cancer.
Unfortunately Government ministers held their party line. Employment Minister Esther McVey said: "it is right to say that more people are visiting foodbanks, as we would expect.” And while Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith turned up for the debate -- a victory in itself -- he chose not to stick around and snuck out half way through.
We should be proud of what we achieved through this petition. MPs were reminded of the people that they are there to represent. While some of them might try to drown out the stories with jeers and laughter -- these stories are now out in the open for all to see. They are on the official Hansard record and can't be ignored any longer.
This debate is just the start. We'll be back in the New Year fighting food poverty, because hunger isn't going to go away. If your MP is one of the shameful 296 who voted against the motion to investigate food bank use (http://agirlcalledjack.com/2013/12/19/the-296-mps-who-voted-against-inve...), why not invite them to go along with you to visit a Trussell Trust foodbank in the new year.
There are lots of other ways you can get involved to help foodbanks in your area -- check out The Mirror and Unite the Union, who have been backing this campaign for more details: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/christmas-appeal-trussell-trust---2...
Thank you, well done and Happy Christmas!
* Thoughts on the foodbanks debate from the public gallery: http://agirlcalledjack.com/2013/12/19/thoughts-on-the-foodbank-debate-fr...
© Jack Monroe is anti-poverty campaigner and a food and politics columnist. Her blog is A Girl Called Jack (http://agirlcalledjack.com). She is on Twitter at @msjackmonroe This blog is drawn from her 'thank you' letter to the food bank petition supporters who helped secure a parliamentary debate.Tweet