Bishop critiques official denial of food poverty in Britain

By staff writers
30 Dec 2013

The Anglican Bishop of Southwark has criticised government ministers who refuse to recognise food poverty and meet with those who set up foodbanks.

The comments in the Rt Rev Christopher Chessun's Christmas sermon at Southwark Cathedral, though carefully non-partisan in party political terms, nevertheless put Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and his colleagues under pressure.

Government supporters mocked stories of hardship and poverty in a recent parliamentary debate on foodbanks.

Leading government representatives like Lord Freud and Employment Minister Esther McVey have suggested that they are a 'lifestyle choice' rather than testimony to the reality of deprivation and the impact of swingeing cuts and welfare changes.

The Bishop of Southwark, whose diocese covers south London and a large swathe of east Surrey, offered a very different commentary on the reality he meets in his pastoral role.

He declared: "In our own land instead of the Big Society we have in this city alone thousands of people who cannot afford to feed themselves.

"In this – one of the richest cities ever to have existed – there are people who go to bed tonight hungry.

"In the past few weeks I have been visiting some of the many foodbanks that exist across London. These impressive works of social care and relief are often run from local churches and resourced by Christian people and others, all working together with a wonderful spirit of goodwill.

"The fact they are needed at all is a terrible thing. And more alarming still is that the great trend they have all seen this year is a huge leap in the number of clients who are in full-time employment.

"There are people who once the rent is paid, and basic utilities settled like electricity water and gas, simply do not have enough money left to feed themselves.

"Is it any wonder that the payday loan companies, which seem to be little different from the loan-sharks of old, thrive in these conditions?

"So in the South London I see and know and love, it is an absolute scandal that people go hungry.

"These are often good, hard working honest people. They are not playing the system; rather, they despair of what tomorrow might bring.

"Poverty is growing in this city in ways not seen since Victorian times. I continue to find it astonishing that, despite the fact that food banks are now the fastest growing third sector social-care agency, many in positions of power and leadership refuse to visit them, acknowledge them or meet with those who lead or co-ordinate them."

The Bishop of Southwark also contrasted the rise in food poverty and homelessness with the burgeoning profits of many large companies.

"It seems to me that there is something terribly wrong with the balance of our society. Undoubtedly a healthy successful economy is a good thing. But I wonder if we have lost sight of what heath and success looks like.

"The greed that stalks the city, the individualism and the selfishness that ignores the plight of those alongside whom we live is completely challenged by the child born in Bethlehem," said the Bishop of Southwark.

* More on foodbanks and food poverty on Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/foodbanks

* Christmas issues on Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/christmas

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