Politicians challenged to a structural response to UK hunger crisis

By staff writers
December 8, 2014

There has been a mixed response from NGOs to the launch of the report of the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Food Poverty and Hunger today (8 December 2014).

Anti-poverty activists have welcomed a report that asks government and politicians to take the issue seriously, but warn that lack of adequate attention to austerity policies, the impact of cuts, growing inequality and the need for collective public action may weaken its impact.

Director of Church Action on Poverty Niall Cooper said: "Frank Field, Bishop Tim Thornton and the Inquiry team are to be congratulated for a serious and thorough examination of the underlying reasons for the huge growth in food poverty and hunger in recent years.

The result, says Cooper, in face of some refusals to accept the reality of UK hunger is that "it is no longer possible to deny the scale of the problem, nor the many and complex reasons for it -- including chronic low pay, benefit problems and benefit sanctions.

He continued: "Our call for a Parliamentary Inquiry in the Walking the Breadline report back in May 2013 has been vindicated. The Inquiry's report confirms what people have been telling us for the past 18 months: there is a very real crisis of food poverty and hunger across the UK, the like of which we have not seen in most of our lifetimes, and never expected to see in what is still one of the wealthiest countries on the planet.

"It is now time for both Government and Opposition to go beyond scoring political points, and to take seriously the question of how we as a nation ensure that no one need go to bed hungry. The Parliamentary Inquiry makes many serious recommendations, and it is incumbent on politicians to come up with a serious response," says the Church Action on Poverty director, who was today launching the Food, fuel and finance report on the 'poverty premium' - the additional costs of being poor - at the Adelaide Centre in Glasgow.

The Rev Peter MacDonald, leader of the Iona Community, which hosted the Glasgow press event, echoed the call for change but warned about the "trap" that might be inherent in both the APPG report and the partial financial powers for Scotland set out in the Smith Commission report.

"The danger is that we end up mitigating the effects of austerity while still being forced to go along with that whole failed approach," he said.

MacDonald also said that the Archbishop of Canterbury's suggestion that it should be made easier for UK food companies to pass on food they could no longer sell to those who need it, did not go nearly far enough in addressing the failures of the food industry, corporate responsibility, and the structural causes of hunger and poverty.

"If we think charity and foodbanks are the answer, we are part of the problem not part of the solution," he added, stressing, along with the Rev Kathy Galloway of Christian Aid Scotland that basic needs such as food, shelter and a reasonable income should be part of a human rights agenda.

Ekklesia associate the Rev Dr Keith Hebden, a pioneer of the End Hunger Fast movement, has also raised sharp questions about the 'Feeding Britain' approach of the All Party Parliamentary Group and some church leaders.

"The 'headline summary' of the report is a joint venture it calls [a] partnership between state and voluntary sector. Without irony it calls this 'Beveridge plus', even though it is plays into this government's scaling down of Beveridge’s vision of full employment and centrally adminstered welfare.

"There is a danger in this that the voluntary sector's role as 'welfare on the cheap' will be formalised and the hunger crisis we’re currently facing will turn into a chronic and acceptable norm.

"Furthermore, emergency food relief has emerged because of the failure of the government to manage the economy for the common good and to administer welfare in a compassionate way. There must be some concern that state interference with voulntary sectors will only screw up the good work being done and volunteers taking over the role normally taken by the state will only legitimise government apathy towards the working poor.

"I cannot look at 'Feeding Britain' and simply raise a cheer. Above all the recommendations in the report this one needs the most scrutiny," said Dr Hebden.

* APPG report in full: http://foodpovertyinquiry.org

* Poverty Premiu report: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21129

* A more detailed response to the APPG report by Dr Hebden is available here: http://compassionistas.net/wordpress/feeding-britain-reflections-on-the-...

Churches call for action to tackle an unjust ‘poverty premium’: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21130

* Feeding Britain: A start, but much more emphasis on justice needed: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21131

* End Hunger Fast: http://endhungerfast.co.uk

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.