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Taking the voice of hunger to MPs

January 26, 2018

This week End Hunger Partner Church Action on Poverty organised a parliamentary round table to bring together the MPs, policy experts and the voices of those who work on tackling food poverty. The round table was to launch a report ‘Step Up to the Plate; toward a UK food and poverty strategy’ on food poverty and insecurity. Church Action of Poverty Media Coordinator writes about the event.

Church Action on Poverty met MPs this week to present a new report on how Government can help end hunger in the UK. – OR – Charities involved in the End Hunger UK campaign met MPs at Westminster this week, to present a new report on how Government could help secure lasting change.

The report, Step Up To The Plate, sets out five steps Government should take towards a UK food and poverty strategy.

Niall Cooper, director of Church Action on Poverty, presented the report to MPs Kevin Hollinrake, Kate Green, Emma Lewell-Buck and Sharon Hodgson at Portcullis House in Westminster on Wednesday. He was joined by colleagues from Church Action on Poverty and staff from Trussell Trust, Oxfam and the Food Foundation, all of whom are involved in the End Hunger UK campaign.

The first-hand accounts of two people with personal experience of food poverty were also read at the meeting, and two others are included in the written report.

The report, written by Dr Hannah Lambie-Mumford of the University of Sheffield, looks at the rise of food poverty in the UK this century and the response by civil society including charities and churches. It proposes five Government steps:

1) Appoint a minister or department with responsibility for coordinating a cross-Government policy response to food poverty
2) Measure household food insecurity each year by adopting and using the internationally-agreed definition of household food insecurity
3) Free people from the threat of food insecurity by building a vision of long-term food security and by developing broad, ambitious solutions that include all stakeholders
4) Listen to people with first-hand experience of hunger and use their accounts alongside academic research to shape policy
5) Lead the way in ending hunger by working with all stakeholders, in a leadership role

After the report was presented, there was a round table discussion of its ideas and suggestions. It was acknowledged that food poverty currently overlaps with various Government departments’ remits without falling solely within any one, meaning there has been no coordinated and overarching response to the crisis.

There was discussion of where Government responsibility should lie and the charity representatives pressed the case that Government should work to the principle that their policy should not make people destitute or hungry. Trussell Trust provided evidence that where sanctions were most heavily applied, their food banks saw a corresponding increase in demand.

The meeting heard the story of Lianne from Sheffield, who regularly uses a food bank near her home and who has just £72 a fortnight to feed herself and her two children, aged eight and nine.

She said: “I am always going without so the kids can eat. We went to Lidl and I had promised the kids a pound, and I only had a fiver left, but I let them have their pounds. I only really eat porridge, and I went without buying that, but my mum will help me….

“In the holidays, the kids were bored. Finding things to do that do not cost owt was difficult. The schools did some fun days and church did, but only a couple of times. A lot of days they were bored to death in the house; there should be more things to do. And when they are at school, I do not have to buy extra food… Something to deal with holiday hunger would definitely help.”

They also heard the story of a single mum of two teenagers in the North East, whose benefits were suddenly stopped, leaving her with no income for eight months.

She said: “In those months when I had nothing, it was just about surviving, for the kids, making sure there was enough gas and electric for the girls. When they were not here, when they were with their dad, I was not bothering about me. I was cutting back on heating and food. There have been days when I have not eaten. It’s been really hard.

“They need a fairer system. For me just to get a letter to say I am not getting any more money, and then to have to go through the system of appealing and mandatory reconsideration; all that takes time with no help or support. It’s hard and although there’s crisis support with the local authority, I was told that when I was just getting child benefit support for the girls that did not constitute crisis. The crisis support that is there is not working properly.”

Following the meeting, MPs have agreed to arrange further meetings to discuss the issues raised and the charities will continue to gather evidence and press the case for change.

Josh Fenton-Glynn, End Hunger UK campaign manager, based at Church Action on Poverty, said: “It is great to be able to bring fresh information, and also the real voices of those in poverty to Westminster. Core to what End Hunger is aiming to use our experience to get achieve positive change.

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