Thursday, 19 December 2013

My speech on food banks

Below is the speech I had prepared ahead of the debate in the House of Commons yesterday on the subject of food banks which I had wanted and expected to deliver. Unfortunately due to the number of people who wished to speak in the debate, and the delays caused by the distruption to the opening frontbench speech I was unable to take part in the debate due to time pressure. 

Mr Speaker, I rise to speak in favour of the motion in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. At present I have four food banks in my constituency: RAFT, Maundy Relief, Tesco Fairshare and Community Solutions. I have visited or volunteered at them all and I will be volunteering at Community Solutions over Christmas. 

Hyndburn, along with the most part of the UK has seen a steep rise in the numbers of people going hungry - hungry enough to have to approach a food bank to prevent hunger and malnutrition. 

Early this year I wrote to every primary school and every head teacher wrote back to say that they had all witnessed rising levels of hunger and specifically that children were more distracted because of it. How can we expect children to reach their full potential, or even aspire where all they can think about is how hungry they are. 

Over 50% of children living in poverty in the UK are from working households and many of the people helped by foodbanks are in work. Rising food poverty is a national scandal and it is shocking that six in ten people say they are worried about how they will be able to manage their future spending on groceries.

In Blackburn, which part of my constituency borders, my constituents rely on the foodbank there – a fifth foodbank - I know my right honourable friend (Jack Straw) can’t be here but his constituents face the same poverty. Blackburn has seen a huge growth in the number of food banks, serving over 6,000 people.

The rise is demand for food is staggering. Community Solutions, one of the four foodbanks located in Hyndburn had 90 referrals a month in September 2012. In September 2013, 12 months later, the number of referrals was 450.

Under this out-of-touch Tory-led government we are seeing a growing cost-of-living crisis that is pushing increasing numbers of families into severe hardship. After three damaging years of a flat lining economy, working people are £1,600 a year worse off thanks to David Cameron. Prices have risen faster than wages for 40 of 41 months while David Cameron has been in Downing Street. Figures published alongside the Autumn Statements showed that real wages will have fallen by 5.8% by the end of the Parliament.

Mr Speaker, it is shameful that food banks are becoming an accepted part of Tory Britain.

It is also shameful that the only response from the Prime Minister is – so what - people were hungry in the past ignoring the exponential rise in numbers of desperate people. The reality is under Labour food banks were almost unheard of in the UK because so few people relied on them.  

A volunteer at the Blackburn Foodbank told me last week of a heartbreaking example of a young man who had been sanctioned by the jobcentre because he had only applied for 8 jobs, instead of 12. This was despite the fact he had an 8 week old baby, born with leukemia, and he obviously had to spend a lot of time at the hospital. Under this Government he was shunned – apparently this did not constitute a mitigating circumstance, and because it has apparently become the norm under the Tories, he was pointed in the direction of a local foodbank.

This Government’s failure to get a hold of the cost of living crisis is hitting my constituents hard, the bedroom tax is pushing yet more people into food poverty, and now the normalisation of food banks as a replacement for social security appears to be government policy.