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UK News

Bishop saw 'worst aspects of human nature' during hunger inquiry

by Antony Bushfield

It found that 'hunger stalks' Britain and says too many people are in a situation where they cannot afford enough food.

"A considerable number of families are finding it difficult to budget for these three main essentials of food, housing and utilities, and to cover the unexpected or irregular costs, such as children's shoes, that inevitably arise," it said.

The investigation was co-chaired by the Bishop of Truro, Rt Revd Tim Thornton, who said whilst working on it he 'seen evidence of some of the worst aspects of human nature'.

Diocese of Truro

Bishop Tim Thornton

He said: "We have seen marvellous work being carried out by volunteers which should be celebrated. We have witnessed some of the best aspects of human nature, as tens of thousands of people have responded to real need by creating organisations such as food banks.

"But, at the same time, we have also seen evidence of some of the worst aspects of human nature, in that there are people - men, women and children - in this country who are going hungry, and yes, there are some people who attempt to abuse any system that is put in place, be that from the state or voluntary bodies.

"We have received lots of evidence to show that many of the normal and natural connections between people, in families, extended or otherwise, in neighbourhoods and even more widely than that no longer exist."

The investigation highlights the rise of bills compared to the increase in wages. It shows that between 2003 and 2013 the price of electricity, gas and other fuels increased by 153.6 per cent in Britain whilst wages increased by just 28 per cent.

It is impossible to say how many food banks operate in the UK, according to the report, but it does say there are now 420 Trussell Trust food banks and that there may be at least as many operating independently.

A call to abolish food banks completely was rejected by the report though: "We know that such a cry is based on the affront people feel for their fellow citizens who have to use food banks as a crucial safety net.

Main points

- Extend free school meals

- Change to benefit system

- Pre-paid meters to cost same as direct debit

- Government support for food banks

"But the turning around of those deep-seated economic forces that have so disadvantaged most, but particularly poorer families, isn't going to be achieved in the short term.

"Hence the shelf life of food banks has, unfortunately, some time to run."

The report calls for rules to be changed so supermarkets don't throw away food that they cannot sell and instead give it to the poor.

It also says there has to be a changed in the benefits system so people in crisis can get access to money more easily.

Food banks should be given government support to also offer debt advice, according to the investigation's findings.

The panel have also called for free school meals to be extended to parents on low pay and new laws to stop utility providers charging people on pre-paid meters more.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "This report is a serious contribution to an important debate, and recognises that the reasons behind demands for emergency food assistance are complex and frequently overlapping.

"As a country we have enough food to go around, and we agree that it is wrong that anyone should go hungry at the same time as surplus food is going to waste. There is a moral argument as well as a sustainability one to ensure we make the best use of resources.

"While this report outlines important areas for consideration, we should remember that this country has been through the deepest recession in living memory, and sticking to this Government's long-term economic plan is the best way to improve living standards.

"And this plan is working: there are now more people in work that ever before and the economy is growing faster than any other in the G7.

"Our welfare system provides a vital safety net - spending around £94 billion in 2014/15 on working age benefits. There is also a wide range of advice and assistance available for people in need.

"In addition, the UK has a proud tradition of civil society and faith groups providing support for people in need, and it is right that their impressive work is recognised in the report.

"Under tough circumstances, communities have shown that by pulling together to help each other, we can build a bigger, stronger society."

The Bishop of Truro, Rt Revd Tim Thornton speaking to Premier's Antony Bushfield:

Christian Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck speaking to Premier's Antony Bushfield:

Christian Conservative MP Sarah Newton speaking to Premier's Antony Bushfield:

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