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Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
UK News

Christian charity says churches are filling hunger gap government should be preventing

The non-profit organisation says the UK is breaching international duties by ignoring families in hunger.

It is blaming the introduction of Universal Credit, cuts to welfare spending and a falling standard of living.

Jubilee+, a charity that equips churches to engage more effectively with communities and to help them increase their capacity to serve the poor, told Premier it has seen evidence of the Human Rights Watch's claims.

Head of communications and policy for Jubilee+, Natalie Williams, told Premier: "We are seeing people struggling on a day to day basis in ways that we haven't in the past.

"The food bank I'm involved with in Hastings has seen a 113% increase in referrals in the last two and a half years since Universal Credit came to our town, so these figures aren't really a surprise to me, but I do think it's deeply troubling."

Natalie told Premier's News Hour that churches are spending almost £400m a year on helping the poorest in their communities through a range of initiatives, from food banks to debt centres to education coaching and mentoring to tackling modern slavery.

She said: "I think there's also a personal responsibility for us as Christians, if we know that someone is struggling, if we know that someone's in need, and if we can afford to help, then to actually kind of live sacrificially and give to those in need around us as well.

"But I think churches are going to have to step up and do even more than they are currently doing.

"Which is a worry, because churches are glad to do it, but what we really need is system change so that there are fewer people in poverty in the first place.

"We are seeing people coming into food banks across the country who are actually in work, but just can't make ends meet.

"What we are seeing is that the rate of people in work in poverty is rising faster than the rate of employment at the minute and so work actually isn't particularly a route out of poverty and that is really worrying."

Human Rights Watch says its evidence is from analysis of official data and dozens of interviews, including with low-income groups and food bank operators.

The government disagrees with the findings and a spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said: "It's misleading to present these findings as representative of England as a whole."
"We're helping parents to move into work to give families the best opportunity to move out of poverty."

The Human Rights Watch report comes just days after the DWP announced new statistics to measure poverty and help target support more effectively will be developed and published by the department.

DWP will publish experimental statistics in 2020 that will take the current Social Metrics Commission measure as a starting point and assess whether and how this can be developed and improved further to increase the value of these statistics to the public.

This assessment will include the wider measurement framework presented by the Social Metrics Commission covering the depth, persistence and lived experience of poverty.

Human Rights Watch found that the government is failing to meet its duty under human rights law to ensure the right to adequate food.

Kartik Raj, Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch said: "The way the UK government has handled its reduction in welfare spending has left parents unable to feed their children in the fifth-largest economy in the world.

"The UK government should ensure everyone's right to food rather than expecting charities to step in and fill the gap."

A 23-year-old mother from Hull with a 4-year-old daughter who was unable to find employment that fit with her daughter's school schedule, and relied on a low-cost community pantry, which redistributes surplus food from supermarkets.

She said: "Often, I have nothing left at the end of the week."

"When you are a single mum there are very few jobs you can do that let you drop your child to school in the morning, then go to work and be back at 2.30 to pick them up.

"I skip meals, so my daughter can eat."

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