Norwich Bishop calls for action over foodbanks
The Bishop of Norwich has called for a stronger response to tackle the growth of foodbank use, while speaking in a debate in the House of Lords.
Bishop Graham spoke during a debate in the House of Lords, led by Labour Peer the Rt Hon the Lord Whitty, on the cumulative effects of Government economic, public spending and regulatory policies on low income and vulnerable consumers, on November 6.
He noted the rise in the use of food banks across the Diocese of Norwich and the need for a sustained response to help reduce the use of foodbanks, including investment in nutrition programmes and reducing the number of delays to welfare payments. He also praised those who volunteer and support foodbanks and other charitable responses, and cautioned some of the language used to describe those who use food banks and other forms of support.
“It was more than five years ago that I was first approached to become patron of the Norwich foodbank,” said Bishop Graham. “The necessity for it was identified before the previous general election as a result of the recession. Suddenly, people who thought themselves reasonably secure were worried. Those who were already insecure became highly vulnerable. That was all very noticeable within our church communities on the housing estates in Norwich, especially in the areas of greatest social deprivation.
“Norfolk is often seen as relatively comfortable, but the reality for many is that it is not. I know that the need for a foodbank in Norwich was recognised before the existence of the coalition Government and their policies. Indeed, the first food bank in this country was set up in 1999. The use of foodbanks continues to grow rapidly and needs explanation,” he said.
“According to the Government’s figures, 30,000 people in greater Norwich are living on the edge of poverty. In the Campaign to End Child Poverty report published last year, Norwich is the authority with the highest percentage of children in poverty in the east of England. It is in the worst 5% of all authorities in the UK for child poverty. Norwich is also one of the areas in the country with the highest percentage of employees earning less than £7 an hour.
“Where families have no financial security, a sudden crisis caused by bereavement, illness or redundancy can leave them unable to feed themselves. Such situations rapidly worsen; relationships break down; houses are repossessed; rent cannot be paid; and the cost of all that for society as a whole is not merely financial.
“I sometimes think that our political discourse regards human beings only as economic units. That is a gross disservice to human dignity. Eighty local care agencies refer people to the Norwich foodbank; no one can simply turn up. Last year, more than 9,000 people, 6,000 adults and more than 3,000 children received three days-worth of food. That number is expected to have grown to at least 11,000 and probably 12,000 this year.
“The rapid growth of food banks is leading to a normalisation of food aid in our country. Are we content to see that in the United Kingdom? Will the volunteer support on which food banks rely hold up in the years to come, especially if the demands get ever greater? Though it is not true in our area, I know of food banks that are finding the need for ever more food to meet rising levels of demand very challenging. What would be the cost of the dislocation if this voluntary system broke down?
“I take pride in the compassion and generosity of so many people in this country who established such a widespread food aid network. I am glad that Christians in our churches are so responsive to need and that people of all faiths and none have joined the cause, but I am also depressed that this is necessary at all in what is still one of the richest countries in the world, with what we are told is a growing economy,” said Bishop Graham.
Read more at ChurchInParliament
Pictured above is Bishop Graham addressing the Lords (courtesy of ChurchInParliament)