Last week I was pleased to be invited to the Whitfield Area Community Group Foodshare.
Food donated by individuals and shops is collected and a shopping bag or two filled with food for which participants in the scheme pay £1 a week.
Unlike a food bank, which distributes emergency food parcels, food shares provide longer-term support for those who need it. It’s a social event with tea and biscuits and the chance for a chat.
The support is obviously much welcomed by the queue at the door before they open. I was saddened to hear of the reasons why people need the foodshare. They are often struggling with poor health, low wages, cuts to benefits, expensive debts or high housing costs, and sometimes several problems at once.
Foodshares have sprung up across High Peak and I thank all of the many volunteers who help out, often giving advice and support, or delivering parcels to people who are housebound.
But it’s worrying that in the sixth richest country in the world there are so many people in need of support just to get enough to eat.
I see people in my surgery who are struggling to afford enough to eat, mostly due to benefit cuts and the low level of Universal Credit. The Trussell Trust distributed 658,000 emergency food parcels across the UK in the six months to September – a rise of 13%.
With the Budget due to be held next month, campaigners are stepping up their work to persuade the Chancellor to increase spending in different areas. I believe benefit income needs to rise for people who are unable to afford enough to eat.
Welfare was targeted for £12bn of cuts in 2015. Two major causes of poverty are the 4-year freeze on benefits at a time when costs for people on low incomes are increasing faster than inflation, and the minimum 5-week wait for a Universal Credit payment.
Next Tuesday Parliament will hold two ‘Estimates Day Debates’ – special debates in the run-up to the Budget, focussed on a particular department’s spending needs.
MPs have to bid for these debates in a “Dragon’s Den” style pitch to the Debates Committee. I organised around 50 MPs of all parties to support the application and made my ‘pitch’ this week.
I’m pleased it was successful and I hope next week’s debate gives Parliament the chance to discuss the problems that are leading to more food bank use and offer some constructive ideas to the government.
I applaud the excellent work of our foodshare projects and food banks in High Peak. But I’d prefer there was less need for them, and I’ll be arguing that in next week’s debate.