Sarah's speech on Food Banks


PLEASE NOTE: This was the speech that Sarah wrote and fully intended to deliver on Wednesday, 18th December 2013. However, due to demand and the limited time given to the subject, she was not called to speak. Please find a link to the full debate at the bottom of this page. Sarah starts off her speech by reading out an extract from an email from a constituent called Sandra who wrote on hearing that the opposition had called this debate as she wanted to challenge the perception that all people using food banks are 'scroungers'.

Sandra writes: In September of this year, I too was pointed in the direction of a food bank, when my amputated lower leg husband had his ESA stopped, for missing one appointment. He has appealed, but will have to wait up to 16 weeks to have his hearing heard...

On the 19th of November I made myself available for work, having been a stay-at-home mum. Now I am receiving JSA and only this is allowing my family keep our heads above water. Here's praying I can prove next week that I am doing all I can to find suitable work, or I too could end up at the local food bank.

After the quote ends, Sarah goes on to say that it is time we challenged some of the myths about food banks where families like Sandra's are being forced into food poverty through no fault of their own. She continues:

"Families coming to food banks in Rotherham often aren't coming as a result of unemployment: the majority of these families are working families who have had their overtime removed, their working hours cut back, or are on zero hours contracts and aren't given enough hours to meet their minimum financial commitments.

"It deeply saddens me that's now commonplace to find families who are working, but still don't earn enough to put food on the table. Families should not be forced to decide between heating and eating, or between feeding themselves and feeding their children.

"In Rotherham, one in five families are sending their children to school hungry. Inevitably, this impacts on their health, their concentration, their happiness, and, ultimately, their ability to learn. I see a vicious cycle spiralling out of control for future generations who have not got the education they deserve due to hunger, who then cannot get the jobs they need to get themselves out of the poverty trap.

"This must be addressed with the utmost urgency: we should not live in a society where children cannot be fed, and this government should not accept a situation where a third of people helped by food banks are children.

"In my constituency, we are extremely fortunate that Church groups, volunteers and the local council are providing emergency food for families that need it most. Staff and volunteers at Hope Church Rotherham Food Bank are distributing food vouchers to up to 100 families a week. These are people who have been referred via 20 different agencies including GPs, the Job Centre, CAB and the Council.

"But let us not forget that food banks only give short term support, usually for six weeks. In a year that equates to around four-and-a-half thousand vouchers given out to families in need in Rotherham alone. A study by Northern Housing Consortium demonstrates the grim reality of food poverty.

"They found the average spend on food per person, per day to be only £2.10, along with shocking figures that a third of households have only £20 per week or less to spend on food. Hearing those figures, it's no surprise that food banks are rising so rapidly, but that certainly doesn't make it any more acceptable.

"When I asked the Prime Minister to visit a Food Bank back in January, his dismissive answer was that Food Banks had gone up 11 times under Labour. From virtually a standing start, plus a world recession, that is understandable. However, this government has a wealth of responsibility to bear for the dramatic rise in food poverty since their election, and the use of food banks has tripled over the last year alone according to the Trussell Trust.

"Between 2012 and 2013, when we only look at the food banks seeded by the Trussell Trust, they increased at a shocking rate of three per week, and scandalously, over half a million people have received food parcels since this April. We can't escape that the welfare reforms being pushed through by this government are helping to drive this increase in food poverty.

"34% of people using food banks are doing so as a direct result of a delay to their benefits, another 19% as a result of changes to the benefit system such as families that are asked to pay the bedroom tax, or families that find themselves no longer entitled to benefits that they previously received.

"Stops on benefits whilst families appeal decisions are a major cause of referral for Rotherham Food Bank, and the Trussell Trust are finding the same. They say that people are turning to food banks after their benefits have been stopped for seemingly illogical reasons. It's not right or fair that these ill thought out welfare reforms are driving people to a situation where they can't place food on the table.

"So, to conclude, it is time this government faced up to the destruction they are causing to working families who are facing a cost of living crisis that is worse than ever. The Government may tell us the economy is getting better, but if Food Banks and Homelessness are the barometer of our economy, things are looking very bleak!"

Please click here to read the full debate: