Pressure on North East foodbanks could be eased by £22m EU fund, politicians tell PM

North East politicians are calling for government to tap into a £22m EU fund to ease pressure on foodbanks.

David Cameron has been criticised for allegedly failing to take the money over fears it reveals the UK’s dependency on the EU and weakens his position going into a potential in/out referendum in 2017.

However the Conservative Party have said they are not missing out on EU cash and have £2.9m to spend, and they – not Europe – will decide where it goes.

Labour MEPs have now written an open letter to the Prime Minister asking him to lift his block on support for the country’s most vulnerable people for what they consider is solely for ‘ideological reasons’.

The European Aid to the Most Deprived Fund is worth £2.5bn, and is available to all EU member countries to dip into to help people who are most in need. Foodbanks would have been able to apply for funding from the pot. However David Cameron decided to opt out of the scheme in 2013, which Labour members believe could have eventually totalled £22m for the UK between 2014 and 2020.

The Government has previously said it believes individual member states are best positioned to deliver social programmes for the poor through regional or local authorities. They’ve said they will take their Most Deprived Fund subsidy (£2.9m) and deduct it from their ‘structural fund’, the cash pot they would prefer to see money delivered through.

The North East’s two Labour MEPs, Jude Kirton Darling and Paul Brannen have said in their joint letter to David Cameron that he should ‘remove opposition’ to support for foodbanks. The letter has also been signed by leader of Newcastle City Council, Nick Forbes,  and leader of Durham County Council, Simon Henig.

Jude Kirton Darling, MEP, said:

“People are under intense financial pressure at the moment and many people will have used food banks this year. 

“As the weather turns colder and people face increased heating bills we feel now is the time for the Government to remove its opposition to support for food banks.”

Paul Brannen MEP added that as well as accepting more money from the EU, in the medium term he would like to see food bank use decline through an increased minimum wage, less use of zero hour contracts and a youth job guarantee for young people.

A Conservative party spokesperson, said:

“We aren’t losing money – any funding the UK receives from the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived will be taken off our structural fund allocation.

“Instead we will use our structural funds to support local initiatives to train and support disadvantaged people into work. We have not yet decided how the €3.5m euro pot (£2.9m) will be spent – food aid is just one of the options for spending the money.”

> So nothing will happen this side of the General Election. Probably not after it, either.

In 2013, British MEPs alongside two other member states formed a blocking minority which meant the initial European-wide fund was spilt into two, with one fund for ‘material assistance’, which would have seen the UK receiving food and items like sleeping bags directly, and another for ‘immaterial assistance’ which could go towards the budgets of social programmes.

Britain chose to draw down only on the second fund ‘immaterial assistance’, and while it accepted a share of £2.9m – the same as the smallest EU member Malta with a population of just 450,000 – neighbouring country France accepted has taken its full €443m allowance.

The letter to Mr Cameron written by the pair, said:

“We feel now is the time to remove your opposition to support for food banks.

“We understand your opposition to the European Union but the fact is that the money is available and should be used as there is clear and desperate need. It is wrong to block support for the most vulnerable people for ideological reasons.

“You have claimed that support for food banks should be a national decision, yet the decision of your government is to not support food banks at all. We do not believe that is right.”

The Government announced in October that it plans to use some of the UK share of the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived to provide additional support for school breakfast clubs in England. Under the plans, which will be led by the Department for Education, this money would be allocated to schools with particularly high rates of disadvantage, as measured by free-school meal eligibility. This still needs to be agreed by the EU Commission.

Figures from by the Trussell Trust, which runs foodbanks, show that between April and September 2014, over 25,000 people were helped by the charity’s Gateshead, Newcastle East and Newcastle West End food banks alone.

That breaks down to 4,289 a month – more than treble the 1,316 people per month in Newcastle and Gateshead who accessed a foodbank in the nine month period between April 2013 and December 2013.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 22 Jan 2015

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