Hunger is sweeping the region and the austerity-driven Government is relying too heavily on volunteers to help – that was the message food poverty investigators heard yesterday.
Members of the all-party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger and Food Poverty were at the centre of a packed room at South Shields’ St Jude’s Parish Hall to find out why there is a rising tide of foodbank use here.
The touring inquiry, which meets with policy-makers in London next, heard how foodbank use has tripled since 2008 in some areas. Calls are now ringing out for the Coalition to act.
> They have acted. The state we’re in now is exactly what they wanted. It must be – they surely couldn’t be so stupid as to think that austerity and cuts would result in anything else.
Could they ? I don’t know which I’d find worse – malevolent intent or incredible ignorance on that scale.
Bishop Mark Bryant, the Bishop of Jarrow, has been campaigning on the issue. When asked if the church is being asked to step in where the welfare state previously had, he said: “That is undoubtedly true.
“Even with the welfare state it is good that, as a society, we do things that enable us to care for each other, but it is certainly true that the church and other men and women of goodwill are picking up things that we never thought would be necessary two or three years ago.”
The Reverend Roy Merrin, of Grange Road Baptist Church in Jarrow, said: “Politicians themselves need to recognise their responsibility and not look to the voluntary sector for sticking plasters for what are structural problems in our society.”
Peter MacLellan, director of the Trussell Trust’s County Durham Foodbank, said: “I think it is a scandal. I’m encouraged by people’s generosity but of course we should not have to do this.
“I think there will always be a need for foodbanks but the scale we have them on at the moment is nonsense.”
Jean Burnside, chief officer for South Tyneside Churches’ Key Project, said it gave out 26 food parcels in 2008, but last year was called on for 339 and so far this year had given out 222 packs.
“There has been a massive increase,” she said. “There is a variety of reasons for that, including the Bedroom Tax, benefit sanctions and high unemployment.
“I want these politicians to know what it is like here in the North East.
“The Government needs to know that the system isn’t working. There have been so many cuts and the people at the Department for Work and Pensions can’t provide advice for us so what chance do our clients have? Something needs to change.”
Veteran Merseyside MP Frank Field is leading on the inquiry and will now hold a series of meetings in London on food poverty across the UK now.
He said he had been shocked by the scale of the problem in the North East, also describing it as a “scandal”.
“The economy needs to be run differently and we need more jobs at the bottom and the people to do them,” he said.
“We are hearing about low wages, benefit delays and benefit sanctions and some people not getting their benefits at all.
“People don’t want this to be a long-term solution, they say they don’t want foodbanks to exist.”
> Frank Field – why do I not trust the bugger ? A member of the advisory board of the free-market think tank Reform, and of the generally conservative but also pro-freedom of speech magazine Standpoint.
In May 2008, he said that Margaret Thatcher “is certainly a hero” and that “I still see Mrs T from time to time – I always call her ‘Mrs T‘, when I talk to her.“
Although there have been attempts to get him to defect to the Conservatives, they have been without success (possibly he thinks Labour is moving to the right anyway, so why bother).
In 2008, Frank Field was named as the 100th most-influential right-winger in the United Kingdom by the Telegraph.
Field supports the return of national service to tackle growing unemployment and instil “a sense of order and patriotism” in Britain’s young men and women.
Field is a practising Anglican, a former chairman of the Churches Conservation Trust, and a member of the Church of England General Synod.
Field believes in reducing the time-limit with which women can have an abortion,and in stripping abortion providers such as Marie Stopes of their counselling role and handing it to organisations not linked to abortion clinics.
Oh yeah – I remember now why I don’t trust the bugger.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 04 July 2014
Benefit changes are driving jobless people in South Tyneside to the brink of suicide, Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn has warned.
Mr Hepburn revealed he had recently met two people contemplating suicide within a few days of each other.
One of them, a man, had just been discharged from hospital after swallowing 60 tablets in an attempt to kill himself.
The other, a woman, told him she thought daily about taking her own life because of her struggles with benefits.
That led to Mr Hepburn alerting several agencies and asking them to keep an eye on the woman.
His stark warning comes as one South Tyneside clergyman reports on a drastic rise in the number of food parcels being distributed in the borough.
Mr Hepburn claims recent legislation, such as the Bedroom Tax and other benefit changes, are driving people to despair.
He said: “I have never known such a terrible time for people on benefits. It seems worse than the Thatcher years.
“I met this man and woman within a few days of each other, and both were contemplating suicide because of problems with their benefits.
“A woman told me she was thinking of taking her own life, and just two days later, I met a man who was just out of hospital after taking 60 tablets while in a state of despair.
“Basically, people right at the bottom, who cannot get a job and are on benefits, are getting hammered.
“Both these people want to work, but there’s little or nothing on offer in the local jobcentre.”
Mr Hepburn added: “People are dealing with the bedroom tax or are disabled and are being told they have to work or are coping with some of the many other benefit changes introduced by this Tory-led Government.
“I have never known it so bad that I have had to meet two people talking about committing suicide inside one week.
“It feels like we are going backwards to the days of the Poor Laws.”
> I think the planned destination is even further back – a return to feudalism, no less.
Mr Hepburn has asked the relevant agencies to help the two constituents he met over the last week.
The Reverend Roy Merrin, of Grange Road Baptist Church in Jarrow, also believes that some people on benefits are under “extreme pressure”.
He said organisers of the food bank run by Churches Together in South Tyneside have recently noticed a significant rise in demand.
Mr Merrin said: “Throughout last year as a whole, a total of 534 food parcels were distributed in South Tyneside, but a total of 320 parcels have already been given out in just the first four months of this year.
“If those figures are translated throughout the rest of the year, the demand is going to be significantly higher.
“These are proven statistics, and there is pressure on some people, partly because of changes to the benefits system.
“I know from people coming to the church that they are experiencing difficulties because of the tightening-up of benefit regulations.”
Source – Shields Gazette 09 May 2014