UK

Tory MEPs Accused Of 'Taking Food From The Mouths Of Children' In Food Banks Row

25/02/2014 16:25 GMT | Updated 25/02/2014 16:59 GMT

Ministers have been accused of "taking food from the mouths of children" after blocking millions of pounds of European funding agreed today for British food banks.

Cash to help people suffering extreme poverty across the EU was backed in a vote at the European Parliament but the Government said food aid was better decided nationally rather than by Brussels.

food banks

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) insisted that taking the funding would mean other schemes missed out and stressed that Britain was not losing the cash.

But Labour's Richard Howitt, who became involved in negotiating the fund after calls for help from the Trussell Trust charity, said the block would mean British food banks would lose out on £3 million from funds allocated to the UK.

The MEP said: "It defies belief that the Conservative-led Government has sought to block a fund for the most deprived, that their MEPs have voted against it today and even after it is agreed that they will still prevent Britain's food banks from claiming from it.

"By taking the cash for other 'immaterial' projects, the Government is only demonstrating how immaterial it is to meeting true need in the country.

"For the Government to oppose the EU fund saying it is their own job to provide help but equally refusing to do so, is sheer hypocrisy."

Between April and December last year more than 500,000 people, of which one third were children, received emergency supplies from the 400 food banks run by the Trussell Trust.

Mr Howitt added: "I know from personally visiting food banks and from working with the Trussell Trust that volunteers, largely from churches, are giving their time freely irrespective of politics to meet desperate need, and I call on the Government to do the same by allowing this fund to be claimed for food aid in Britain.

"The cost of this Government's anti-European ideology, coupled with its bitterly felt cost of living crisis, is literally taking food from the mouths of children."

A DWP spokesman they are not saying no to the money but, rather, "no to Europe about how it should be spent."

"If we accepted the funding it would be taken off our structural fund budget which helps disadvantaged people into work," the spokesman added.

"This is how similar funding has been used in the past - for employment skills and social inclusion.

"Just to be clear we aren't losing money."

Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokesman said the issue is whether the UK should be in charge of the funds that are spent in the UK.

"This Government believes that it should be, and that it should not be the European Commission and other European institutions that tell us how to spend funds spent in the UK."

The spokesman denied that Britain would lose out as a result of the decision, saying that the money for foodbanks would have been funded from reductions in the UK's share of EU structural funds.