The APPG on food poverty and hunger's seminal report goes beyond anything that's been done before on the problem of hunger in Britain. This powerful cross-party document validates what the voluntary sector has been saying for a long time about the distressing reality of hunger in the UK, and it turns the spotlight on the specific problems that need addressing.
This important report could be a landmark document, but this depends on how we all respond. The report contains a host of well thought through recommendations. If acted on by all the key players, they would make a massive dent in the problem of hunger that haunts our society and blights the lives of many, many of our poorest citizens.
This document could turn the tide on a challenging problem which the Trussell Trust has been drawing attention to for over seven years, since first embarking on our Hidden Hunger awareness campaign.
But it does all depend.
First, a wide group of stakeholders have to decide "do we accept the narrative?" And the narrative is a challenging one. The Inquiry confirms that Hunger in Britain really is a problem: people calling for action on hunger have not been scaremongering.
The Inquiry makes it clear that they think it is no good picking and choosing what to tackle. The Trussell Trust would agree: that's precisely how to hollow out the potential and impact of the Inquiry and leave most of the causes of the problem untouched.
Next, the greatest difference will be made when the people responsible enthusiastically adopt the seventy recommendations that follow the first seven about Feeding Britain. Without wholehearted action, the goals set for the Feeding Britain network will be rendered impossible to achieve.
The overall volume of people needing help has to be reduced. That requires the broad-based action the Inquiry calls for. The report sums this point up perfectly: "We believe the establishment of Feeding Britain, alongside a higher National Minimum Wage and a fairer and more reliable benefits system, can help to rebuild our national minimum to ensure we live in a 'Zero Hunger Britain'."
We need to see all three issues addressed simultaneously and we fear an overemphasis on the new network 'Feeding Britain' could lead to other stakeholders missing the point that their contribution is just as essential to solving the problem of hunger in the UK.
We welcome the fact that this report has an APPG behind it which will be able to regularly review progress in the implementation of the recommendations over the years and the governments to come, creating an added element of accountability.
In our experience, the sustained and positive response of local communities to the foodbank movement's call to action has been remarkable and is immensely heartening. Quoting the Inquiry again: 'It is at this local level that we have experienced the most crucial aspect of a vibrant voluntary movement; the free giving of care and affection to fellow citizens who finds themselves in the most difficult and demanding circumstances. If there were a medal for exercising human compassion we would seek that it be awarded collectively to the volunteers of the food bank movement.'
The Inquiry also notes that churches, many of whom run foodbanks, have played a central role in the practical, local action right across the country: 'In a country where the church is seen as being in long-term decline, it is the churches through their membership who have brought forward this most extraordinary voluntary welfare development.'
How do we at the Trussell Trust feel?
The Trussell Trust called for an inquiry in 2013. We are delighted that the All Party Group for Poverty and Hunger, with the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, picked up the baton when others would not. 'Feeding Britain' is a landmark document and stands out from everything that has gone before in its insistence that the causes of hunger in the UK are considered from every relevant angle and that the inter-connectedness of the issues, the principal actors and the range of necessary remedies are now fully acknowledged.
We commend the proposal that a new national network called 'Feeding Britain' should be created. It will be necessary. We fully agree with the APPG's conclusion that the network should be led from the voluntary sector, but of course the capacity of the voluntary sector to deliver such a challenging vision has its limits.
We believe there is a need for the Inquiry to emphasise the importance of the public sector co-operating in the regional 'Feeding Britain' networks. The public sector has to co-operate with equal commitment, or the aspiration in Feeding Britain will not work. Public services are integral to resolving the underlying issues that foodbank clients face. The public sector cannot stand on the sidelines to see how the rest of us do and critique us when we find it difficult to achieve the goals.
We are glad to see the resourcing implications of Feeding Britain acknowledged and think tapping in to EU Structural Funds has practical merit.
We wholeheartedly support, and are already implementing, the call for a 'foodbank plus' model; over 90 percent of Trussell Trust foodbanks currently provide additional services alongside food. The Trussell Trust has a 'More than Food' approach to foodbanks, and we are currently piloting having financial advisers in our foodbanks across the UK, with the very generous support of Martin Lewis, the Money Saving Expert. We expect this model to be fully launched in the UK in the second half of 2015.
The Trussell Trust is keen to engage fully with 'Feeding Britain'. With over 400 Trussell Trust foodbanks operating 1,200 foodbank centres distributed across the UK, we have both the presence and the experience to make a significant contribution and that's what we stand ready to do.
Chris Mould is chairman of The Trussell TrustSuggest a correction