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Government Ministers are in Denial About Food Poverty

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As Christmas approaches, we face the scandal of hundreds of thousands of families who've been forced to rely on foodbanks because they can't afford to eat. The Trussell Trust expects that it will have fed some nearly 230,000 people in 2012-13. Food redistributed by charity FareShare last year contributed to more than 8.6 million meals, and fed 36,500 people every day.

The growth in the need for foodbanks has been truly dramatic. Local communities are noticing the scale of hardship, and doing what they can to alleviate the situation. Just last weekend I visited the Faizan e Islam centre in my own constituency, where members of the mosque are
arranging to feed their hungry neighbours on Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

But while I applaud the efforts of the charities, community groups and volunteers who are working to feed the hungry, it is a disgrace that in the seventh richest economy in the world, people are forced to rely on charity to feed themselves and their families. I can only imagine
how hard I would find it to have to go and ask for food.

Government Ministers are in denial however that the problem is anything to do with them. In a debate organised last week by my colleague Luciana Berger MP, the Minister of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, David Heath, blamed rising prices, and said he'd press supermarkets (not government colleagues, note) to take action, while admitting that the problem was that people simply didn't have enough money to buy food. Yet his government's policies will squeeze the incomes of low-paid working families, the sick, disabled and unemployed. Delays in payment of benefits that people are entitled to exacerbate the problem.

The other day, I talked to a constituent who had a stroke and is on benefit. After paying all his bills, he's left with just £12 a week - less than £2 a day - to spend on food. I know I couldn't manage on that. In the new year, thanks to the government's so called welfare "reforms", his housing benefit will be reduced - by £12 a week. He will have nothing at all left to pay for food.

That is the reality of the government's policies, and the reality of food poverty today. It isn't that people are profligate. It isn't that they don't know how to budget, or can't be bothered to cook. The problem is quite simple: they lack the means to eat healthily. Foodbanks respond to the problem, but surely the better answer is to concentrate on preventing this happening in the first place.

Instead, on the last day before the Christmas recess, the government presented its bill to uprate many working age benefits by less than the rate of inflation. What a miserable Christmas present for thousands of families struggling on the breadline. Far from addressing the root causes of food poverty, the government's latest proposals will make a truly shameful situation even worse.