In the last month my team and I have referred about the same number of people to the foodbank for assistance as we did in the ten months before that.
Last week, I called in to say hello at Northfield's local Trussell Trust foodbank. Back in the Commons I always hear Government ministers talk about Britain's strong economy and how the number of people without a job is falling. And, yes, for a lot of people, things are feeling a better than they were a couple of years ago. But there is another side of the story, and you see it for yourself at the B30 Foodbank.
The sheer scale of the operation these days is both astonishing and impressive. The fact that it has to be so big, though, underlines that something is fundamentally wrong with the way Britain operates at the moment. My office is one of the local advice centres that is authorised to refer people to B30 foodbank for support. In the last month we have referred about the same number of people to the foodbank for assistance as we did in the ten months before that.
It's not that we have suddenly started throwing foodbank vouchers about. It's that the need continues to grow and the local MP's office is one of the places to which people turn for help when they don't know where else to turn.
There is a wide spectrum of people who are running out of the money they need to buy food, toilet rolls and other family essentials these days. Quite a few different reasons too. However, a common factor in so many cases is the way the tax benefits and tax credits systems operate. People facing sanctions; people moving from one benefit to another with delays in the meantime; people falling between one part of the benefit or tax credit system and another. And please don't think I am simply talking about people without jobs. A lot of people who turn for help to B30 and other foodbanks across the country are in work. It's just that they are on poverty pay.
It is a similar picture across the rest of the country too. Between April and September 2015 Trussell Trust foodbanks across the UK gave 506,369 three day emergency food supplies to people compared to 492,641 in the same period last year. And in December 2014 referrals to foodbanks were 53 per cent higher than the average across other months, with more than 130,000 three day food supplies being given to people in just one month. The charity fears this winter could be their busiest ever. There was a time when the term "social security" meant just that. However bad things got, the state would not leave you trying live on thin air. Those days have gone.
When I help with collections for local foodbanks, I am always touched by the generosity of local people around Northfield, often with those people who have least to give are those who proportionately giving the most. So I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to allthose who give and to all those who volunteer in foodbanks across the UK. Maybe the best thanks we, as politicians, could give, however, would be to reduce the need for foodbanks to play such a key role in Britain today. That will take action across a number of fronts.
Right now, though, I just want to highlight two key ones: First, to get the benefits system operating in a way that focusses on people - not just systems or targets. A second, but equally important area for action, is to tackle the scourge of low paid and insecure employment which blights the lives of so many. And part of that means by promoting the Living Wage - the real one that is, not the rebranded Minimum Wage which the Government invented this year.
Are you listening Mr Osborne?