The Bishop of Croydon has weighed in to the debate about the Government’s welfare reforms and the growing number of people using foodbanks to help feed their families, saying:
“In Croydon...we are seeing the catastrophic effect that benefit changes are having on ordinary people’s lives. It’s very encouraging to see the generosity and hard work of those who are helping to meet immediate need, especially through the growth of food banks, but we also need to challenge the policies which lead to the need for food banks in the first place.”
Amen to that. But what are the policies which lead to the need for food banks in the first place?
Bishop Jonathan clearly feels it’s all the fault of the Government’s welfare reforms, but the evidence suggests that it’s a lot more complicated than that. The Trussell Trust, which runs many of the foodbanks in this country, says that 19% of those who use their foodbanks do so because of changes to their benefits (and in many of those cases the change is that their benefit has been withdrawn eg because they have been judged not to be actively searching for work rather than a result of changes in Government policy).
The use of foodbanks has been growing for over ten years under both Labour and Conservative Government, in good times and tough times. Compared with 2009, the last year of the last Labour Government, there are 1 million fewer people in relative poverty, 1.3 million more people in work and 150,000 fewer people unemployed, but foodbank use has increased. Why?
Well partly because there are many more foodbanks for people to use, partly because in the aftermath of the great recession we went through under the last Government wages haven’t kept pace with prices and partly because this Government has had to take some tough decisions to try to get this country back into the black.
The fundamental problem is that many people can’t that pays well enough to support their family. The answer is to create more jobs; improve our education system so that people leave school, college or university with better skills and can therefore command higher wages; increase the minimum wage; take less money away from the low paid in income tax; and help families struggling with the cost of living - all things this Government is doing.
As a Conservative I passionately believe in our welfare state. I want to live in a country where if you lose your job, get sick, are injured or are born with a condition which means you will never be able to work, there is a safety net to protect you. But as a Conservative I also believe the welfare state must be affordable and it must be fair to those who are paying for it as well as those who depend on it. And like Bishop Jonathan I believe that our obligation to those less well-off than ourselves is not just discharged by paying taxes - that we all have a duty to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves.
This article first appeared in the Croydon Advertiser on Friday