Impoverished UK families missing out on Christmas meals, bishop warns

Food bank volunteers Janette Pasquali, top, and Diana Grant sort cans of food at a food bank in Bromley, south London, Tuesday, October 15, 2013.


There has been a shift in the people suffering from food poverty in Britain today from the homeless to people in work, the Bishop of Derby has warned.

The Right Reverend Alastair Redfern was speaking in a debate in the House of Lords about the cost of living, tabled by Baroness Prosser.

The bishop warned that many families were struggling to cope with rising living costs and that the people needing emergency food handouts were no longer the "normal suspects".

He noted that the city of Derby had seen a hundred per cent increase in the number of people using food banks.

"The shift has moved away from the normal suspects, who are, tragically, homeless people, towards families who are housed, but whose incomes are so low that they cannot feed themselves seven days a week," he said.

"The increased demand has been seen among occasional users who pitch up several times a week in order to secure a proper meal for the family that day."

One solution to food poverty, he suggested, was to cut down on food waste by redirecting some of the excess food to organisations that could use it to supplement families with stretched budgets.

With the festive season just around the corner, the bishop warned that some families did not have enough money to buy any treats or celebrate the occasion with the traditional Christmas dinner.

"People do not have the wherewithal even to celebrate Christmas in the way most of us would take for granted. There is a real issue here," he said.

He commended churches for stepping in to help people struggling to make ends meet.

St Peter's in Derby, for example, is running a "Christmas Lunch on Jesus" initiative, which is bringing together around 400 volunteers to send a meal out on Christmas Day.

The bishop told how last year the meals were sent to 1,500 families and that this year the project is budgeting for 2,000 families.

However, the bishop admitted that churches and the voluntary sector were "struggling" to cope with the increased number of people needing their help.

He said a more systematic approach was needed to support the provision and security of work.

"It is not just about getting a living wage," he said.

"The experience of trying to be in work is insecure for many people. It is not untypical to tip out of work, get into debt because of having been living at a certain pace, and to run out of food. Churches and other groups try to pick these people up again.

"The problem, however, is that churches and the volunteer sector are struggling with the increased number of people in this situation and finding it harder to make that kind of generous response.

"When we talk about work and a living wage, we have to remember how insecure that is for so many people. Whatever the system is that underlies it, an enormous amount of energy and good will is required of volunteers to help people to cope."