Monday, 16 December 2013

Why are there Food Banks in Elmbridge?

On Friday, I joined Hugh Bryant (from the Cobham Methodist Church), local sponsors and volunteers to launch a new food bank in Cobham. It is our third in Elmbridge. But, why, in such an affluent borough, has demand for food banks risen?

The first thing to say is that, although average wealth in Elmbridge is high, it’s not true for everyone, everywhere. For too long, the last Labour government manipulated the Whitehall funding formula in ways that neglected pockets of real need in Elmbridge.

Still, demand for food banks is rising locally and nationally. One relevant reason is that the coalition removed the bar on job centres referring people to food banks. Referrals predictably rose. Beyond that change, we have seen a steady rise in reliance on food banks since the 2008 recession. 

The Trussell Trust, a national charity that supports local food banks, states there are two main causes. First, rising global food prices. The special interests and protectionism that led to the collapse of the World Trade Organisation Doha round of talks played a major part. Agricultural protectionism hurts the poorest countries the most, and hikes food bills for people in the UK, by an estimated average of £400 per family per year. The European Union remains one of the most protectionist trade blocs. I have long called for reform.

Second, the Trussell Trust also points to changes in household income. Benefits changes have made a difference, mainly because they can risk a temporary gap in welfare payments, where claimants aren’t familiar with new rules. Government needs to get information out more clearly on this.

More broadly, low paid homes are feeling the pinch. The government is taking a range of measures to ease the struggle. As a result, many factors have got better since 2010. There are more jobs, lower inflation (which eats away at disposable income), more affordable homes (albeit still not enough), and greater prospects of economic growth in the years ahead. Critically, household debt is down 9% since 2009. And we are taking two million of the lowest paid out of income tax altogether.

That’s all important progress, but we’ve still got a long way to go to get the UK economy out of the woods, and ease the pressure on the cost of living. In the meantime, I pay tribute to the inspirational civic spirit that is getting behind our local food banks in Elmbridge. 

Dom joins local volunteers, Nicki, Martine and Maria
for the launch of the Cobham Food Bank


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