UK Churches speak out with Archbishop Justin Welby as they respond to hunger in Britain

23 December 2014

The report revealed that 4 million people in the UK were at risk of going hungry, while 3.5 million adults could not afford to feed themselves properly. In response, 272 food banks have been set up across across the UK, many operated by local churches and based in church premises.

According to the report, Britain has experienced the highest rate of food inflation in the world, rising 47% since 2003, compared with 30.4% in the United States, 22.1% in Germany and 16.7% in France.

The report commented: “We believe it is indefensible that huge numbers of people are going hungry in a country which wastes such vast quantities of food that is fit for consumption,”

You can read the full report here.

Speaking at the launch of the report the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said:

“If we want to understand what is driving people to the point where they will put up with the shame of having to ask for help from a food bank (and people usually arrive with an unjustified sense of shame); if we want to find the practical solutions that will substantially reduce the numbers of people needing to do so; then the only way we can do this is by a collective effort, drawing on the wisdom of politicians from every political background, of food banks, charities and non-profits working in the sector, of retailers and of Government departments … Party-political approaches will not work for an issue like this, which has complex roots, and which affects our most basic needs as human beings. Everyone needs to eat.”

Archbishop Justin has also written about the reality of the impact of hunger on families and how the churches are providing assistance:

“In England, I was talking to some people – a mum, dad and one child – in a food bank. They were ashamed to be there. The dad talked miserably. He said they had each been skipping a day’s meals once a week in order to have more for the child… So they had to come to a food bank.  They were treated with respect, love even, by the volunteers from local churches. But they were hungry, and ashamed to be hungry.”

The inquiry on Hunger and Food Poverty was co-chaired by the Bishop of Truro, Tim Thornton, who spoke on BBC Radio Four’s ‘Week in Westminster’ programme, and outlined how the Feeding Britain Network will move forward with the report’s recommendations by working with businesses, industry and the voluntary sector.

Responding to the challenge that the churches should not involve themselves in political debate on contentious subjects, the Bishop said, “Politics is about getting things done and I certainly want to see things done in this country. I don’t myself understand this notion that as somebody who’s a Christian I wouldn’t want to get involved in politics.”

 In Autumn 2015 the Anglican Alliance will be convening a regional consultation for Europe to address issues of poverty, social exclusion and inequality in Europe, with hunger being one of the key issues for the churches to mobilise a response in their communities.

Churches around the UK are already heavily involved in community initiatives to respond to hunger, with projects such as food banks, “pay what you feel” cafes and food cooperatives. Here are a few examples:

Bangor Cathedral, from the Church in Wales, has established a food bank, which gives packs of food to those families and individuals whose needs have been assessed by a professional organisation and referred to the Cathedral Foodbank.

The Church in Wales provided written evidence for the Feeding Britain report and reported that Flintshire Foodbank, which opened in May 2012, has provided food and support for over 8,500 needy people since opening; more than 5% of Flintshire’s total population.

A food cooperative has also been set up by St Catherine’s Church in Caerphilly, in the Diocese of Llandaff. 

There is a growing movement of social cafes, which feed their customers on food that would otherwise have been thrown away by supermarkets and other retailers, perhaps because the food is imperfect, e.g. broken biscuits or vegetables that have a defect in appearance but are perfectly fit for consumption. This movement is calling for a change in the UK law to prevent good food being thrown away while people go hungry.

One such cafe has, in just 10 months, fed 10,000 people on 20 tonnes of unwanted food, raising over £30,000, while people “pay as they feel”.

A new “pay as you feel” cafe has opened in West Yorkshire, coordinated by the local church. It hopes that it will also strengthen the community, gathered around the free ‘pay as you feel’ cafe.

Andy McNab, who runs the cafe as local outreach coordinator for St Peter’s Church in Shipley, said: “We want to debunk some of the stereotypes about the people who use food banks. The reality is anybody can end up using one.”

Food security is a priority global theme for the Anglican Alliance. The crisis of hunger manifests in different ways around the world – in some places with critically severe food shortages, often linked to climate change. 

In the coming year the Alliance will continue to share learning from Anglican churches and agencies around the Communion, as they respond to the issues of hunger and on-going food insecurity in their own contexts. The Alliance will also continue to highlight the issue through advocacy initiatives, often linked to its campaign work on climate change and social inequality.

In the picture: Archbishop Justin Welby visits a food bank in Britain.
Picture credit: Anglican Communion News Service