Jessica Morden

Labour MP for Newport East

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Speech in Food Bank Debate

Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): I was e-mailed last Friday by a woman in my constituency who asked me to attend this debate. She said:

I would ask if you could attend to represent the poverty and daily struggle that can be found in our area. I am writing as a former user myself of the food bank which at the time was a life-saver for me. At the beginning of this year, the DWP sanctioned me for six months due to an administrative error, which I did not ever receive a written apology for. I had to live on £27 a week for six months until my support worker found out and helped to get me back on my feet. I am not a waster or a shirker but having to receive food parcels because you have nothing in your cupboards is embarrassing for anyone. I also know people who work as hard as they can but because of low wages can’t manage.”

 

That was powerfully put. If the Minister listens to nothing else today, I hope she listened to that.

It is fair to point out that food banks are not new in this country. When I was elected, there were two in Newport—the Ravenhouse Trust and the King’s Church—and they did an amazing job.

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. Is she slightly shocked, as I am, that there is not a single DWP or DEFRA Minister now sitting on the Front Bench?

Jessica Morden: I thank my hon. Friend for that valuable intervention, which speaks volumes.

The difference is that, back then, when I first went to meet volunteers packing food hampers, the number of people receiving them was much smaller. Predominantly, in that dispersal area, the people receiving them were asylum seekers, people with drug and alcohol problems and homeless people. I am glad that the food banks were there, because those recipients were badly in need of our help. However, there are now four food banks operating around Newport; recently, we were joined by the Caldicot food bank and the Trussell Trust. That now has four satellite distribution centres. In Newport, there is a mixture of independent and Trussell Trust food banks. They all work together and they all say exactly the same thing: there has been a phenomenal increase in demand over the past year or two. They have seen a large number of working families on low incomes in need, and a marked increase in referrals from the DWP and jobcentre staff because of the bedroom tax, sanctions and other benefit changes.

Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire) (Lab): The food bank in Chesterfield that opened six months ago has reported that 50% of people presenting to the food bank are there because of benefit changes and benefit sanctions and because the DWP has really messed up. In what way is that not the responsibility of the DWP and the Government, who are actively forcing people into food banks?

Jessica Morden: My hon. Friend is right. I wish there were a DWP Minister present so that they could hear her point.

The depressing Wales-wide figures from the Trussell Trust show that, in 2010-11, it supported 4,070 individuals in Wales. This year, just from April to November, it has supported 44,756. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) said, it expects that figure to rise to 60,000 by the end of the financial year. Those figures are from the Trussell Trust and do not include figures from the independent food banks.

The unmistakeable message that I have been told time and again is that there has been an explosion of working people using food banks. Unemployment may be down, and I definitely welcome that, but the use of food banks by working people has dramatically increased, which should tell the Government something.

Whatever the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions says, the truth is that the proportion of people using food banks as a result of benefit changes is sharply increasing. The Government have shamefully—and it is shamefully—altered the form used by Jobcentre Plus staff when referring clients for food parcels by taking off the tick box that records that they are referring them because of benefit changes. No wonder the Secretary of State can play down the fact that benefit changes are driving the increase in demand—he has stopped his staff collecting the data that prove it.

I thank all those involved in food banks for the work they do in my constituency, not least our churches, which are also running night shelters, and the street pastors. They should be praised for the work that they do. I also thank King’s church in Newport, which partners with FareShare to reduce food waste and feed people at the same time, and businesses such as Newport Bus, which has been collecting for Ravenhouse this Christmas.

Mrs Moon: Does my hon. Friend also wish to thank those people who are donating to the food banks? Today, my office took a phone call from someone who said that they had won a food hamper in a raffle. They cannot eat that food knowing that people are starving, so they are taking the hamper to a food bank.

Jessica Morden: I thank my hon. Friend for her valuable contribution. We should thank those who give to food banks

 However raucous the debate and however characteristically chippy the Minister's response, it is worth reminding ourselves about the people behind the figures. Two young boys came into a Newport food bank recently with their social worker and asked whether they could have one packet of cereal and one packet of drinking chocolate as a treat. Sad stories, real lives.http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm131218/debtext/131218-0003.htm#13121855002594

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