End the ‘scandal’ of the need for food banks, General Synod hears

08/07/2024

Public policy needs to address the ‘root causes’ of rising levels of poverty, the General Synod heard today, in a debate where members voted to express concern over increasing levels of dependence on food banks.
A synod member makes a speech Sam Atkins / Church of England

Synod members noted the ‘major contribution’ to social welfare being made by churches and others in the provision of food banks, but said some organisations providing emergency food aid were being driven to ‘breaking point’ by demand.

Members welcomed help that was provided under the previous Government to less well-off households but noted that this had not solved dependence which is being driven by ‘serious inadequacies’ in the social security system.

The Synod voted to back a call for the Church of England bishops to press the Government for a review of the adequacy of social security provision and consider the feasibility of introducing an 'Essentials Guarantee.'

The Guarantee would tie the rate of benefits to the cost of essentials, measured annually through an independent process.

The Synod voted further to urge the bishops and in particular those in the House of Lords to engage with the Government and “strongly encourage” the Government to do “everything possible” to bring about an immediate end to the two child benefit limit.

Introducing the debate, on the Sheffield Diocesan Synod motion, Ven Malcolm Chamberlain, from the Diocese of Sheffield, told the Synod that the need for food banks was “nothing short of a scandal”.

He quoted figures from the Trussell Trust charity that their food banks had distributed more than 3.1 million emergency food parcels during the year ending in March.

This was the biggest number of parcels ever distributed in a single year, he said, and nearly double the number distributed five years ago. More than a million of these were to households with children, he added.

He said The Children’s Society expects the number of children living in poverty in the UK to reach five million this year.

“Foodbanks are an essential provision, but the Trussell Trust and others agree that they and other social initiatives are not a satisfactory way of tackling the underlying problem of poverty in our society,” he said.

“Public policy needs to go further upstream to address the root causes.”

He added: “Poverty is causing too much suffering and damage for us to simply accept it as an unavoidable inevitability.

“Despite the financial challenges, we are not a poor nation incapable of caring for our most vulnerable citizens.”

The debate heard several speakers from across the country giving examples of churches providing help to people struggling to cover basic costs.

The Rev Claire McArthur, from the Diocese of Coventry, described the need in the poorest areas of the diocese and spoke of the extent of the support provided by churches to destitute people and struggling families.

“It is heart-breaking that families are struggling,” she said.

“As churches we build relationships with the families and thankfully they are reaching out for help when their own support networks have been exhausted.

“Through our pastoral care and frontline ministry and importantly trust, our local churches are stepping in, but we have limited resources and capacity. Something needs to change.”

The Rev Mae Christie, from the Diocese of Southwark, said: “How can we live in a modern society where children regularly go to bed without food in their bellies where parents have to seek support to buy nappies and baby wipes?

“As Christians we believe that all children bear the image of God and are a gift from God. It is our responsibility then as adults to encourage their flourishing and care for them.”

The wording of the Sheffield Diocesan Synod on food banks and inadequacies in social security is as follows:

That this Synod, mindful that the fourth Mark of Mission of the Anglican Communion is to “transform unjust structures of society”:

  1. note the major contribution to social welfare being made by the churches and others in the provision of food banks
  2. note with concern that levels of dependence on food banks have been increasing and that inflation is making the situation even worse
  3. note further that 2/3 of those who use food banks have disabilities or long-term health conditions who find it nearly impossible to navigate the benefits system and be supported adequately, and so applaud the incredible ministry and example of these churches and others who tirelessly run food banks, whilst lamenting and acknowledging the incredible personal and financial cost to this, which is driving some organisations to breaking point.
  4. believe that this dependence reflects serious inadequacies in the social security system
  5. note that the Trussell Trust has said: 'we stand on the edge of a precipice with a clear decision to make: either we accept food banks as a 'new normal' or we work to create a more dignified, compassionate and humane society where everyone has enough money for essentials'
  6. welcome the Chancellor’s intervention to help the least well-off households with their energy bills but note this will not remove the problem of increased dependency on foodbanks
  7. call on the House of Bishops to urgently engage with HM Government, in particular the Secretary of State, to press it to review the adequacy of current social security provision and consider the feasibility of introducing an Essentials Guarantee.
  8. Believing that all children are a gift from God and bear the image of Christ, urge the House of Bishops and in particular the Lords Spiritual, to use every opportunity available to them to engage with the new Government and strongly encourage them to do everything possible to bring about an immediate end to the two child benefit limit, which disadvantages families and forces large numbers of children into the use of food banks or to otherwise go hungry.

The General Synod voted 274 in favour; against 1 and 0 abstentions.

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