Commons debate hears of need to give more support to foodbanks

The Foodbank collection box for donations at Archant's reception. Picture: Denise Bradley

The Foodbank collection box for donations at Archant's reception. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: copyright: Archant 2013

Foodbanks in Norfolk should be able to claim European aid to help feed the hungry this Christmas, Labour has said amid claims a new fund is being 'boycotted' by the government.

Charities such as the Trussell Trust, which is behind Britain's foodbanks, could benefit from a new 'European Aid to the Most Deprived' Fund, but the government wants to spend its European Union cash allocation on training and support to get people into work instead.

The call by an East of England MEP came as the House of Commons debated foodbanks yesterday with shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle claiming that the number of people relying on food aid was a damning indictment of this fovernment's record.

She claimed that since April more than 500,000 people have relied on assistance from the 400 food banks run by the Trussell Trust charity, double the number of food banks compared to this time last year.

The Eastern Daily Press and Norwich Evening News has teamed up with foodbanks across Norfolk, Waveney and Fenland and we are asking our readers to donate food from a shopping list, which will support the charity's vital work to make sure no one has to go hungry, this Christmas or beyond.

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Last December, our foodbanks fed more than 1,000 people – including hundreds of children – and demand this year is expected to drive that figure far higher.

British officials in Brussels said that the UK did not want to use money from the new £2.5bn fund to be used to help with the costs of running food banks on the grounds that individual member states are best placed to take charge of such funding.

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A DWP spokesperson said: 'We are not saying no to this money but we are saying no to Europe about how it should be spent.

'If we accepted the funding it would be taken off our structural fund budget which helps disadvantaged people into work.

'This is how similar funding has been used in the past - for employment skills and social inclusion. Just to be clear we aren't losing money'.

But Labour MEP Richard Howitt, who helped negotiate the fund as a member of the European parliament's employment and social affairs Committee, said: 'It is very sad that our government is opposing this much-needed help for foodbanks on the basis that it is a national responsibility, when in reality it has no intention of providing the help itself.

'The only conclusion is that Conservative anti-European ideology is being put before the needs of the most destitute and deprived in our society.

'Today's debate should be used to shame a Government which is taking food out of the mouths of the hungry in to a u-turn in time for Christmas.'

Grant Habershon, project manager at Norwich Foodbank, said: 'The increasing use of foodbanks in our country must be a wake-up call to the nation. They show that rising living costs coupled with stagnant wages and benefits are forcing more people to live on a financial knife edge, where any change in circumstance can plunge them into poverty. One single mum said to me recently 'Thank God I live in a city that has a foodbank.' This was a reminder that many people in the UK are in towns and cities that do not have foodbanks where care agencies can refer local people to in a crisis. My plea is that politicians of all parties do not look to point fingers but look to find solutions.'

Jess Asato, Labour's Parliamentary Candidate for Norwich North, said: 'It is only The Labour Party coming up with the policies which will reduce the need for people to visit Foodbanks. We are doing this by increasing people's take home pay and job security and reducing their household bills. The Tories simply see Foodbanks as a way to pass the cost from the state to the charitable sector.

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