Graphic: Call for action over hungry as report shows benefit changes force many to turn to foodbanks

Shoppers and staff at Tesco'’s Blue Boar Lane store donated about two van loads of food to Norwich f

Shoppers and staff at Tesco'’s Blue Boar Lane store donated about two van loads of food to Norwich foodbank. Robert Fleck took part in a two minute trolley dash and collected food to the value of £199.71 for the foodbank. - Credit: submitted

Benefit changes and delays, low wages and debt emerged as the main reasons people have been turning to foodbanks in the region, as church leaders and politicians set out how the Government, supermarkets and 'rip-off' utility companies could stem the rising number of people seeking help.

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David Cameron said there were 'elements' of the Feeding Britain report published yesterday that the Government would 'want to take forward' - but there was no immediate response to a plea from the Archbishop of Canterbury for £100,000 in state money to kick-start a new organisation designed to eliminate hunger in the UK by 2020.

Archbishop Justin Welby, who will be president of the new Feeding Britain group, said it was 'shocking' to see thousands of people in a wealthy country reduced to seeking food handouts, and told the launch meeting that its proposals to end hunger were 'eminently practical and not unreasonably expensive'.

Like foodbanks across the region, the Church of England-backed Feeding Britain report identified delays in welfare payments and sanctioning of claimants as key factors driving disadvantaged households to food banks. It also criticised supermarkets for destroying surplus food instead of donating it to charities and utility companies for charging premium rates to poorer customers.

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Minister for civil society Rob Wilson told the meeting that Government departments would 'be reflecting carefully on each of the recommendations made in the report' and would 'engage' with Feeding Britain as its takes its proposals forward.

In the financial year to date, Cromer & District Foodbank has issued three-day food parcels for 1,338 people. It said that 43pc of cases were due to benefit changes, with other reasons for people seeking help including their low wages (21pc) and debt (11pc), which was often as a result of people trying to manage on less than adequate incomes over a period of time before seeking help, and not due to irresponsible spending.

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Dave Pearson, project manager at the Mid Norfolk Foodbank, based in Dereham, said benefit delays is the main reason people have been using the service.

He said: 'I'd say about 60pc of our people coming here is as a result of benefit delays or sanctions. We also get people on low pay and zero hours contracts, where they don't know from one week to the next how much money they will be bringing in.

'Most people are quite responsible and realise they have to pay their bills first but that often leaves them with no money for food.'

Liz Townson, from Gorleston Baptist Church – which is among the three churches to make up Great Yarmouth's independent Foodbank - agreed that it was often problems with benefits often brought people to see them.

'If you have a change in circumstances they stop what you're getting to reassess you and that's where foodbanks come in,' she said. 'The benefit problems are huge and something they [government] can sort out very easily.'

Norwich Foodbanks also cited benefit delays and changes as the most frequent reason people sought help with 34pc highlighting delays and 14pc changes. It found that 21pc turned to them because of low wages, with just 9pc, citing debt problems.

Hannah Worsley, Norwich foodbank development manager, said: 'Our commitment to helping clients in crisis not only consists of giving nutritionally balanced food, but also signposting to other agencies who can offer support, such as Norwich City Council's Budgeting Advice and Money Advice teams. However our experience tells us that the vast majority of clients we see are able to budget because that's the only way to survive on a very limited income - something many people have never had to deal with.'

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