Feeding the 500,000

by Jill Moody

AROUND 100 people from the Diocese and beyond packed into the St Clement’s Family Centre to take part in a conference on the future of foodbanks. It was organised by the Diocese of Oxford’s Social Responsibility Adviser, Alison Webster along with Niall Cooper from Church Action on Poverty. The invitation to the ‘Beyond Foodbanks’ conference had been sent out to various groups with an interest in food poverty.

A report by Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty (Walking the Breadline) estimates that 500,000 people in the UK are now reliant on food aid.

They heard a controversial message from Liz Dowler, a Professor of Food and Social Policy who told the group: ‘Food banks are not the way ahead for food poverty.’ She said they address some of the symptoms but not the cause and people turn to foodbanks when their income is too low or when state systems like benefits fail.

Sticking plaster solution

Another speaker was Mark Ward from the Trussell Trust, which itself has around 400 foodbanks across the country. He said they were a sticking plaster because systems that should have worked haven’t and added they would continue to be a sticking plaster for a certain part of the population because things like the welfare system will go wrong.

Delegates at the conference also heard from the Church of England’s National Rural Officer and Jane Benyon who runs a foodbank in Oxford. There was time for the group to talk about their own experiences and share ideas, including foodbanks being run alongside credit unions and offering free school meals to all primary children.

Throughout the day, which was attended by the Bishop of Oxford, there was a quote from the book of Proverbs on a banner behind the speakers which read: ‘If you oppress the poor, you insult their creator’. As one of the speakers talked of the campaign for a living wage, she warned: ‘People you are working with are being insulted on a daily basis.’

Speaking after the day Alison Webster said : “The response to this event has been phenomenal, and the level of engagement, commitment and passion demonstrated by the attendees has been both exciting and humbling.

“Members of the Christian community are playing their part alongside others in responding with compassion to those in desperate crisis situations.”

As the Door went to press the bishops of Oxford, Dorchester and Buckingham were signing up to join credit unions on International Credit Union Day.

Credit Unions are another way the Christians are being encouraged to tackle poverty by investing in, borrowing from and volunteering to help these viable alternatives to pay day loans.

 

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