YOUR MP WRITES: Torfaen MP Paul Murphy
4:02pm Monday 23rd December 2013 in News
I took part in last Wednesday’s Parliamentary debate on food banks after visiting the Eastern Valley Foodbank in Pontypool. Speaking with the team of volunteers there, I saw at first hand the essential work they are doing helping feed and give hope to local people in need.
The statistics are staggering. The local demand is so great that the Eastern Valley Foodbank have opened 3 distribution centres to serve Blaenavon and Cwmbran as well as Pontypool. They are distributing over a tonne of food per week.
That story is replicated throughout Britain. Three new food banks are opening every week as demand explodes. In 2010/11, 4070 people in Wales were helped by food banks. This year, 60,000 will have had to seek help – an increase of over 1400%.
This dreadful increase in food poverty has a number of causes, including benefit cuts and the rising cost of living. Faced with such evidence, the Government needs to take action to address the cost of living crisis and rethink their ill-conceived benefit reforms. Instead, Tory MPs laughed and sneered during the debate as they heard stories of families going without food.
There are myths around food banks that need dispelling. Not everyone who uses food banks these days is out of work – many are hardworking people on lower incomes. But people can’t just walk in and get help on a whim – people in need are referred by agencies like the Council, Age Concern or the CAB. These are not people getting free food whilst ‘paying for Sky TV’, as one Welsh Tory MP put it – they are people struggling desperately to get by, with their children not getting enough to eat.
It shames our society that there is so much demand for this service in the year 2013. In the debate, I spoke about a little girl in Pontypool, who excitedly told a lady that she would have chocolate fingers for Christmas, but only because the food bank had given her family some. She would otherwise have had to go without even the smallest treats at Christmas.
But if food banks show the worst of our society, they also show the best of our communities. Local people have volunteered to help run the food bank in fantastic numbers. Churches, charities, offices, shops and individuals have donated food. The generosity of our people is impressive – in my own valley especially, the last time they did this in such great numbers was during the Miners’ Strike in the eighties. It is a great pity that they’ve had to do so again.
Finally, I’ve been reading the reports in The Argus about missing Newport man Ben Caplan, and my thoughts are with his family and everyone at The Argus at such a difficult time. I wish the Police and everyone involved in the search the best of luck, and will keep you all in my prayers this Christmas.
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