by Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood
From an Assembly Short Debate: 9th November 2011
Images of people queuing at soup kitchens in the 1930s were long consigned to history.
Fast forward 80 years and they are back in their modern equivalent. Foodbanks feed the hungry, people who are unable to cope on limited incomes with rising food and energy prices.
Foodbanks have grown fast. Last year there were 10 foodbanks in Wales. There are now 16. Their expansion reflects growing demand.
The Welsh Government hopes to eradicate child poverty by 2020. How can this happen while so many people can’t afford to buy food? We know the situation is to get worse. A report published this week by Sheffield Hallam University says that we can expect to see 45,000 people ejected from the welfare system in Wales as a result of changes to the benefits system. This will hit people harder in the places where job prospects are severely limited.
The stories that the foodbank staff hear daily can be harrowing. I’ve heard of a mother only having enough money to feed their children so she would eat paper towels to stave off the pains of an empty stomach. One man walked 10 miles from Blaina to Ebbw Vale to collect his food parcel because he didn’t have enough money for the bus.
The foodbank network in Wales has to date been unable to attract any substantial funding from Government but was successful with an application to the Big Lottery Fund for £160,000 over three years. This will allow 24 more foodbanks to be opened.
Fuel poverty is also far too prevalent in Wales and more and more people have to choose between heating and eating. It is estimated 26% of households in Wales were in fuel poverty. People in Wales pay around 10% more for electricity. That combined with the poor quality of housing stock, the amount of homes that are off-network and the higher proportion of elderly and disabled people in our population means that fuel poverty is a great problem.
I’ve yet to hear from the Government how they intend to prevent growing numbers of people falling into fuel or food poverty as the economy worsens.
Food and fuel are basic necessities which no-one should be without. Government intervention should ensure this basic minimum.
Foodbanks are here to stay for at least the time being so consideration should be given to what could help to make them self-sufficient. Could the Welsh Government support the transition from a charity to a social enterprise for example? Are there ways they could be supported financially?
Poverty can be felt more acutely in the more isolated parts of Wales because of its distance from urban areas where there tends to be more services. If the Government could agree to match fund transport equipment, for example, it would go a long way to ensuring that those struggling to afford food in our rural areas have some sort of safety net.
More and more people are growing their own food. Is there a way for surplus produce to be offered for sale at low prices as advocated in the Greenprint for the Valleys document produced earlier this year? One feature of the 1930s depression we should not forget is that home-grown food took the edge off the crisis for many families. It was not uncommon for miners to come off a shift at the coal face and go straight to their allotment and work the land so their families would not go hungry.
There are too many people today in Wales going hungry. The problem will not go away. The Welsh Government must do all it can to tackle the causes of hunger and poverty.
The BBC Wales Report and video of the short debate are linked here