UK PM un­der fire over rise in food bank users

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY NAOMI O'LEARY

The United King­dom's op­po­si­tion cen­ter-left Labour Party urged Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron to ad­dress low pay on Wed­nes­day af­ter a char­ity re­vealed more than 1 mil­lion peo­ple were re­liant on food banks in the past year.

The i ncreas­ing num­bers re­ceiv­ing free food hand­outs, low pay, and a squeeze on living stan­dards have emerged as cen­tral themes in the elec­tion cam­paign ahead of the vote on May 7.

The largest food bank net­work in the UK, The Trus­sell Trust, said those re­ly­ing on their food bank sup­plies rose to 1 mil­lion last year — al­most half of them chil­dren.

“De­spite wel­come signs of eco­nomic re­cov­ery, hunger con­tin­ues to af­fect sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of men, women and chil­dren in the UK to­day,” said Trus­sell Trust UK food bank direc­tor Adrian Curtis.

“It's dif­fi­cult to be sure of the full ex­tent of the prob­lem as Trus­sell Trust fig­ures don't in­clude peo­ple who are helped by other food char­i­ties or those who feel too ashamed to seek help.”

The rise fol­lows years of steep in­creases in those us­ing food banks, from 130,000 peo­ple in 2011- 2012 to 913,000 in 2013- 2014. The num­bers do not in­clude other char­i­ties and churches that run food banks.

“I have an 18-month-old son and an eight-year-old step­son, I work part-time as a teacher and my hus­band has an in­se­cure agency con­tract,” said one qual­i­fied teacher who re­lies on help from food banks.

“There are times when he doesn't get enough hours of work, and we re­ally strug­gle to af­ford food and pay the bills. The food bank meant we could put food on the ta­ble.”

In a let­ter to Cameron, Labour's Shadow Work and Pen­sions Sec­re­tary Rachel Reeves called the 618-per­cent rise in emer­gency food aid users in the last three years "shock­ing."

“I am writ­ing to ask if you will join Labour in pledg­ing to re­duce the num­ber of peo­ple in the UK re­ly­ing on food banks in the next par­lia­ment,” Reeves wrote.

“I'm sure that you’ll agree with me that in the 21st cen­tury no one should have to rely on char­ity to feed their fam­ily. Food banks should never be­come a per­ma­nent fea­ture of our so­ci­ety.”

Labour has ac­cused Cameron's cen­ter- right Con­ser­va­tive Party of leav­ing poorer peo­ple be­hind dur­ing its five years in of­fice.

Labour leader Ed Miliband has pledged to in­crease the min­i­mum wage and end so-called “zero hours con­tracts,” un­der which em­ploy­ees have no min­i­mum guar­an­teed hours, to raise living stan­dards.

In re­sponse, a Con­ser­va­tive spokesman said that the party was help­ing peo­ple out of poverty by get­ting them into em­ploy­ment and “tack­ling wel­fare de­pen­dency.”

“The best way to help peo­ple sup­port them­selves and their fam­i­lies is to stick to our longterm eco­nomic plan which is cre­at­ing more jobs,” the spokesman said.

The Labour and Con­ser­va­tive par­ties are neck- and- neck in polls just over two weeks from the elec­tion, with 35 per­cent sup­port each ac­cord­ing to a BBC ag­gre­gate of sur­veys.

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