On Wednesday in the House of Lords, Thomas Pendry who used to be the Labour MP for Stalybridge and Hyde asked the Government “what assessment they have made of the increased demand for emergency food parcels from low-income families; and what plans they have to suspend (1) the two-child limit on benefits, and (2) the benefits cap.” The response to this question came from a Government Minister who unusually used to run a charity. Deborah Stedman-Scott will certainly understand how charities work and how major changes can create challenges for them to remain sustainable. Deborah also used to be a Deputy Lieutenant for East Sussex which was where her Charity was based and indeed I met her on one occasion before she became one of the DLs. She is now a Kent based Baroness (Baroness Stedman-Scott, of Rolvenden) who is also The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Her response to his question was:
No assessment has been made of the number of emergency food parcels issued.
The Government has recently announced up to £16 million to provide food for those who are struggling as a result of coronavirus. The programme will provide over 20 million meals over the next 12 weeks and be delivered through non-profit organisations including FareShare and WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme).
The Government has quickly and effectively introduced over £6.5 billion of measures that benefit those facing the most financial disruption, including an increase to the Universal Credit standard allowance by £86.67 per month (equivalent to £20 per week) on top of the planned annual uprating. This additional increase means claimants will be up to £1040 better off.
Currently there are no plans to change either the benefit cap or the two child policies.
So one of the current challenges for Deborah is that she must remember how calls like this will impact charities like FareShare Sussex in the future when the acute aspect of COVID-19 begins to diminish and the Government turns its attention to other issues. The risk is that at some point in the future, the Government may stop sending out these resources and asking the charities to do specific pieces of work, even though the needs will still exist very evidently in our communities. These extended activities which are currently placing huge demand on charities like this one will be replaced by trying to recover with similar demands that cannot be easily turned away, even though the Government is no longer watching them. There needs to be a meaningful and sustainable approach taken at this moment, particularly as for many years there has been a great deal more food that could have been re-distributed by these charities than they have had access to. There has also been many more places to distribute the food to than has happened in the past. As an example the first year (2002) of our FareShare scheme saw only 30 tonnes of food distributed. Last year involved nearly 600 tonnes of food and yet this was a fraction of the surplus food in our nation. It seems vital for the Government to use this challenging time to offer a way of expanding charities like FareShare to a capability that would be just as effective next year as it was during this time scale and indeed in 2022 when FareShare Sussex will be able to celebrate its 20th Anniversary. Given that Deborah was based in Sussex until recently and that she still lives nearby that a visit to this charity would help her to understand the impact of the decisions that she is explaining to Tom Pendry in the House of Lords.