Archbishop of Canterbury's speech at APPG hunger report launch
Monday 8th December 2014Archbishop Justin's speech at the launch of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry Report on Hunger and Food Poverty in Westminster this morning.
I am really pleased and privileged and grateful to be here with you this morning for the launch of what seems to me to be an incredibly important report. . .
I don’t want to talk for too long, so let me focus on why we’re here and why this report is so important. We all know about the rise in food banks and the number of people turning to them in times of crisis over the last few years.
And there have been two things that have struck me. One was - as I’ve visited food banks and seen what churches are doing across the country, the Trussell Trust leading it particularly effectively - it’s how shocking it is to find this happening here. As I said in a newspaper article yesterday, I’ve seen much worse, very recently, and will do over the next couple of weeks when I’m travelling, but it’s finding it here, it’s in the wrong place, we don’t do that in this country and we need to stop. And we’ve seen the response that people who have been shocked by this have made. There’s been a grassroots response to the problems that have opened our eyes to the extent of the problems themselves.
The years since the 2008 crisis have been hard ones for many. And the response of compassion, indiscriminate compassion, generous open-handed compassion, has come principally from the churches in response to people’s need for food. And I particularly want to pay tribute to Bishop Tim Thornton, the Bishop of Truro, who has co-chaired the inquiry with Frank [Field] in his work, in his own diocese, which I saw earlier in the year and also on this inquiry.
We’re here in Portcullis House, so there’s no point pretending that people being hungry is an easy issue to address within our political system. You all know what the challenges are. Our democratic system is essential and has huge strengths, but it is sometimes tricky working across parties – particularly when there’s a large event happening in a few months’ time.
Yet party-political approaches will not work for an issue like this, which has complex roots, and which affects our most basic needs as human beings. Everyone needs to eat. And therefore I also want to pay tribute to the dedication of the whole inquiry panel, particularly the Members of Parliament, who, fairly obviously, take a political risk in doing something that’s all-party. . . but have done it with immense dedication and they really do deserve huge thanks.
But that’s not the only reason why this cannot be a party political issue. I have spoken to numerous politicians on this, and I know well that, whereas it’s easy to be cynical, the reality is that there are huge numbers of people, both from government and opposition, all across the spectrum of opposition parties, who are absolutely committed to ensuring the wellbeing of their constituents and all the people in their country.
They are guided by a strong moral compass and we need to recognise that and not always be too cynical about what we see our politicians doing. The issue is how you turn that moral compass into practical action.
If we want to understand what is driving people to the point where they will put up with the shame of having to ask for help from a food bank (and people usually arrive with an unjustified sense of shame); if we want to find the practical solutions that will substantially reduce the numbers of people needing to do so; then the only way we can do this is by a collective effort, drawing on the wisdom of politicians from every political background, of food banks, charities and non-profits working in the sector, of retailers and of Government departments.
You might think from some of yesterday’s coverage, and today’s, that the report is asking the Government to move into the food bank sector. It’s not. It is far more interesting and creative than that. And we see there the influence particularly of Frank’s extensive experience and his imaginative and creative approach to these issues.
And that’s what makes me so excited about what is proposed for this new organisation, Feeding Britain. The agenda this morning is to make sure that this report gets the widest possible audience. If you haven’t read the report, go and read it, I certainly will be glad you did.
And we’re here to look to the next steps on the path to building a hunger-free society in this country. Frank and Bishop Tim have asked me to be President of Feeding Britain as it is set up and goes forward into its pilot stages, and I feel that accepting that invitation is a huge privilege for me, and I am very grateful to be asked and I accept it with much enthusiasm.
Bishop Tim will continue to lead on this work for the Church of England as one of the founding trustees of Feeding Britain, along with his fellow members of the inquiry panel, and I will take a close interest as the project goes forward.
One of the striking things that enthuses me most about this report is that the proposals it contains are eminently practical and they are not unreasonably expensive. There is always a cost to setting up pilots and I very much hope that the Government will look seriously at finding the relatively small amounts that would be needed to match fund charitable donations and grants so that we can get pilot schemes underway as soon as possible.
But in the longer term we’re looking at making a transformative difference to the lives of many in this country – and to the nature of the communities we are all part of – without great financial cost. It is genuinely a case of the common good and genuinely a case of pulling together. It comes down to our willingness to pull together to make a difference. It’s within our grasp, and the inquiry itself has been a model of how that can be done.
Thank you for being here this morning.