Read Sharon's latest Sunderland Echo column below or on the Sunderland Echo website.
Last Thursday, The Trussell Trust, a nationwide network of foodbanks, released its latest figures.
A shocking 1.6 million emergency food parcels were given to people in crisis by Trussell Trust foodbanks between April 2018 and March 2019. More than half a million of these went to children.
In Sunderland, 4,821 three-day emergency food supplies were given to local people in crisis. 1,234 of these went to children.
These figures, which do not account for every foodbank in the country, show that the number of food parcels given out across the UK has soared by 73% in the last five years.
In February this year, I raised a question in the House of Commons with the Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions, Amber Rudd, about the link between Universal Credit and the rise of foodbanks.
For the first time, the Government admitted that there was a link between Universal Credit and the rise in foodbanks; but it shouldn’t have taken them so long to make the connection.
For over a year, I have been Co-Chairing an Inquiry into food insecurity and hunger amongst young people, entitled “The Children’s Future Food Inquiry”, which published its report on Thursday last week.
The inquiry heard from children and young people about their own experiences of food at home and at school. We heard worrying stories of limited access to free water provision in schools; pupils spending their free school meals money on water is outrageous, especially when they are trying to stretch it far enough so they don’t go hungry. We also heard about young people rationing their own food at home, to make it stretch.
All this in the world’s fifth richest economy. The Government should be ashamed.
As the Co-Chair of the Inquiry, I am calling on the Government to establish an independent food watchdog that will consider the costings of policies that could prevent us losing a generation to hunger and its consequences in this country.
A Labour Government will end the benefits freeze, stop the rollout of Universal Credit and ensure that our social security system supports any one of us should we need it.
Hunger and high foodbank use should have no place in the 21st century.
The Government must urgently recognise these stark figures as yet another red flag that proves their welfare reforms, and particularly Universal Credit, are hurting too many people and simply not working.