THE Archbishop of Canterbury has revealed how he was left more shocked by the plight of Britain’s hunger-stricken poor than suffering in African refugee camps.
Food is being wasted at “astonishing” levels across the UK but hunger “stalks large parts” of the country, the Most Rev Justin Welby said.
Families are being forced to turn to food banks to make ends despite holding down jobs, he told The Mail on Sunday.
The Archbishop’s comments come ahead of the publication on Monday of a parliamentary report he has backed that sets out a blueprint to eliminate hunger in Britain by 2020 and urges ministers and the food industry to act.
In the The Mail on Sunday article, he said, although less “serious”, the plight of a family who turned to a food bank in Britain had shocked him more than terrible suffering in Africa because it was so unexpected.
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“In one corner of a refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo was a large marquee. Inside were children, all ill. They had been separated from family, friends, those who looked after them.
“Perhaps, mostly having disabilities, they had been abandoned in the panic of the militia attack that drove them from their homes. Now they were hungry.
“It was deeply shocking but, tragically, expected. A few weeks later in England, I was talking to some people - a mum, dad and one child - in a food bank.
“They were ashamed to be there. The dad talked miserably. He said they had each been skipping a day’s meals once a week in order to have more for the child, but then they needed new tyres for the car so they could get to work at night, and just could not make ends meet.
“So they had to come to a food bank. They were treated with respect, love even, by the volunteers from local churches. But they were hungry, and ashamed to be hungry.
“I found their plight more shocking. It was less serious, but it was here. And they weren’t careless with what they had - they were just up against it. It shocked me that being up against it at the wrong time brought them to this stage. There are many like them. But we can do something about it.”
The massive increase in the number of food banks across Britain in recent years has proved politically divisive.
Earlier this year, ministers were accused of “taking food from the mouths of children” after blocking millions of pounds of European funding agreed for British food banks.
Cash to help people suffering extreme poverty across the EU was backed in a vote at the European Parliament but the Government said food aid was better decided nationally rather than by Brussels.
Archbishop Welby called for reforms that would allow food companies to pass on goods they could no longer sell.
He added: “At least some of the food being sent to the incinerator should be used as a force for good to help (the poor) out of the rut in which they find themselves.
“We need to make it easier for food companies to give edible surplus food to charities and still encourage them to send inedible food for energy production.
“The big names in the food business have a moral obligation to communities. We need to make sure that the financial incentives in their industry don’t act against their moral instincts.”
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