Campaigning to end food poverty in Britain
As many as 8.4 million people across the United Kingdom are living in households that struggle to put enough food on the table. In one of the world's wealthiest countries, this simply isn't right. Quakers are working as part of the End Hunger UK campaign towards a vision where everyone has access to good food and no one needs to go to bed hungry.
There are lots of different reasons for the recent rise in food poverty. However, cuts and changes to our social security system mean that the system often fails to provide an adequate safety net to prevent people from going hungry. Evidence from the UK's largest food bank network suggests that over the last few year's payment delays, sanctions and challenges in navigating the social security system have been the biggest single factor in driving people to use their services. This means that instead of protecting people against life shocks, the benefit system can often worsen already difficult personal circumstances.
In areas where Universal Credit – the UK government's flagship social security reform – has been rolled out, food aid providers have reported a surge in the numbers of people being pushed into greater debt, destitution and hunger as a result of delays, errors, a lack of flexibility and inadequate support.
Quakers in Britain call on the government to make changes to Universal Credit including:
- Improving flexibility and support for claimants
- Taking steps to ensure that the system doesn't put more people at risk of debt and destitution
- Making a long term-commitment to ensure that Universal Credit provides people with enough income to afford good food on a regular basis.
In November 2018 End Hunger UK delivered more than 18,000 signatures to 10 Downing Street, calling on the government to fix Universal Credit. More than 800 of those signatures were collected by Quakers around Britain. Early in 2019, the UK government announced a significant scaling back of the Universal Credit roll-out, with plans to only enroll 10,000 claimants rather than the expected 3 million.
Quaker work on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill
Quakers from across Britain campaigned against the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. Though the bill was passed and became law in 2016, our work with other church and faith groups helped secure important amendments that protect kinship carers and some adoptive families, among others, from the new rules.
The level of poverty and inequality in Britain is already unacceptably high, and the Welfare Reform and Work Act has made this worse. In a report published December 2017, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation described the four-year freeze in working-age benefits and tax credits as the “single biggest policy driver behind rising poverty, hitting families in and out of work". Children, large families and people who can't work because of sickness or disability are particularly affected by the changes.
“We are dismayed that the government is giving so little consideration to the long term impacts of spending cuts on whole communities. Under-investment and short term accounting are putting the wellbeing of future generations at risk."
Meeting for Sufferings minute, minute S/12/03/3, 31 March 2012
Useful information and resources
- Look at the End Hunger UK website for more information about how universal credit is failing to provide many households with an adequate safety net.
- Read An Introduction to the End Hunger UK Campaign for Churches (PDF)
- Read the Quakers in Britain briefing (PDF) on the serious shortcomings of the 2015 Welfare Reform and Work Bill
- Although the Welfare Reform and Work Bill came into law in 2016, our work with other faith groups helped secure important amendments that provide exemptions for kinship carers and some adoptive families from the new rules. Read the joint faith group briefing about amendments to the Bill.
- Run a session on food poverty with young Quakers using this Journeys in the Spirit activity sheet (PDF).