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Swansea Council leader David Phillips laments the need for foodbanks

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: May 01, 2014

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FOODBANKS have been in the news one way and another over the last few weeks. I was told about a startling story in the Mail on Sunday (unsurprisingly, not a paper I read) about how one reporter apparently set out to ''prove'' the proliferation of food banks and their customers were some kind of stunt got up by people who were politically opposed to the government!

An own goal if ever there was one, as I know that, for many families, Swansea's food banks make the difference between eating or going hungry.

The reasons for this inconvenient truth seem obvious to me; few jobs, rock bottom wages, benefits cuts, the bedroom tax. The list is long.

The problem for opponents of foodbanks is that they don't like the idea that at a time when the economy is said to be turning the corner more and more people are turning to foodbanks for support. For example, recent figures from the Swansea Foodbank show a staggering 278% increase in one year.

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As the cabinet member for anti-poverty I don't like the idea that more people are turning to foodbanks either.

It's a shaming indictment of 21st Century Britain that there are people who need the support of a foodbank to feed them and their families; food without which they'd have not had a meal that day.

That's one of the reasons why I'm fully behind the opening this week of a new foodbank in the Mount Zion Baptist Church in Bonymaen. There's clearly a need for such a service in an area where more than 20 per cent of children live in poverty.

Bonymaen is in one of our city's Target Areas and Swansea Council now has poverty and prevention teams working in those areas to listen to local people and collaborate with them on projects designed to improve health and education, housing and cut crime — the key building blocks of better futures in any community.

It was a group of mums from Bonymaen who, you might remember, campaigned last year against the proliferation of high-interest loan companies. Their campaign was born because they could see for themselves that high-interest payday loans were not the immediate financial fix they pretended to be.

They needed a little bit of support from local politicians like myself to get their campaign off the ground, but the success they found on a UK stage was entirely their own. Now, of course, that campaign has become mainstream and is seen for what it was — the catalyst for reigning in the activities of organisations whose only interest was their own.

Swansea Council is playing its part, for example, by preventing access to payday loan company websites on publicly-available computers in its libraries. We're also working to promote credit unions and other sources of fair credit.

And Swansea Council staff, to their great credit, are amongst those getting involved in foodbanks by supporting them in the most practical way possible – by making donations at the foodbank points in many of our buildings.

If we are appalled by the existence of foodbanks, should we not be filled with righteous anger at the beggaring of the poor and the destitute that makes them necessary? I know I am.

I was pleased to see this column being put to alternative good effect the other day, when it was used as sophisticated wrapping paper for a gift of the most magnificent spring onions grown in the ''urban utopia'' that is Vetch Veg. Thanks Colin!

David Phillips

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  • JamesRose99  |  May 02 2014, 12:50PM

    Although the majority of those using food banks are in need, it is a simple fact of economics & human behaviour that if a free service is provided then the public will use it. The more food banks open, the more demand there will be irrespective of the state of the economy. The "bedroom tax" does not exist - there is no such tax in the UK. Perhaps you are referring to the reduction in the state subsidy (housing benefit) for those who have spare bedrooms paid for by the tax payer. There is a legal obligation to pay a tax, there is no legal obligation for individuals to claim housing benefit if they are so aggrieved by the policy.

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