Benefit sanctions which result in payments being temporarily stopped or docked are largely responsible for the increase in the use of food banks in the UK, a damning cross-party report has said.
The church-funded inquiry is urging the government to do more to fight food poverty by addressing issues in the benefit system, as more than four million people are at risk of going hungry.
"There is a clear moral case to address the shortcomings that exist in our welfare system," the report said. "Our evidence shows that the current system is cumbersome, complicated and fails to respond effectively to the daily changes in people’s lives."
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
It also revealed that low wages and high-energy costs were contributing factors in the rise in the use of food banks, The Guardian reports.
The report "paints a stark picture: hunger stalks large parts of our country", said the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who was involved in the inquiry. He added that he was more shocked by poverty in the UK than in African refugee camps because although it was less severe, it was so unexpected.
However, Conservative business minister Matthew Hancock said the reason the use of food banks had increased was because "more people know about them", the BBC reports.
"While the report outlines important areas for consideration, we should remember that this country has been through the deepest recession in living memory, and sticking to this government's long-term economic plan is the best way to improve living standards," he said.
In order to achieve a "hunger-free Britain", the report is calling for the establishment of a new publically funded body to fight food poverty. It also said existing food banks need to be expanded, the minimum wage should be increased and free school meals should be provided to children from low-income families during school holidays.
Downing Street said it would "seriously consider" the measures laid out in the report. A government spokesperson said the report was welcomed, calling it "a serious contribution to an important debate, with many good ideas".
"As a country we have enough food to go around, and we agree that it is wrong that anyone should go hungry at the same time as surplus food is going to waste," they said.
Continue reading for free
We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.
Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.