There’s food for thought at the Oxford Union

Broadcaster and journalist Martyn Lewis CBE talks to Olympic pentathlete Prof Greg Whyte OBE in the Oxford Union library. Picture: OX65576 Damian Halliwell

Broadcaster and journalist Martyn Lewis CBE talks to Olympic pentathlete Prof Greg Whyte OBE in the Oxford Union library. Picture: OX65576 Damian Halliwell Buy this photo

First published in News The Oxford Times: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Abingdon and Wantage, South Oxford and Kennington. Call me on 01865 425431

THE pros and cons of food banks were discussed in a debate at the Oxford Union.

The event on Wednesday night saw four luminaries from industry and charity debate whether the existence of food banks created dependence and inequality in society.

Former John Lewis chairman Stuart Hampson and broadcaster Martyn Lewis spoke against the motion in the debate organised by the Thames Valley Philanthropy Fellowship.

Trying to persuade the audience that charity does create dependence were former investment banker Sanjay Dighe and Olympic pentathlete Greg Whyte.

Mr Dighe said: “There can be no clearer example of the fact we have lost the battle for social justice than the existence of food banks.

“Giving to charity can salve our conscience but the problem is just that; it is a sticking plaster solution. We should be a lot more ambitious.

“Let’s say today that we believe what is important is that a civilised society is going to act to provide social justice collectively, not based on the whim of the individual.”

He was rebutted by David Cairns, founder member of the Oxford Foodbank.

He said: “When we started the food bank I got feedback that what we were doing was attracting the homeless to Oxford because we were providing food at no cost.

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“Anyone who believes that argument should come out with us and you will see we are not creating dependency.”

Prof Whyte said he believed the aim of charities should be to make themselves redundant.

He said: “If Government made sure everyone had enough, charity wouldn’t be necessary.

“We currently have 164,000 charities in the UK with an annual income of £61bn.

“It would appear the state has created a charity-dependent culture which dwarfs the major large industries in the UK economy.”

He added: “Age UK has an income of £159m a year, so it is absolutely clear the public understands the importance of the elderly in our community.

“At Christmas, Help the Aged ran a campaign asking people to donate £4 to buy a lonely pensioner a Christmas lunch.

“How far have we progressed as a society where those who have helped build it are neglected?

“Money has replaced social conscience, where making a donation to charity is deemed more worthy than zero-costs spending time with people.”

Mr Hampson agreed with Mr Whyte that the Government was dependent on the third sector.

He said: “The easiest thing to do is give money, but sometimes a small amount of money will help people come together to achieve a real result.”

Mr Lewis argued that the biggest movements for change in society, such as the suffragettes and the modern hospice movement, had been led by volunteers.

He concluded: “Charities are the main sources of innovation in our society and real catalysts for removing inequality.”

In the end the motion was outvoted with 47 for and 128 against.

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