THE Bishop of Oxford has said he remains committed to food banks, despite a diocese report which said they could inadvertently collude with unjust welfare cuts.
According to the 999 Food report, put together by diocese social responsibility adviser Alison Webster, there has been a growing rise in church involvement in emergency food initiatives.
The Rt Rev John Pritchard said the church needs to adopts a “two-edged” approach, of both highlighting the conditions that lead to food poverty and giving those who suffer from it practical help.
Bishop John said his diocese remained committed to both providing food banks and putting pressure on the Government to prevent people from starving.
He said: “Even though the economy may be improving in some ways, those that are disadvantaged are getting left further behind.
“It has to be a two-edged approach. We have to point out the causes of poverty, as well as dealing with the day to day reality of it. It is always the case that if you see dead fish coming down the stream you get them out and you go upstream to see why they are dying. We will continue to do both.”
The diocese-commissioned 999 Food report says that emergency food banks could gradually be replacing the welfare state.
Writing in the report, Alison Webster said: “Giving food to the hungry is basic to Christianity, and has been for over 2,000 years.
“However, as explored at the beginning of this publication, such support can be problematic and perplexing. Emergency food aid is, and should be, exactly that – a short term crisis intervention.
“Those who run emergency food aid initiatives are well aware of this. No one I encountered was satisfied with food banks as ‘the answer’ to the problem of hunger in our wealthy society.
“On the contrary, many were worried that, whilst helping individuals, they may be fuelling a larger political problem by colluding with injustice and letting the Government off the hook for leaving many of its people without the means to feed themselves and their families.”
Launched in 2009, Oxford Food Bank distributes fresh fruit and vegetables, dried foods, dairy and bread to about 50 charities a day, helping thousands of people.
One of its founders, Robin Aitken, who was last week awarded an MBE for his work, alongside co-founder David Cairns, said: “There is the danger that if the available of food banks is such that nearly everyone can access them then clearly they become part of the welfare network.
“But they are an informal part of the system and there is a danger there.”