Justin Welby is supporting Frank Field MP's hunger report. Photo: Getty
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The Archbishop of Canterbury demands state support for food banks

A new report into hunger, supported by Justin Welby, blames benefit payment delays for increased use of food banks.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, says the plight of people in England using food banks is "more shocking" than the refugee camp he visited in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In an article for the Mail on Sunday over the weekend, Welby staged his intervention off the back of a new hunger report by the Labour MP Frank Field and his All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger and Food Poverty. Welby calls for state backing of food banks, as the report blames delayed benefit payments and excessive utility bills for the massive increased use of food banks in Britain.

The report calls for benefits to be paid faster, the extension of free school meals, and a living wage in order to reduce hunger and to stop people having to choose between eating and heating. According to the BBC, Downing Street has responded by saying it would "seriously consider" these recommendations.

Welby, in support of the report, wrote:

We need to build a society that helps people take responsibility for their own lives and for their families. A society where those who are in need at one time can get their lives back on track and give to others in the future.

This cross-party report is practical, clear and effective. Its recommendations should be put into action quickly.

That would be a wonderful Christmas present for everyone who cares about the future of our country.

The intervention of Field's APPG, backed by Welby and other Church figures, could be a big headache for the government. Its Autumn Statement last week led to the Office of Budget Responsibility reporting that the bulk of cuts would be yet to come, and welfare spending is one of the major budgets that will have to bear the brunt of future cuts. How can the government even begin to address the problem of hunger and huge rises in food bank use in the UK if it is relying on money saved from reducing financial help to those who need it most?

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.