Justin Welby is supporting Frank Field MP's hunger report. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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 senior writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496