In my constituency, both Borough and Brixton Markets are vibrant symbols of our city’s unrivalled culture.
Seasoned traders running family businesses work side by side with spirited young entrepreneurs just starting out. The stalls are a sea of colours and a treat for the senses, brimming with brightly hued fruits and vegetables; fresh meat and fish, and exotic herbs and spices. As you take in this land of plenty, some might find it hard to comprehend that, for too many living in close proximity, there is a very different reality.
If you take a short trip down the road to Peckham, you come to an alternative emblem of contemporary south-east London – the Pecan foodbank. The centre, which saw a 33 per cent increase in referrals between April and July this year, does vital work providing food aid to local people in crisis. Alarmingly, the foodbank reports that 94 per cent of those referrals came as a direct result of benefit changes. While it is heartening to see the generosity and goodwill which keeps this place going, that its existence is necessary, in one of the richest cities on the planet, is shameful.
As the London roll-out of Universal Credit progresses, welfare charities have raised grave concerns that food poverty is set to spiral further. This change to benefits, which means claimants will receive a single monthly payment rather than several, has been touted by ministers as a mechanism to streamline the system. Yet the process has been plagued by administrative errors, with lengthy waiting times plunging people into debt and financial hardship.
Almost 60 per cent of the 2.3 million Londoners living in poverty are in working families – the highest proportion since records began. For the privileged, the capital is awash with opportunity. For others, just making ends meet is impossible – this is a modern-day tale of two London’s.
Last week I raised the impact the government’s welfare policies are having on foodbank usage with the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. The Mayor plans to publish a food strategy for London early next year but this needs to be accompanied by urgent action from central government.
Ensuring that everyone in our society can afford to eat is not a luxury, it is basic humanity. I encourage senior politicians, including government ministers, to visit their local foodbanks to see for themselves the effect their policies are having on some of our most vulnerable people. Food poverty is a stain on our national consciousness and it must not be tolerated for a moment longer.