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Welby: My shock at hungry Britain

The Archbishop of Canterbury has revealed how he was left more shocked by the plight of Britain's hunger-stricken poor than suffering in African refugee camps.

Food is being wasted at "astonishing" levels across the UK but hunger "stalks large parts" of the country, the Most Rev Justin Welby said.

Families are being forced to turn to food banks to make ends despite holding down jobs, he told The Mail on Sunday.

The Archbishop's comments come ahead of the publication on Monday of a parliamentary report he has backed that sets out a blueprint to eliminate hunger in Britain by 2020 and urges ministers and the food industry to act.

In the The Mail on Sunday article , he said, although less "serious", the plight of a family who turned to a food bank in Britain had shocked him more than terrible suffering in Africa because it was so unexpected.

"I n one corner of a refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo was a large marquee. Inside were children, all ill. They had been separated from family, friends, those who looked after them.

"Perhaps, mostly having disabilities, they had been abandoned in the panic of the militia attack that drove them from their homes. Now they were hungry.

" It was deeply shocking but, tragically, expected. A few weeks later in England, I was talking to some people - a mum, dad and one child - in a food bank.

" They were ashamed to be there. The dad talked miserably. He said they had each been skipping a day's meals once a week in order to have more for the child, but then they needed new tyres for the car so they could get to work at night, and just could not make ends meet.

"So they had to come to a food bank. They were treated with respect, love even, by the volunteers from local churches. But they were hungry, and ashamed to be hungry.

" I found their plight more shocking. It was less serious, but it was here. And they weren't careless with what they had - they were just up against it. It shocked me that being up against it at the wrong time brought them to this stage. There are many like them. But we can do something about it."

The massive increase in the number of food banks across Britain in recent years has proved politically divisive.

Earlier this year, ministers were accused of "taking food from the mouths of children" after blocking millions of pounds of European funding agreed for British food banks.

Cash to help people suffering extreme poverty across the EU was backed in a vote at the European Parliament but the Government said food aid was better decided nationally rather than by Brussels.

Archbishop Welby called for reforms that would allow food companies to pass on goods they could no longer sell.

He added: "At least some of the food being sent to the incinerator should be used as a force for good to help (the poor) out of the rut in which they find themselves.

"We need to make it easier for food companies to give edible surplus food to charities and still encourage them to send inedible food for energy production.

"The big names in the food business have a moral obligation to communities. We need to make sure that the financial incentives in their industry don't act against their moral instincts."

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "This report is a serious contribution to an important debate, and recognises that the reasons behind demands for emergency food assistance are complex and frequently overlapping.

"As a country we have enough food to go around, and we agree that it is wrong that anyone should go hungry at the same time as surplus food is going to waste. There is a moral argument as well as a sustainability one to ensure we make the best use of resources.

"While this report outlines important areas for consideration, we should remember that this country has been through the deepest recession in living memory, and sticking to this Government's long-term economic plan is the best way to improve living standards.

"And this plan is working: there are now more people in work that ever before and the economy is growing faster than any other in the G7.

"Our welfare system provides a vital safety net - spending around £94 billion in 2014/15 on working age benefits. There is also a wide range of advice and assistance available for people in need.

"In addition, the UK has a proud tradition of civil society and faith groups providing support for people in need, and it is right that their impressive work is recognised in the report.

"Under tough circumstances, communities have shown that by pulling together to help each other, we can build a bigger, stronger society."

Nick Clegg said reforming the way sanctions are imposed on benefit claimants could help alleviate the demand for food banks.

The Deputy Prime Minister told BBC 1's Andrew Marr Show: "I'll give you one area where I would like to see more progress. There is some evidence that people who are subject to benefit sanctions end up using food banks for a temporary period of time.

"I think that while it is, of course, necessary to have sanctions in the benefit system, I think we should introduce a traffic light system so that some of the sanctions are not imposed quite as overnight as they sometimes are.

"That might help alleviate some of the problem."

Business Minister Matthew Hancock claimed the increased use of food banks in Britain was because more people were aware of their existence.

He told Sky News' Murnaghan programme: "Before we came to power, food banks were not allowed to advertise their existence.

"One of the reasons (there is increased food bank use) is that more people know about them.

"The amount of people who work in food banks and give up their time I applaud, I think that's fantastic.

"But the key and essential question here is: how do you tackle these deep ingrained problems of poverty? And the single best way through that is undoubtedly work."

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