The thing that struck me while listening to the Chancellor on Monday and to Government Members today is the yawning chasm that exists between the picture they paint and the reality for my constituents—the people who come to my office for help day in, day out. The reality of their lives is illustrated as well as anything else by the numbers who are currently turning to food banks.
Several food banks serve my constituency. The biggest, the B30 food bank, is run by the Trussell Trust. It distributed 7,501 emergency food parcels in the last year, which is up by a third from the year before. This is a picture that led the Bishop of Birmingham, the Right Rev. David Urquhart, to comment two months ago:
“In one of the richest countries in the world, it is a scandal that people go to bed hungry and families have to choose between eating and heating.”
That is the reality of too many people living in Birmingham today.
Around a third of the people who come to the food bank are in work, but their incomes mean that they cannot make ends meet. In work, on a low income or out of work, 54% have had to turn to the food bank because of delays and changes in benefits—yes, this is an area where universal credit is live. I want to echo the powerful points made by my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms. He talked about not only the problems with the delays built into the universal credit system, but the way that the system interacts—or rather, does not interact—with legacy benefits, which means that more and more people are coming off legacy benefits, with their claims cancelled, and yet are not receiving any support under universal credit for weeks. That spirals them into debt, and the consequence of that can be seen in the figures for those using food banks.
In the short time I have left, I want to say one further thing. It is not just a failure to fund public services that is the problem; it is the fact that the advice and support that have been there in the past from the statutory sector and the voluntary sector for people in need are simply not there any more. Without that lifeline, what could be a problem is becoming a crisis for too many families in this country. That is why I appeal to the Chancellor and those on the Treasury Bench that if they really want to bring austerity to an end, they need not just to fund our public services properly—important though that is—but to ensure that they fund the advice and support mechanisms in our voluntary sector and our statutory sector, so that people get the support they deserve.