FOOD banks are a ‘wonderful example’ of community spirit, according to Tory MP Suella Fernandes.
The MP for Fareham visited the Basics Bank, in Westbury Road, Fareham yesterday and met some of the 30 volunteers who keep it running.
Basics Bank, an independent charity run by Friends of the Homeless, gives emergency parcels of food to people in Fareham and Gosport who have been recommended by the JobCentre – up to a maximum of four parcels a year.
It has seen its user numbers rise sharply since 2010 and it had 2,319 referrals in 2014, which fed more than 4,300 people.
Phil Rutt, who volunteers at the bank, said that benefit sanctions – where people have their money temporarily stopped for not meeting set requirements – had been one of the biggest causes for the rise in numbers.
He said: ‘The genuinely vulnerable should be treated with respect and dignity. The ones with genuine needs have been affected by the desire to stop the number of micky takers.
Food banks are about compassion. There is a need and you can’t ignore need.MP for Fareham Suella Fernandes
‘We agree there is a problem, but the solution is difficult.’
The benefit sanction regime started in October 2012 and more than a million jobseekers had their money stopped last year.
A recent report by the Bill Sargent Trust found in Fareham and Gosport, the number of food bank referrals had gone up by 85 per cent since 2012.
Mr Rutt took Miss Fernandes on a tour of the facility, which opens three days a week between 1pm and 3pm.
He told the MP about some of the cases they see every week at the centre, including people who have been sanctioned for going to job interviews and people too embarrassed to use food banks in their home towns.
Miss Fernandes defended the government’s welfare reforms, saying that it a culture change needed to happen.
She said: ‘What we are trying to do with the reforms is to incentivise work and to nudge people into trying to get their income through work and not through benefits.’
She added: ‘Ideally we don’t want to be here, none of us wants to be here but food banks are about compassion. There is a need and you can’t ignore need.
‘If there is a desperate situation and people have no other option, then the community comes together to help their fellow citizens in a spirit of kindness and open-handed generosity which I cannot criticise.
‘You don’t want to see it but it’s a wonderful example of how people can come together to help others.’
To find out more on the foodbank go to friendsofthehomeless.org.uk/.