Rochdale’s Foodbank has been well used over these Covid months. Fortunately, the Foodbank, alongside the new food clubs and kitchens that have sprung up across Rochdale, have been well-supported by our local community and that’s great. But it is a sad sign of the times that they are very much needed. The Foodbank tells me that one of the recent changes they see has been the growing number of families with children who look for help. And of course, this comes on the back of Marcus Rashford’s campaign around making sure no child goes without a proper midday meal at school and during lockdown and school holidays. Who would begrudge a family with young children the kind of help and support they need to put food on the tables? It’s for that reason that Rochdale Council, along with every council across Greater Manchester, has now signed up to the “Right to Food” campaign which seeks to build in a legal right to be fed.
The UK’s food poverty rate is among the highest in Europe and some ten million people in our country are struggling to access the food they need. That is really shameful, and we must do something about it. I support this campaign, but we need to go a bit further and demand the government policies which will really help lift people out of poverty. Hopefully we can begin to see the end of lockdown but what is clear is that we’re not there yet. So the £20 per week that was added to Universal Credit really needs to stay. Secondly those on different benefits like disability benefits didn’t even get the £20 and that should be put right. Thirdly there are families which run some of our locked-down small businesses and have received no support and are struggling.
Our country is the sixth richest country in the world; I think we can do better. That’s why I’m raising with the Chancellor of the Exchequer these issues before his forthcoming Budget. We need a Budget for jobs, we need a Budget to get the country back on its feet, but we need a Budget that doesn’t have benefit cuts for the poorest and most vulnerable amongst us. So we need a Budget which asks the better off to pick up the cost of rebuilding and tackles poverty and food poverty at its very roots.
This article was originally published in the Rochdale Observer on 20 February 2021.