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.
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.
“In 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.
“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.”