Dame Tessa Jowell calls on David Cameron to visit a foodbank.
The Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood was flabbergasted at the Prime Minister’s reluctance, arguing in an interview with The foodbankers that it is an MP’s duty to support their constituents and to be aware of their day-to-day struggles.
Jowell said: “Of course he should, of course you should visit the foodbank in your constituency and understand why your constituents are dependent on food parcels from a foodbank.
“How can you understand what is going on in your constituency if you don’t understand those lives?”
Jowell said she was at a loss to understand why Cameron had not visited the Whitney foodbank.
“Your job as a MP is to understand, speak up for the circumstances that your constituents are facing… New, unexpected, unintended, brutal, joyous, whatever they may be.”
On Friday 8th February, Jowell visited the foodbank based in West Norwood, explaining: “This Church has a very strong secular identity, and not a huge congregation on a Sunday.
“This is I think very much how modern Churches should be used – as community spaces. If you’re a Christian, this is a celebration of the values of Christianity: reciprocity, the sense of obligation to other people, but it’s just a tragedy that we now live in a country where this has to happen.”
But, with the monumental rise in foodbanks across the UK, what would Labour do to improve the situation?
Jowell said: “I think that you would have to understand that you wouldn’t be able to turn a switch and suddenly find that the need was removed. I think that the remedy to foodbanks comes through the adequacy of welfare benefits and benefits to support and help children. The eligibility for those benefits should be predicated on the principle that you pay in, in order to take out more needed.
“I would hope that if there were a Labour Government that we would see, perhaps what would see is this foodbank evolve into something rather different that wasn’t focused on the essentials of life, but some of the extras. You could imagine this becoming, not a foodbank, but a skills bank. Where people come and swap their skills. Where people bring beautiful things they’ve baked or made. Not subsistence.
“I would see it as the analogy between the minimum wage which is absolute, basic, minimum, what we should get and the living wage.”
Should foodbanks become political?
Jowell said: “Well, maybe. But, I think the important thing is not to put people off. The principle purpose is to make sure that people don’t go hungry. I think there are risks of that.
“I think that the foodbank movement should look to people like me to be their political voice. They should look to community groups and community activist groups and so forth.
“Looking at these volunteers, I think that a lot of them don’t see themselves as political activists. They are doing this because they think it is their responsibility. They are incredibly good and decent human beings.”
Dame Tessa Jowell urged the government to face up to the situation.
She said: “The Prime Minister should understand why it is over the last two years, that around the country foodbanks have suddenly sprung up. The question is why is that?”