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16 October 2013

Hungry for more

Hungry for more

by Amanda Pilz 

Today is World Food Day but food poverty remains a global problem and, according to the Church Urban Fund's latest report Hungry For More, our efforts to tackle this might be missing the mark.

In the consumerist United Kingdom the word 'food' probably evokes an image of steak and chips or the indulgence of eating out. However, it will come as no surprise that, according to the World Hunger Education Service, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that nearly 870 million (one in eight people in the world) were chronically under-nourished in 2010-2012.

Almost all the hungry people, 852 million, live in developing countries nevertheless there are 16 million undernourished people in developed countries.

When it comes to UK food poverty what immediately comes to mind is the recent rapid rise of food banks in our communities.

The latest research report from the Church Urban Fund (CUF) suggests that as needful as these are they are only part of the answer and offer, at best, a temporary solution. Hungry For More calls for sustainable, long-term solution-focused approaches to the alleviation of food poverty.

The report, based on a survey of 466 Church of England incumbents, shows that the rising cost of living is leading to hardship and pinpoints where there is little effort to address this. Some 67 per cent of respondents stated that the rising cost of living is a major problem in their parish but only 3 per cent said churches are running organised responses to this. The survey further shows that just 9 per cent of food banks provide employment advice and only 8 per cent provide benefit advocacy. This contrasts with 35 per cent which provide household items.

Hungry For More recommends a book by international development experts Corbett and Fikkert called When helping Hurts (2009). It talks of poverty alleviation falling into three brackets: relief, rehabilitation and development.

Relief (which includes food banks) is the immediate provision of emergency supplies, which, although not providing a long-term solution, is a safety net for people in need.

Rehabilitation is restoring people and communities to the positive aspects of their pre-crisis circumstances. An example of this is debt advice such as that offered by Christians Against Poverty (CAP). Quoted in the report local debt adviser Anne Young says: "We offer a holistic support service that empowers [people] to live a life free from debt".

Development is when people are enabled to live in a right relationship with each other in an ongoing way. An example of this is the Credit Crunch Cookery course where mums cook a simple two-course meal to take home. Spin-off benefits from this are the stabilisation of family relationships, encouraging the eating of nutritious food and tackling the rising cost of living. Course founder Marion Hayes is quoted in the report as saying: "The mums often feel unimportant and forgotten, but now they feel valued and respected. This has built self-confidence and self-esteem."

Corbett and Fikkert argue that failing to determine what kind of help is needed can lead to more harm than good and that the ultimate aim of a development project is for both givers and receivers to become more as God intends them to be.

"It is important to approach each project with sufficient humility to 'embrace our mutual brokenness'. The recognition that we are all in need of help, support and good relationships, provides a helpful foundation upon which to plan church-based poverty-alleviation work" concludes the report.