SHADOW welsh secretary Owen Smith visited Milford Haven’s PATCH food bank on Friday, as part of a Labour campaign to highlight how government cuts are affecting local communities.
Preseli Pembrokeshire Labour candidate Paul Miller and European elections hopeful Jayne Bryant joined Mr Smith. PATCH co-ordinator Tracy Olin explained how the number of people accessing the organisation, which also provides clothes and other household items, keeps on growing.
“In the beginning, we fed around 18 people a week,” said Tracy. “Now it’s more like 50. In the week before Christmas, 213 people came to us. We’ve also seen a steep rise in people needing clothes. Sometimes we get children with no shoes turning up.”
PATCH does not receive any grants, relying instead on volunteers and the goodwill of local people and businesses.
Mr Smith said he was ‘astounded’ by the degree of poverty in Wales.
“One of the ways you can count the cost of the Tory government is the 1400% rise in people accessing food banks over the last three years,” he told the Western Telegraph.
“It’s not just the unemployed that are struggling - the working poor are really suffering too. Living costs are constantly rising, but wages aren’t."
Jayne Bryant said visiting PATCH resonated for her as a European candidate.
“I’m interested because the government is refusing to access £22 million in funds from the European Union,” she said. “That money would have been particularly useful for Wales.”
The £2.5 billion ‘European Aid to the Most Deprived’ fund was created to subsidise food banks. The government turned down all but £2.9 million of its share, stating that ‘individual member states are best placed to take charge of such funding’. It is thought the money will be spent on helping people in to work, rather than on food aid.
Mr Miller said: “Yes, there’s a recovery, but many people are still in a very difficult situation,” he said. “When there’s money on offer that can help, you’re mad not to take it.”
Responding, Preseli Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb, said: “It is just not correct to suggest that the UK will be losing any additional money. The grant would come out of our pot of European funds anyway which we will receive in full. But we are opposed to Europe having a greater say over how the money is spent.”
“UK Governments, including under Labour, have used this European money for training and employment skills to help tackle long-term worklessness. The key to tackling poverty is to bring down unemployment.
“I am afraid Labour is trying to distort the picture and create an argument over foodbanks which is just not necessary.”