Between April and September this year, the Trussell Trust – the UK’s largest emergency food provider – gave 658,048 food parcels to people in crisis. If someone had suggested, say, 40 years ago that so many of our fellow citizens would need to go up to a complete stranger and ask them for food, I doubt they would have been believed; after all, we are the sixth richest country in the world. But this is now a daily reality for people living in our community of South Leeds.

I recently met a group of End Hunger UK campaigners to talk about the number of people in Leeds who are unable to feed themselves and their families. Local research undertaken by Leeds University has found that a growing number of children are going hungry and that this is affecting their concentration at school. There is huge stigma attached to not having enough to eat – children try to hide the truth from each other – and we know that the problem is worse during the school holidays because there isn’t a free school meal every day to rely on.

Malnutrition in the UK has tripled in a decade and diseases that we used to associate with the Victorian era, like rickets and scurvy, have returned. This is truly shocking.

The causes of this crisis – and I think we should see it as such – are many, but the main reasons why people need this help is because of low incomes, benefit delays, benefit changes and debt. The changeover to universal credit, which has also seen a rise in people seeking help, is another factor.

We should simply not accept that some of our fellow citizens are going hungry in a nation as rich as ours – things need to change – but in the meantime we should all be grateful to the organisations working to provide practical help, including the food banks serving South Leeds and their teams of dedicated volunteers.

If you want to help, or donate food or money then contact: Leeds South and East Foodbank, 7 Lenton Drive, Parkside Industrial Estate, Leeds LS11 5JW.

The thorny question of Brexit has absolutely dominated politics in the last week or so since the announcement that the Government has reached an agreement with the European Union on our withdrawal. I will be voting against the deal because it fails to provide clarity about our future economic relationship with the EU after we have left and that will mean uncertainty for local businesses and workers which is bad for the economy. The truth is that we haven’t faced up to the hard choices confronting the country now it has become clear that the promise we could have our cake and eat it while leaving the EU has proven not to be true.

Given the scale of the opposition to the deal, it’s very hard to see how it will get through the House of Commons. What happens next is anyone’s guess, but I would like to reassure those of you who have contacted me that the UK will not leave the European Union without a deal. While respecting the referendum result, Parliament will have to find another way forward which can command a majority. There is a long way to go on this but time is running out.

The Council has now agreed to undertake an independent review of the Holbeck managed area once the latest measures it has put in place have had time to take effect. I think this is a very sensible step, following my call for such a review, and I hope it begins before too long so that everyone can express their view.

And finally, may I take this opportunity to wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

First published in the December 2018 edition of South Leeds Life available online here

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