- Conscience and the Commons
Following his election as Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron was grilled by the media about his beliefs as an evangelical Christian. Has the focus on faith, which began with Tony Blair, reached the point where it is harder than ever to hold religious beliefs and play an active role in political life?
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The Prime Minister has praised the “acts of kindness” by Christians in Britain such as running soup kitchens, homeless shelters and the evangelistic Alpha course in prisons.
But his Easter message, released today, neglected to mention the growing numbers of food banks which church leaders say indicate the Government is not doing enough to combat food poverty.
In his two-minute recorded message David Cameron said: “Easter is not just a time for Christians across our country to reflect, but a time for our whole country to reflect on what Christianity brings to Britain.”
He also drew attention to the plight of “Christians around the world who are ostracised, abused – even murdered – simply for the faith they follow”.
During Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons last week, Mr Cameron said that he would raise the issue of Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws, under which many Christians have been sentenced to death – with the country’s Prime Minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif.
In a letter published earlier today, some 45 Church of England bishops plus 600 free-church and Catholic clerics and Religious called the scale of Britain’s growing food poverty “shocking” and urged the main political parties to commit fully to the findings of a newly created all-party parliamentary inquiry into the causes of food poverty and hunger.
"Hope drives us to act. It drives us to tackle the growing hunger in our midst. It calls on each of us, and government too, to act to make sure that work pays, that food markets support sustainable and healthy diets, and that the welfare system provides a robust last line of defence against hunger."
The letter coincides with the release of data by the Christian-founded Trussell Trust, the UK's biggest food bank network, which reveals that more than 900,000 people received three-day food parcels in 2013-14, a 163 per cent increase. The Trussell Trust chairman Chris Mould said: “This figure is just the tip of the iceberg of UK food poverty, it doesn’t include those helped by other emergency food providers, those living in towns where there is no foodbank, people who are too ashamed to seek help or the large number of people who are only just coping by eating less and buying cheap food.”
Mr Mould said many people had sought help after their benefits had been delayed. “A more thoughtful approach to the administration of the benefits regime and sanctions, in particular, increasing the minimum wage, introducing the living wage and looking at other measures such as social tariffs for essentials like energy would help to address the problem of UK hunger,” he said.
In February Cardinal Vincent Nichols drew attention to people left destitute due to delays in receiving benefits, which he said was “a disgrace”. The Prime Minister initially responded that the cardinal's criticisms were “simply not true”. However, last week at an Easter reception for church leaders Mr Cameron claimed that his Government's position and that of the Church were not incompatible.