‘No safety net’: People struggle to put food on the table in Rishi Sunak constituency | Food poverty


JTwo miles from Rishi Sunak’s £1.5million mansion in the Yorkshire hamlet of Kirby Sigston, the phone rings at the local food bank. She is a mother of four teenagers, ages 13 to 18. A little over a week after the school holidays, they have run out of food.

Alison Grainger, the Hambleton Foodshare coordinator, arranges for the family to receive a package containing three meals for three days. The food bank is only open for emergencies on weekends, so supplies will need to stretch over at least five days.

It is, says Grainger, as if the charity is just “putting a band aid on a massive wound”.

“There’s nothing. There’s no safety net,” she said. “People just go through the little holes and everything seems difficult for people to navigate.”

In one of the richest parts of the region, in a constituency represented by the man campaigning to be prime minister – often described as the wealthiest member of parliament – growing numbers of people are struggling to cope with the rising cost of living.

Hambleton Foodshare issued 397 parcels in May – its busiest month and nearly double the number for May last year. It distributed more emergency supplies in April, May and June this year – 1,055 – than it did in its first year of operation in 2012. More than half of the 1,970 food parcels distributed during the first six months of this year were aimed at children.

Sunak, who has represented the constituency of Richmond, North Yorkshire, since 2015, became the first frontline politician to make the Sunday Times rich list this year, with an estimated fortune of £730million along with his wife , Akshata Murty.

The couple bought a Grade II listed mansion for £1.5million from Kirby Sigston the year he was elected. Last year they obtained planning permission to build a large leisure area in the garden, complete with a 20 meter swimming pool, tennis court and gym.

The Sunaks’ property is surrounded by hundreds of acres of rolling fields and farmland in one of the most desirable places to live. House prices in Richmondshire rose 29% to average just over £250,000 last year, the biggest increase in Britain. Its unemployment rate is less than half the national average.

Beyond the well-heeled high street of Northallerton, however, many people at work are increasingly reliant on charity. “Before the pandemic, the reason people came often was because of [welfare] sanctions,” said Michael Webster, chairman of the Hambleton Foodshare directors. “It’s very small now. Now it’s just people who don’t have enough money.

Rishi Sunak’s constituency house in Kirby Sigston. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Observer

A growing number of people say they turn off their freezers or stoves to save electricity, Grainger said. More and more people are relying on food parcels to be delivered to them because they cannot afford bus fare or fuel to drive.

Sunak’s decision to withdraw £20 a week from Universal Credit payments last October was “so disappointing because maybe it gave people a bit of dignity to be able to afford the weird thing”, Grainger said.

But it goes beyond the former chancellor, to an ‘indifferent’ welfare system and a political class that ‘doesn’t understand the reality of what it really is. Even we don’t understand it, but we we can see the immediacy of it.


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