I recently had the opportunity to visit the Brentwood Foodbank based at Doddinghurst Community Church. It was instantly apparent that Minister Jem Trehern and his brilliant team are doing amazing work. Not only are they supplying those in need of assistance with food but just as importantly, they are taking the time to build supportive relationships that are helping people overcome many of the root causes of the problems they face.
Jem and his volunteers offer advice as well as food - introducing people who come in to those who can offer them assistance in getting out of debt, sort out problems with their benefits, help them confront alcohol or drugs problems - or just rebuild their confidence to get back on their feet.
The Brentwood Foodbank volunteers made the very valid point that these days financial difficulties can be hidden. People turn up to the Foodbank in new cars, or with the latest Smartphone - looking to all intents and purposes that they are fine. Yet such people are often trapped in expensive rent-to-buy contracts that they signed before their circumstances slipped. These are people who have lots but own little.
Tens of billions of pounds every year are spent paying benefits to millions of people across the UK who are unemployed, on a low income, or in need of support. The Work and Pensions Committee on which I sit is always pushing for more to be done to reduce delays - and now around 90 per cent of out-of-work benefit payments are being processed on time.
The Government is committed to ensuring that people will always be better off in work - and better off the more hours they work. This was not the case under the old benefits system. Work is - and should always be - the best route out of poverty and so, whilst there are still many people in our country who we need to help, it is a great thing that unemployment is at its lowest level since the mid 1970s. Just as it is a great thing that there are people like Jem and his team offering a helping hand to their neighbours in need.