Policy and Reform Minister Chris Thomas has praised the action of charities in helping tackle poverty, hunger and homelessness.

He says CoMin’s Cold Hunger and Homelessness action plan aims to bring together government and the third sector to get a better idea of who is in poverty, what support and services they already receive and what more can and should be done to help them.

The action plan, laid before Tynwald in October last year, looks at issues such as children’s ’holiday hunger’, housing, and poverty but admits there is no ’silver bullet’ to address these complex and inter-related issues.

Demand for the services of the Foodbank has spiralled.

Mr Thomas said: ’The Manx public, volunteers, food retailers and others are incredibly generous supporting the Isle of Man Foodbank and other charities with tens of thousands of pounds of cash and food.

’The difference this charitable generosity and action makes in preventing hunger far outweighs the cash value of it.’

He said a Treasury official told the Tynwald select committee on poverty that charities act as a ’shock-absorber’, proving flexible support to individuals in the short-term.

This is something government cannot do because that would require a level of administration and an ’intolerable’ level of inquiry into people’s lives, the committee was told.

Mr Thomas said: ’How fortunate we are that the Foodbank provides crisis support in the form of food parcels to families and individuals in need, as well as support to help get beyond the crisis, and plan for a return to independence, and a means of distributing surplus food from suppliers to those in need.’

Social policy

But the financial scale of social security and other social policy is several hundred times greater than that of the charities, he said.

Free school meals cost £680,000 annually, and the budget for child benefit and the means tested social security benefits which trigger free school meals is more than £20,000,000. These public contributions are vital to tackle the root causes of poverty,’ said the Minister.

But he said preventing child hunger is most effective when flexible charities work as they can, complementing the more structured approach of social security and other social services.

Neal Mellon, one of the directors of the Isle of Man Foodbank, made perceptive remarks in Isle of Man Newspapers’ recent report about free school meals, stating that while school meals offer a varied menu, charitable initiatives could address ’concerns for those children arriving at school hungry’.

Mr Thomas said it is admirable that the charities seem to work together well.

For instance, the figures for food charity between 2014 and 2017 collected for the September 2019 Cold Hunger and Homelessness Action Plan seem to show that when the Foodbank commenced and then expanded its activity providing food parcels from 2013, the Salvation Army switched its provision to other things like fuel poverty.

The Minister said: ’Encouraging working together is the ethos behind several components of this Cold Hunger and Homelessness action plan.’

He said work with the third sector has revealed anecdotal information that any ’holiday hunger’ tends to be at the end of the holidays when money is required for school uniforms.

A working group of charities and officials is now considering possible responses to be implemented from next summer, he said.

Mr Thomas said: ’The action plan also acknowledges that the charities are developing a system to gather individual but anonymised data from those they help to assist in the provision of joined up support.

’A template for collaborative working between government and the charities and other community groups is being developed.’