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Bishop of Oxford snubbed by PM’s constituency office

David Cameron has drawn criticism after his Witney constituency office refused to open its doors for the Bishop of Oxford, who was delivering an open letter about food poverty.

Three police officers prevented the Right Reverend John Pritchard, whose diocese seat is Christ Church Cathedral, and poverty activist Reverend Keith Hebden from entering the constituency building. Hebden expressed surprise, saying that the pair had phoned ahead to arrange a visit at the Witney office

“The office did eventually acknowledge receipt of the letter over the intercom but said they would not open the door and speak to the Bishop of Oxford,” Hebden told Cherwell. “The police said they were there to ‘facilitate the protest’, however, there was no protest: we literally left the Methodist Church, walked up the road to the constituency office, delivered the letter and were about to leave when the police arrived.”Pritchard and Hebden’s letter, which was co-signed by 42 Anglican bishops and 600 clerics, expressed concern for the rising national demand for food banks as part of the End Hunger Fast campaign. 

The message referenced a recent study by the Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest food charity, which revealed a 163 percent increase in British people receiving emergency food since last year.

Founding director of the Oxford Food Bank, David Cairns, acknowledged rising food need, but warned that such statistics may overexaggerate the seriousness of the crisis.

The increasing sophistication of food banks over the past decade, Cairns explained, has led to charities reaching more people in need than ever before. For example, the Oxford Food Bank served £5,000 worth of food a week at its inception five years ago, but is now able to provide up to £20,000 a week due to a rapidly expanding volunteer and donor base.

Cairns expressed hope that a recent parliamentary enquiry on the government’s role in food provision “will actually come up with true facts” about food charities’ contributions. “We try to keep politics out of food banks,” he told Cherwell.

Keith Hebden, however, believed his and the Bishop of Oxford’s experience at the Prime Minister’s constituency proves differently.

“Everything is political, so we can’t keep politics out of food banks. What we can do is try to rise above the political point scoring that stops progress,” he said, adding that End Hunger Fast’s letter was addressed to the leaders of the three major parties, not just Cameron.

“Only one published an article that day saying he was a good Anglican, while his office called the police rather than welcome his bishop,” Hebden said, referencing Cameron’s recent editorial in the Church Times.

“It’s disappointingly cynical of David Cameron to twice public declare an emotional commitment to the Church of England but refuse to acknowledge a letter signed by 47 Anglican Bishops and over 600 church leaders.”

“We hope he will get around to replying sooner rather than later,” Hebden continued, adding that End Hunger Fast would continue to mobilise until the government addressed their concerns.

“This is an urgent national crisis and we have the wit and resources to do something about it: we need to have a welfare state that cares for the most vulnerable, work that pays, and an answer to the problem of rising food prices.”

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