'DRACONIAN' welfare cuts are increasingly driving cash-strapped Oxford families to rely on food banks, a human rights group has said.

Human Rights Watch released a new report today based on months of research interviews carried out in Oxford, Cambridgeshire and Hull.

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The report, published today, states: "This new phenomenon of growing hunger for some of the least well-off people in the country has emerged alongside a wide-ranging and draconian restructuring of the country’s welfare system since 2010.

"The number of people, including families with children, going hungry is rising at an alarming rate.

"As policies were implemented, reliance on food aid spiraled exponentially, with nongovernmental or charitable organizations stepping in to fill the hunger gap arising from this restructuring of the welfare architecture."

The report mentions Oxford Food Bank as one of the organisations working to redistribute surplus or near-expiry food to those who need it.

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Speaking to The Guardian in an article published today, dinner lady Thelma Trevis, who works at Orchard Meadow Primary School in Blackbird Leys, said: "We have teachers coming up to us in the middle of the day and they say there is a child who hasn’t had breakfast, who hasn’t eaten since the previous evening."

Orchard Meadow and neighbouring Pegasus primary schools were cited by the paper as schools which receive leftover fruit, vegetables, bread and dried goods from Oxford Food Bank.

Referencing the article on Twitter this morning, Oxford Food Bank wrote: "The government is failing in its duty of care, food surplus being used to relieve child hunger in Oxford."

Human Rights Watch's report said school teachers 'continue to raise alarm bells about children arriving at school hungry.' 

In 2017 The Oxford Academy in Littlemore, where a huge 54 per cent of students are eligible for free school meals, became a drop-off point for Community Emergency Foodbank (CEF) Oxford.

Human Rights Watch said changes to the benefits system 'had the effect of plunging people further into poverty and vastly exacerbating food insecurity.'

The group added: "Rather than being a necessary, bitter pill, these are policy choices taken by political leaders to cut state financial support."

It added that shortfalls in data collection about child food security meant the Government was 'falling down in its responsibilities under human rights law.' 

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Oxford city councillor Shaista Aziz said: "Hunger is a very real part of more and more people’s lives and the lives of children in our city, yet Oxford is one of the most affluent and richest cities in the country.

"It’s a shameful indictment of the state of Britain and this government that hunger and poverty are the daily lived realities of children and adults in one of the richest countries in the world."

The councillor, who represents Rose Hill, said Rose Hill Junior Youth Club is doing excellent work to cook fresh and nutritious food for children using supplies donated by the Oxford Food Bank.

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Ms Aziz added: "For some children, these fresh cooked meals are the only opportunity they have to eat a nutritious dinner because they don’t have food available at home."

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: "We’re helping parents to move into work to give families the best opportunity to move out of poverty.

“And it’s working – employment is at a record high and children growing up in working households are five times less likely to be in relative poverty.

“We spend £95 billion a year on working-age benefits and we’re supporting over one million of the country’s most disadvantaged children through free school meals. Meanwhile we’ve confirmed that the benefit freeze will end next year.”