The Archbishop of Canterbury was in the news yesterday, saying that he’s more shocked by food poverty in the UK than suffering in African refugee camps. He said that although it’s less serious, a British family having to turn to a foodbank for help is more shocking than suffering in Africa because it’s so unexpected.
He’s right, of course. The UK is one of the richest countries in the world, and yet people are increasingly resorting to foodbanks in order to get through tough times. I’m glad the foodbanks are there to help people, but it absolutely disgusts me that they should need to be. To me, it seems that the government are happy to allow charities such as the Trussell Trust bridge a gap that should never have been allowed to develop.
It’s easy to sit in judgement of people who use foodbanks, to say they should manage their money better, or that more people are using foodbanks only because more are aware of them. It’s easy to say that if you’ve no money you should sell your possessions before resorting to charity.
The fact is that nobody plans for this to happen. Nobody plans to become a single parent with no money; nobody thinks “oh well, I’ll carry on as normal and if I run out of cash I’ll just go to a foodbank.” People who end up having to rely on a charity to feed their children are mostly ashamed, and horrified by the situation they find themselves in. Archbishop Justin Welby is right to be shocked; I certainly am. And disgusted, too.
Today a parliamentary report backed by the Archbishop will outline plans to eliminate hunger in Britain by 2020, and to urge ministers and the food industry to act.
Am I the only person who thinks that “by 2020” is a bit of a cop-out? Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad the report has been produced, and I’m glad the Archbishop of Canterbury has helped to shine the media spotlight on something that is genuinely shocking… but five years? It’s disgusting that things have been allowed to get into this situation in the first place, and now we’re allowing five years for it to be resolved? During which time of course, there is a general election and food poverty will again become an electioneering tool rather than a real crisis that normal people are living with every day.
The current government blame the Labour government; the Labour Party blame the coalition. The fact is that successive governments over several years have allowed this to happen. Recent benefit cuts have exacerbated the situation, but the situation was already there. People were already struggling to make ends meet. While I cannot in any way defend the current government and their outrageous poor-hating antics, the benefit cuts did not start this fire. That said, while they still insist on their reverse Robin Hood tactics, the situation will not be resolved – in five, ten or fifty years.
My MP is one of the people who worked on the All Party Parliamentary Group behind this report… the same MP who voted for the Bedroom Tax which has caused so many to lose their financial footing.
This government has done such a monumental anti-PR job on the poor and disenfranchised of this country, it will take more than five years just to dismantle their rhetoric and get the general public to believe there is a real crisis. After years of being told that people are just being a bit crap with their cash – or worse, deliberately defrauding the system, the people who believe the headlines won’t suddenly start to support attempts to resolve a problem they’ve been led to believe is the fault of the lazy poor, the feckless benefit claimants, the dishonest immigrants.
What I would like to see is government ministers walking the walk. I would like to see the MPs who set the policies, who blame the poor and the benefit claimants, the likes of IDS and George Osborne, actually having to live on the budgets so many of us are sticking to in order to survive. Not just for their food budgets, but for their rent, their council tax, their electricity. I would like to see IDS with his last fiver in his hand, trying to decide whether to put credit on his electricity meter so as to warm his house, or buy food for his child. I would like to see them live like this, and then continue to make the policies and headlines that vilify those of us doing it day in, day out.
If the policy makers were making decisions about whether to feed their child or keep them warm, on a daily basis, we wouldn’t be looking at a five year wait to fix this problem. The problem would never have arisen, if they understood, on a fundamental basis, how the rest of us struggle to make ends meet.