When J was first taken into care, he was so hungry that he ate off the floor and out of bins. His appetite was insatiable, and it took him years to learn that adults could be relied upon to feed him regularly, and not to overeat in times of stress. Of course, he wasn’t taken into care just because his primary carers weren’t feeding him. The reasons were much more complex than that. But with parental responsibility comes a requirement to feed and keep our children safe, and this is much harder now than ever before. The implications of this for the future are huge.
It shocks me that in 2015, there are more than 1,000 food banks across the UK. They didn’t exist when I was growing up. We did collect tins for Harvest Festival which were then redistributed to the elderly, but people who were working had enough to eat. Even five years ago, food banks were a rarity. Now, the Conservatives haven’t ruled out making cuts to child benefit, and an academic study by Oxford University suggests that the number of people using food banks will double to more than two million a year under their plans for £12 billion of welfare cuts.
As John Middleton, President of the Faculty of Public Health commented,
Loopstra et al’s paper is an important analysis of the unacceptable phenomenon of acute hunger in modern Britain. Emergency food aid is an extreme manifestation of food poverty. The rise in food prices, the rise in energy costs and the fall in real wages until last year has meant that perhaps 13 million people cannot afford a healthy nutritious diet. This is a much greater proportion of the UK population than before.
Jack Monroe, the cook, campaigner against hunger and poverty in the UK, journalist and recipe columnist for The Guardian, writes eloquently, and brilliantly, about food poverty on her blog A Girl Called Jack. She argues that poverty in one of the richest economies in the world is a blight on society, and that poverty anywhere in a world with enough resources for us all is a damning indictment of greed and inequality. She writes delicious budget recipes which the poor (including the working poor) who live around me might be able to access if it weren’t also for swingeing cuts to our libraries in Brent over the last five years.
At the risk of sounding clichéd, the evidence is overwhelming that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Last week, a poll of 2,000 school leaders revealed that:
- 84% identify a change in financial circumstances among parents of those children affected
- 66% are having to step in to provide services previously delivered by health and social services (of which 72% say they are providing mental health support)
- 77% are providing school bags and stationary
- 46% are providing basic clothing items like underwear
- 54% are providing free after school clubs and help with transport
- 24% are providing laundry facilities
We are being asked to consider many issues in the forthcoming General Election. I think though that feeding our vulnerable children and keeping them safe, and supporting others in this country to do the same, is the mark of a decent society.
This Thursday I urge everyone to use their votes to help keep our most vulnerable children safe and free from hunger.
I am linking this post to the Adoption Social’s Weekly Adoption Shout Out (number 115!). No theme this week, and so I hope they will forgive the politicking.