What will you be eating this Christmas? Will you be sitting down to turkey and all the trimmings (or a suitable vegetarian alternative)? But what of those families who struggle to put food on the plates of themselves and their children on a regular basis?
Do you care passionately that no one in the UK should go hungry? Do you think that Government could do more to tackle food poverty? Do you want to be part of building a food justice movement in the UK? There is a movement stirring in the churches and beyond to say ‘enough is enough’ and to call for urgent action to end the scandal of families going hungry in the sixth wealthiest nation on the planet.
Visit www.church-poverty.org.uk/righttofood to find out more.
Alongside our treatment of refugees, and our response to climate change, the explosion in food poverty and the huge numbers being forced to turn to food banks is probably one of the most shameful issues facing us as a nation today. How we treat the poorest and most vulnerable members is a litmus for how we should be judged as a country. Yet sadly on this measure we are falling a long way short.
Whilst literally hundreds of thousands of people have had to turn to food banks in recent years, emergency food aid cannot be a long-term solution. A growing list of organisations have called for stronger and more coordinated national and local government to take action to reduce food poverty.
The Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty, of which I have been privileged to be a member over the past 12 months, has uncovered a crisis of food poverty for many households in the UK. Countless parents – usually mothers – go hungry to feed their children or having to prioritise calories over nutrients to afford their weekly food shop. Many people are feeling a deep sense of anxiety from the struggle to manage serious squeezes in household budgets that arise from the cost of living rising faster than income.
The Commission’s Expert Panel – a group of people from Manchester and Salford who themselves have direct experience of poverty – said that stigma, embarrassment and inability to access charitable food provision had put them off visiting charitable food providers, even when they were in crisis. “People are proud,” one member of the group said, “and if people think they are going to get a label…they won’t go”. This fear of labelling, the group said, is bound up with a stigma surrounding food banks.
“People don’t want to be seen to use a food bank to be called a scrounger.”
Living with poverty and household food insecurity can be a day-to-day struggle and the evidence shows that it leads to a higher likelihood of early death and being more likely to suffer from diet-related diseases. But stories from people with experience of this struggle tell a deeper story of an inability to access food of adequate nutritional quality, and of fears and anxieties about social situations which many people might take for granted, like hosting a child’s birthday, inviting friends to share a meal – or sharing Christmas dinner together.
“I always look at the [calorie] value of something, how much you get for your pound. How much it is going to fill you up. You have to look at values to see if it’s enough to fill you up.”
“I cried going out to work because I felt inadequate”, one member recalled. “You feel a responsibility of guilt”, another member said, “it’s horrible, the lies you tell your children.” The prioritisation of children often led to parents going without food in order to make sure their children had a meal. “I’ve gone out to work hungry to make sure there’s enough food left back at home for them” one mother on the panel said, responding to another mother who had explained “as long as I see the kids have eaten, I will sit without food.”
I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with people in churches across the country to the effect of “I’ve got involved in my local foodbank because people are going hungry – but in a wealthy country like ours I don’t think people should need to be going to a foodbank.”
During the autumn hundreds of people have pitched up at meetings across the country to show their interest in joining a ‘right to food campaign.’
Now is the time to act…
So are you in? If so, join us on 7 February in breaking bread for all; in praying, giving and signing up to the campaign to end hunger in the UK.
‘Bread Broken for All: A Right to Food’ is the theme for Church Action on Poverty Sunday, 7 February 2016: To download your resources visit www.church-poverty.org.uk/sunday