Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘BNP’

Still helping the hungry

In October last year I wrote about the increasing use of foodbanks in the UK. Sadly this is a problem that isn’t going to go away any time soon; the increase in fuel and food prices and little or no increase in income means that many people are reaching the point where they simply cannot afford to buy enough food. This is exacerbated by changes to the welfare system, where many who rely on benefits to survive are experiencing delays in payments or even having them stopped altogether as a punishment for not being able to jump through all the government’s hoops (this includes the large number of people with disabilities who have been wrongly declared fit for work). Of course it’s not just so-called “scroungers” who are having to attend foodbanks; approximately 50% of UK children living in poverty are from working families.

In the year 2012-2013, approximately 400 foodbanks overseen by the Trussell Trust gave emergency food parcels to 347,000 people, of which 127,000 were children. As if that isn’t shocking enough, in the year 2013-2014 that number rose to over 913,000. They run only 37% of foodbanks in the UK; assuming that attendance at the other foodbanks have risen at a similar rate, that’s almost 2.5 million people in the UK who at some point last year were unable to afford food.

Despite claims by Conservative MPs and peers that the existence of foodbanks creates the demand for their services because people merely want free food (Lord Freud and Lord Tebbit), that people only use them because they cannot manage their finances (Michael Gove), have spent all their money on junk food (Lord Tebbit again) or whether foodbanks are seeing more people because of the drive to reduce food waste (can you explain that one again please Esther McVey?) it is clear that foodbanks are increasingly needed in the UK.

Contrary to the anti-foodbank propaganda, you can’t just turn up to a foodbank and walk off with a box of free food whenever you feel like it. Firstly you have to be identified by a professional (such as a doctor, health visitor or social worker) as being in crisis, after which they issue you with a food voucher. At the foodbank you exchange the voucher for 3 days worth of nutritionally balanced, non-perishable food. You can do this a maximum of 3 times in 6 months. All food is donated by the public, and sorted and distributed by volunteers.

A short while ago a friend of mine tweeted about an elderly lady she encountered in a supermarket, begging the staff to “lend” her a ready meal as she had no money for food (I don’t know whether or not they did, but my friend and another kindhearted customer paid for giftcards for the staff to pass on to her). This should not be happening. Our elderly, our children, our poor and vulnerable citizens shouldn’t have to rely on charity to survive. This is the UK, we’re one of the richest nations in the world – why are there people starving? Why are teachers and schools having to feed hungry children? Why did that elderly lady feel that she had no option but to swallow her pride and beg in a supermarket?

Our government has spent months denying that there is any link between changes to the welfare system and foodbank usage, even trying to suppress the results of their own investigation when it showed that there was indeed a clear link. Our government has declined millions of pounds of aid from the European Parliament that was specifically intended to help relieve food poverty in the UK. Our government does not care about the poor and the hungry, about those who have to beg for food, who have to go to a foodbank to feed their family (and in some cases return most of the food because they can’t afford the electricity or gas needed to cook it).

But I care. And I’m sure you care too. So let’s do something about this and make our voices heard. Get angry. Write to your MP, your MEP, your council and your local press; sign and share as many relevant petitions as you can find, shout from the rooftops and via social media that this is not right, that this cannot be allowed to continue! Read and share blogs written by people like Jack Monroe, who have experienced this misery firsthand. And of course, find your local foodbank and donate to them. You can search for them online or ask at your local church, GP surgery or community centre. The Trussell Trust aren’t the only people to run foodbanks in the UK; FareShare do as well and so do many churches, mosques, synagogues and temples. Whether you donate food, your time as a volunteer, or money so that they can keep working, please give what you can. Your help, your voice, your anger and your donations, are all desperately needed.

Why I won’t be teaching my children to be tolerant

Tolerance is a word often used in 21st century Britain. We are encouraged to be tolerant towards those of different gender, sexuality, nationality, race religion, politics and the myriad other differences that emerge in a society as large and varied as our own. A tolerant society is seen as evidence of a civilised society, with less tolerant groups seen as backwards.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines tolerance as “the ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with”. To put up with it, in other words. The word “tolerance” is usually used these days when referring to the widely accepted idea that even if you’re uncomfortable around those who are different you should accept them and just keep quiet about it.

However this implicit muffling of views that mainstream society finds unacceptable can lead to the proliferation of unpleasant groups like the English Defence League and the BNP. It is a widespread belief that these groups are vile, racist, ignorant and inflammatory. Yet they must appeal to some people as they keep acquiring new members. And if we insist that tolerance is the way forwards, then shouldn’t we tolerate their views too? No matter how disagreeable we may find them?

Of course, this leads to a rather sticky problem. Where do we draw the line? Who decides which views and differences must be tolerated and which are unacceptable? Why is it ok to criticise someone for being racist but not to criticise someone for being tolerant? I don’t have a simple answer to this other than to say that it is the law, and that the majority of people in our society agree that this is right.

However I don’t want my children to grow up tolerating the differences that we all have, whether it’s someone’s religion, sexuality or anything else. I want my children to grow up embracing our differences, exploring them and learning from them. But I also want my children to have the confidence to confront and argue against views and attitudes they find abhorrent.

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