Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘poverty’

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.

Who helps the hungry?

It was announced today that the Red Cross have undertaken a new task. They’re going to be raising funds and collecting food in order to feed the poor and hungry, the families who can’t afford to buy food, in a country where they haven’t been needed in almost 70 years. The situation in this country has become so bad that more than half a million people are having to rely on food banks, on charity, in order to keep their families alive.

That country is Britain.

Our beloved government denies that there is any link between the rapidly increasing number of people relying on food banks and the sweeping cuts they’ve made to welfare and public services. In July Lord Freud, a Work and Pensions minister, claimed that the increase in people using food banks was because more now existed, and implied that those claiming from food banks weren’t in need but just after a freebie: “Clearly food from a food bank is by definition a free good and there’s almost infinite demand.” Last month Education Secretary Michael Gove claimed that the majority of people relying on food banks were doing so because they’re unable to manage their finances properly.

These men, these ministers, this government, haven’t a clue. You can only obtain food from a food bank if you’re referred by a professional – a doctor, health visitor or police officer for example. You can’t just turn up and walk off with a box of free food, someone has to recognise that if that person isn’t referred it’s likely that they and their family will go hungry. The government’s cuts to welfare, the introduction of the bedroom tax, their hateful policies with regard to people with disabilities, the increase in energy prices, all these things have chipped away at people’s income until they are unable to buy sufficient food for themselves and their children. (If you want to read a firsthand account of what it’s like to live in poverty in modern Britain, I highly recommended the blog by Jack Monroe, especially this post).

This is Britain. In 2013.

This is utterly disgraceful. The British government should be horrified, ashamed and racing to help these families. They’re not. So it’s left to charities like the Red Cross, the Trussell Trust and Fare Share to feed the hungry.

If you are one of the fortunate ones for whom food banks are just something you hear about in the news, please consider donating to your local food bank. If you don’t know where your nearest one is, google “food bank” and your town or area; alternatively your local church, children’s centre or GP surgery might know. You can help prevent families going hungry this winter; our government certainly isn’t going to.


UPDATE 16th October
According to figures released by the Trussell Trust today, they fed 355,885 people in the 6 months from April to September this year. That’s more than triple the number in the same period last year. Almost 34% of those fed were children; 51% were because of changes to benefits or delays in the welfare system.

5 ways to escape poverty in the UK

I’ve been amazed recently at how little empathy the British public seems to have for the poor in this dreadful economic situation of ours. But following my recent post about the scrounger stereotype I’ve been contacted by a lot of people who were genuinely surprised and horrified at the gap between the rhetoric and the reality. I’ve come to realise that a lot of people are just too fortunate to understand why a problem they see as easily solveable can actually be very complex.

Just get a job

As I wrote in my earlier post, this is often far from easy. Recent figures show that there are at least 4 Jobseekers claimants applying for each unfilled JobCentre vacancy in the UK; in some areas there are more than 20 JSA applicants per vacancy. Then of course there are those who are already working but are applying for other jobs. A few years ago a new supermarket opened in the city where I lived and over 5,000 people applied for 350 jobs.

Childcare costs often prevent parents from working, as does the rarity of work in school-hours only. Some parents are able to work around this by training as childminders and looking after other people’s children as well as their own but this isn’t always appropriate or an option.

Learn to budget

An assumption often seems to be made that the poor fritter their money away, that if they could just learn to budget they’d be fine. This may be true for a few but in my experience those on the breadline are extremely good at budgeting – they have to be. When your basic expenditure is nearly equal to (or sometimes exceeds) your income you learn to be very careful with every penny. Of course living in the edge like this only works until the unexpected happens. Perhaps the car breaks down or maybe it’s the boiler; your child has a growth spurt and needs new clothes or shoes; there’s an essential school trip that hadn’t been mentioned before. This leads me onto the next point…

Don’t borrow money you can’t repay

Unexpected costs tend to lead to borrowing. Perhaps the individual is lucky and can borrow from friends or family but more usually it’s a credit card that covers the gap. Bank loans are highly unlikely and so the payday lenders have cornered the market. They guarantee you a short-term loan no matter what your circumstances are – but the interest rates are extortionate, usually 3,000% or higher. And of course once you’ve borrowed money your monthly expenditure increases until you can pay back the debt. But if you were already stretched to the limit you won’t be able to pay it back.

Don’t have children if you can’t afford them

This one irritates me intensely. Yes, the ‘scrounger’ who deliberately has hordes of children while claiming benefits is a popular stereotype (mostly thanks to portrayals in the press or television programmes like Channel 4’s Skint) but it is very far from the norm. What many people don’t seem to realise is that circumstances can change. People fall ill, are made redundant or have their hours cut. Just because someone is poor now doesn’t mean that it was always thus.

Another point worth making is that even the most effective contraception can fail, even when used correctly. If a baby is conceived unexpectedly the impoverished parents have few options – have an abortion, give the baby into care or keep the baby and struggle on. Having been in this situation I can assure you that it is a dilemma I would not wish on anyone.

Sell the car

Not a bad suggestion if you live in a city with cheap and frequent public transport. But if you live anywhere else it’s unlikely that his solution is as cost effective as you might think. Where I live the bus I would use most often runs once an hour and not at all on Sundays or bank holidays. It also costs £4.20 to travel 2 miles.

I don’t have a clever or pithy conclusion to this post. But in the week that a report by Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty announced that “There is mounting evidence that the inadequacies of the welfare safety net are now directly driving the growth of hunger and reliance on charitable food handouts” it seems to me that a little less ignorance about poverty and a little more empathy towards those suffering it can only be a good thing.

When misery is selfish

A while ago I wrote this post about how I would dearly love to have more children but am unable to, mostly due to issues with my mental and physical health. I thought that I was gradually adjusting to the knowledge that DS is my last baby, that the large family DH and I yearn for will never exist. But this afternoon I was sorting through my maternity clothes and some baby clothes that DS has outgrown and I found myself sobbing quietly into a sleepsuit.

My last pregnancy wasn’t great, I suffered from AND (antenatal depression) and my mobility became so poor that I was housebound for the last month or so. But I would do it again in a heartbeat and the pain of knowing that I will never again know the thrill of having a small life growing inside me hurts me almost more than I can bear.

However I’ve been told on many occasions (mostly via social media but occasionally in person) that I shouldn’t feel like this, let alone admit it publicly. Apparently it is selfish and inconsiderate to those who are unable to have any children. I should count my blessings and stop feeling sorry for myself. Now, I have the deepest sympathy for anyone who wants children and cannot have them; I remember how desperate I was before DD was conceived and I can’t imagine the misery of knowing that you will never have a child. But I have come to realise that that doesn’t make my pain at not being able to have more children any less real, any less valid, any less painful.

As friends have pointed out to me, my having children doesn’t mean there are fewer children left for others – there isn’t a finite number to be shared out. Equally my pain should have no bearing on whether friends and acquaintances have more children; their reproductive decisions should be based on what is best for their family, not whether or not it will twist the knife a little deeper for me.

Conception isn’t the only topic where I have encountered this attitude; I have also been criticised when discussing poverty and finances. I have made no secret of the fact that DH and I are both out of work, that we have very little money, that every penny is stretched as far as it can go. But again I have been accused of selfishness if I admit that constantly counting the pennies and going without is stressful and makes me deeply unhappy. Yes, there are people who are worse off than I am, people whose children have no shelter, no doctors, no food. And of course I know this and I am grateful to live in my circumstances and not theirs. But knowing that there are many people worse off doesn’t make my money go any further. Knowing that there are families who are homeless doesn’t make me any happier about having to ask my mum to buy the children new shoes because we can’t afford to.

It can be helpful to remember that there are those less fortunate than ourselves. But there’s a difference between “Hey, it could be worse” and “You have no right to feel that way because of X”. Lecturing and berating someone for how they feel will not make them any less unhappy. It will change how they view you and whether they’re honest with you in the future. It may also change whether they’re honest with anyone else about how they feel or whether they merely bottle up the misery with an added dose of shame and guilt for feeling as they do.

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