Blog Action Day
I wrote my first post for Blog Action Day in 2011. I was in a food court at Heathrow Airport waiting for my flight to be called. I wrote about food then, and I am writing about food now.
Three years ago there were very few official foodbanks in the UK. The Trussell Trust now operates the largest network of foodbanks in the UK. The one I work for, Smethwick Foodbank, has been operational for just over two and a half years. When I getting angry about food inequality, even if you had told me then, that three years later I would be working for a charity that gave food to people in those in food crisis in Britain I would not have believed you.
While I was away I saw Occupy demonstrations in every city I visited in the USA. People were getting angry then. As I stepped over the homeless on Hollywood Boulevard, I never thought that the UK would have a homeless crisis so bad that led to come companies installing spikes on its window ledges and doorways to stop rough sleepers settling there. That seats in bus shelters would be designed so that no one can actually sit on them, let alone sleep on them.
What I saw on my travels back in 2011/2 made me angry too. The glaring inequality in Los Angeles with a homeless shelter just around the block from Rodeo Drive. Hotel employees striking because they were not being paid a living wage, working in hotels that charged customers upwards of $300 a night. These workers were struggling to pay their bills, didn’t have medical insurance and were living in waged poverty.
And I was sure that in England, in Great Britain, in the United Kingdom this would never happen because we have a Welfare State. We look after those who are too ill to work. We support people who are unemployed with benefits that provide them with enough money to feed their family. A person with a disability would not be treated like they are in Barcelona, forced to beg on the street. We British looked after those that needed support. How wrong I was.
In 2014 there are about 420 Trussell Trust foodbanks in the UK. In 2013-14 foodbanks fed 913,138 people nationwide. Of those helped, 330,205 were children. In Smethwick we feed nearly as many children as we do adults.
SIFA Fireside provide hot meals, showers and support to rough sleepers in Birmingham. Socks and Chocs, founded by Ian Northcott, who recently won a Pride of Birmingham Award hand out, you’ve guessed it, socks, chocolate and sleeping bags to the homeless in Birmingham and the West Midlands. In 2014. This is needed. Hungry and homeless people living on the streets.In Birmingham and every city across the UK.
Tales from the foodbank
Many people who go to a foodbank have at least one person working in the household.They are simply not earning enough to cover all their outgoings.Others have been referred to a foodbank by Job Centre Plus as they have been sanctioned for turning up late for an appointment. Or not applied for enough jobs that week.
Most sanctions that are challenged and overturned. Yet a person may have to go for a few weeks without an income. How this is supposed to help a person back to work is beyond me. No bus fare to get to a job interview. No money for food, for shampoo, for toothpaste. For loo roll. No dignity.
People who depend on a tin of beans and a packet of pasta from a foodbank, to feed their child will be making a choice between eat and heat. Parents go hungry to feed their children. People are sacked from their jobs because they have to go to hospital to be treated for angina. People are threatened by their landlord, who phones them morning noon and night to tell them to get out of the flat and take your bed to the council, they will house you. These are tales from the foodbank.
Three days of tinned food
Foodbanks provide basic food for three days. Typically this will include tins of soup, beans, meat and fish. A couple of tins of vegetables, some tea, pasta, milk and juice. Exciting menu plans await. Three days of pasta, beans and Spam. How would you like to eat that for three days?
Meanwhile, a mom who has worked all day in a low paid job will come to foodbank as they have run out of money that week. What they earn is not enough to cover the gas, electric and rent let alone food.These are the hardworking people we hear so much about. Who work nights cleaning industrial kitchens in big hotels, or your office, for a minimum wage.
We are obsessed with cooking shows
Our tv screens are filled with cooking shows such as Bake Off and Masterchef. Jamie Oliver shows us how to Save with Jamie using brisket of beef, for goodness sake! It is fashionable amongst the middle classes to be thrifty and abandon Waitrose for Aldi now and then. A new TV advert, a farmers market setting, tricking the middle class into buying from Lidl. Luxury goods of course, not 21p tins of beans.
And David Cameron eats violet artichokes while kids go to school hungry and come home hungry and eat baked beans and corned beef with a packet of instant mash. And David thinks that this is acceptable.
George Orwell knew that there was inequality
In 1937 The Road to Wigan Pier, by George Orwell was published.I am currently re reading it and wonder if this is the blueprint the government have for our future. Quotes such as
The middle classes still talking about “lazy idle loafers on the dole” and saying that “these men could find work if they wanted to.”
could be from the pages of the Daily Mail in 2014. He mentions the strictly enforced ‘Means Test‘ which amongst other things, had neighbours spying on one another and families who because they will lose dole if the grandparent lives with them as the are counted as a lodger under this test, send Grandpa to a lodging house. Like the Bedroom Tax, unfair and dividing communities and families.
The rich enjoying good, fresh food while the poor existing on
‘ hideous rows of tins which usurp more and more of the space in any food-shop’ George Orwell The Road to Wigan Pier
nowadays provided by the foodbank.
Foodbanks are not the solution
I must stress here that the food provided does provide food that is nutritionally balanced. Tinned food is a safe and convenient way for foodbanks to store and provide food. But it is boring food. Why can’t food be a pleasure for the poor as well as the rich? This is why we add herbs and spices to the bag of tinned tomatoes and tuna.
Foodbanks also provide, where they can, powdered skimmed milk to families with young children, as it has added vitamins. Vitamins needed to prevent rickets which is linked to poor diet. Yes rickets. In England in 2014.
Foodbank is a sticking plaster, not a cure for food poverty. Yet is is a sticking plaster that thousands of families will be turning to for help this week.
This and last week I have spent a lot of my time collecting food from schools who have been holding Harvest Festival assemblies. The amount of food, trolley loads, donated has been staggering. At one school the kids asked me where we were taking the food to. I told them that it was going to Smethwick. ‘Oh’ they said ‘we thought you were taking it to the airport to send to the poor people’. So I told them that in Smethwick, in Birmingham and all around England and the UK there were people who didn’t have enough money to buy food sometimes. And those kids were sad.