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Hunger on the Streets

The worldwide recession and economic downturn, which we appear to be turning the corner on and some green shoots of recovery are beginning to show, nevertheless has created in its wake casualties of unemployment, redundancy and the need for food banks on the streets of Britain. Faith Today investigates.

Cafod are encouraging schools to join them in their Big Share with people around the world in their effort to end global hunger. Earlier this year the ‘Enough Food for Everyone IF’ campaign was launched ‘in response to the growing numbers of people globally who are experiencing hunger,’ reports Walking the Breadline: The scandal of food poverty in 21st-century Britain (published jointly by Church Action on Poverty and Oxfam in May 2013). ‘But the shocking reality,’ says this report ‘is that hundreds of thousands of people in the UK are now reliant on food aid, principally in the form of food banks. Without the generosity of their fellow citizens operating food banks hundreds and thousands of people, let down by the safety net, would simply be unable to feed themselves’. Food poverty is a growing problem here in the UK. Recent research estimates nearly five million people are struggling to feed themselves properly and eat nutritiously. Food prices have risen by 25% in the last five years, hitting household budgets hard. The food budget is also often the only area of household spending where there is potential to make savings. No wonder then that the use of food banks in the UK is on the rise; over half a million people are now thought to be reliant on emergency food aid.

In a one-off Great British Menu special screened on the BBC last summer, chefs James Martin, Angela Hartnett and Richard Corrigan lived with three households where people are finding it hard to make ends meet, and came face to face with the issues. Richard Corrigan visited a family of six in Mansfield who, on average, had just £1.66 per day to feed each member of the family.

What the chefs discovered was just how difficult people in the UK are finding it to put food on the table, and the difficulties working parents face cooking nutritious food for themselves and their children when supermarket offers on cheap convenience foods look tempting on their limited resources. The pensioner visited by James Martin had a boiled egg for breakfast each day. But he didn’t have a piece of toast to go along with it; he couldn’t afford to buy the bread.

According to the Trussell Trust, people in the UK are going hungry every day for reasons ranging from redundancy to receiving an unexpected bill on a low income. Trussell Trust foodbanks provide a minimum of three days emergency food and support to people experiencing crisis in the UK. In 2012-2013 foodbanks fed 346,992 people nationwide. Of those helped, 126,889 were children. Rising costs of food and fuel combined with static income, high unemployment and changes to benefits are causing more and more people to come to foodbanks for help. Walking the Breadline argues forcefully that this rise in hunger in the UK is linked in part to changes in the benefits system, ‘there is clear evidence that the benefits sanctions regime has gone too far, and is leading to destitution, hardship and hunger on a large scale.’ But not all of those using food banks across the country are on benefits. Denise Bentley, who manages the Tower Hamlets Foodbank, is quoted in Walking the Breadline: ‘People are really struggling, and initially it was people that weren’t earning, that were on benefits, but now it’s hitting the working poor. It’s shocking to believe that in the UK, the seventh richest nation in the world, people are living in real dire poverty.’

Hunger is touching every community. In August the Donside Piper reported that a foodbank had opened this summer in Banchory, Deeside, which boasts top schools and some of Scotland’s highest house prices. While the problem in Deeside is not huge, there have been a steady stream of users since it was set up, matching UK wide trends for the increase in use of food bank services. ‘One of the first to come to collect a food parcel was a young woman who hadn’t eaten for three days. A family came for help: a significant rent rise took the weekly food money and they needed help to tide them over,’ explained one of the volunteers. Deeside is far from alone, a foodbank was set up in Mumbles, one of Swansea’s most affluent areas, in October 2012. Foodbanks are also located in West Oxfordshire, Fulham, Surrey and a whole number of other locations which are assumed to be well off areas. In the 21st Century, plenty and hunger sit side by side not only on the globe but also on the map of the British Isles.

The Trussell Trust has piloted, and is currently looking for funding to roll out, ‘Eat Well, Spend Less’ courses that teach people how to cook when on a low budget. The course includes basic cookery lessons as well as providing advice on food budgeting, hygiene and nutrition. Budget cookery is the current zeitgeist. Jamie Oliver’s latest television series and book is Jamie’s money saving meals. And, as a legacy beyond the Great British Menu special, many of Britain’s best known chefs – from the Hairy Bikers to Mary Berry – have joined the challenge by helping to create low cost recipes for all us to cook at home. (The recipes will be made available online via www.bbc.co.uk/budgetmenu).

In June Pope Francis attacked a ‘culture of waste’ and stressed that discarding food was like stealing from the world’s poor, ‘This culture of waste has made us insensitive even to the waste and disposal of food, which is even more despicable when all over the world, unfortunately, many individuals and families are suffering from hunger and malnutrition,’ the Pope said. ‘Cultivating and caring for creation is God’s indication given to each one of us not only at the beginning of history. It means nurturing the world with responsibility and transforming it into a garden, a habitable place for everyone.’

‘Once our grandparents were very careful not to throw away any leftover food. Consumerism has led us to become use to an excess and daily waste of food, to which, at times we are no longer able to give a just value. Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of the poor and the hungry,’ said Pope Francis. This harvest, we remember the hungry all over the world.

I wanted to end with a harvest prayer, my son provided me with this one over our dinner of meatballs and pasta:

Dear God,
Thank you for the farmers who work so hard and do such a good job!
Please make the Harvest enough for everyone to share.
Amen.

(Jamie, aged 7)

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