Statistics of poverty and waste that shame our society

Stocks of food at a Foodbank. Picture: PA Archive/PA Images

Stocks of food at a Foodbank. Picture: PA Archive/PA Images - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

We live in an affluent country. So why do children still go hungry while food is wasted, asks Rachel Moore.

At 18, I would have been revolted to think that young people living in tents pitched in central Norwich would be the new normal in my middle age.

In 1982, it would have been sickening to believe that in 2018, we would be walking past shop doorway after shop doorway full of people with no homes shivering in sleeping bags, young girls cuddled together for warmth, exposed, terrified and vulnerable.

Then, the workhouse and poor houses were history, and food banks, or the need for them, had never crossed our minds, and the Night Shelter, as it was known then, was 'home' to a few well-known regulars.

We were brought up to appreciate what we had, not much, and our parents, brought up in the war years, never wasted food. Waste was a crime, especially when whole nations overseas went hungry.

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Now it's families in the next road too hard up to afford food because benefits fail to cover the basic costs of living.

This week, food bank use in the UK reached its highest rate on record with 1,332,952 three-day emergency food supplies delivered to people in crisis last year, 13% higher than the previous year.

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At the same time, one third of food produced for humans' plates every year – about 1.3 billion tonnes world-wide – gets wasted.

And the real number of homeless is about 10 times what official figures have us believe.

If the doorway and tent sleepers across Norwich is a snapshot, it's not surprising.

But still the food dumping goes on, by supermarkets, families – not always the affluent – and we turn a blind eye to the obvious increase of rough sleepers.

This week the East of England Co-op took a baby step to stop the waste and help the hard-up.

After the success of selling tins and packets past their best-before date for 10p, they started to sell fresh fruit, vegetables, bread and cakes past their best-before labels, all for a nominal 10p.

It is the first major retailer to take positive action against obscene amounts of food waste. It hopes to save tens of thousands of food items a year from being wasted, which is a start and a hope that others might follow.

They are stopped from simply donating this food to food banks because rules say food banks cannot accept food after its best-before date - another daft rule prohibiting sense and solutions.

So the chain, with 125 food stores in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, is expanding its nominal 10p charge to fresh food from tinned goods, packets and dried food. It is also investigating if it can do the same with frozen goods.

The 10p goods are unlikely to end up in the kitchens of those most in need – but it's a move in the right direction

The Trussel Trust, the UK's national food bank provider, said this week that people going hungry were often in work, in low-paid jobs, skipping meals.

Low income is the biggest single – and fastest-growing - reason for referral to food banks.

It's how part of our population live as we get on without lives around them, not daring to look them in the eye because deep down, we know how close their predicament could be.

Girls are unable to go to school because the family can't afford sanitary products, which is such a huge failure for the nation.

How can we even mumble about equality of opportunity when girls are too embarrassed to go to school because families can't afford sanitary protection?

But we accept it as the new normal because we don't know what to do, how to help, other than chucking a few things each week into the food bank bin.

No children should be hungry or cold, no girls should go without sanitary products and no perfectly edible foods should be dumped.

We're not talking about cloud-cuckoo land, or an ideal world. They should be the basics in a civilised society in the First World in 2018.

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