The appalling shame of food poverty is happening right here, right now
- Credit: Nick Butcher
Imagine going into a supermarket and seeing a yummy looking jam doughnut but not being able to buy it because you have a really tight budget for food and it doesn't run to any extras or treats.
Imagine seeing other people go by with their trolleys laden with fresh fruit, veg, meat, wine, cake and coffee, all things that you would like to buy but cannot afford; then feeling resentful because these people are 'the haves', while you are one of the 'have nots'.
Imagine buying the cheapest of the cheap, not because you are thrifty, but because you have no choice since you have no money to buy any thing better. Now imagine going hungry several times a month because you have run out of money altogether.
This is food poverty and it's happening here, in Norwich, one of the most prosperous cities in the country. Yet it's not just Norwich where this is happening – it's all over the country. Some people have such a low income, even though they may be 'in work', they frequently need to rely on food banks.
I would find it totally humiliating if I had to do this even though the food bank volunteers are lovely people and their only concern is to help the individuals needing them. It still takes courage, born out of desperation to go through the process of applying for a food parcel.
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If you have no money for food, chances are you have no electricity either; therefore no heating or hot water, no toiletries, no loo paper, Imagine have to cope with that.
Rising food poverty is deep-rooted in austerity, but also goes hand in hand with our unfair housing market so that today, some of the basics that we thought we could take for granted like regular work and a place to live, are no longer assured.
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The first step to achieving a hunger-free Britain starts with bringing compassion into our benefit system to end the draconian rules and sanctions that plunge people not just into poverty, but destitution. This is shameful in a country as rich as ours; but while we have a benefit system whereby 'the haves' are the people who decide what the 'have nots' should have, it's difficult to see how this is going to change anytime soon.
Thanks to a campaign run by the Women's Institute, there is now going to be a national index of food security incorporated into an established UK-wide annual survey run by the Office of National Statistics, which monitors household incomes and living standards.
This is an important first step to achieving a hunger free Britain but it's for the future not the now and if you are in food poverty now you need help now - not tomorrow.
It's no good me highlighting this problem without offering suggestions on what you can do about it. First give to food banks on a regular basis. Most churches, local shops and supermarkets have collection boxes.
Just make it a habit to include at least one item in your shopping basket every time you shop and donate it. It is possible to find items under a pound if you're a touch hard up yourself and please remember people need toiletries as well as food, also food for their pets.
Secondly, if you can, become a volunteer. Give your time if you can't give money, you will find it really rewarding.
We should all have access to food; life just isn't possible without it. Lent is a good time to start to help make a difference.