The Scottish Government are now preparing to pass a law which would effectively mean that every citizen of that country would have a right to be properly fed. It wouldn’t eradicate food insecurity overnight but it would mean the government and other public bodies had “a duty to ensure everyone has secure access to adequate and affordable food”.
Like a right to free education, free medical care at the point of need, adequate housing and worthwhile jobs, the right to be free from starvation provides one of the mainstays of the social philosophy which socialists have preached and fought for, over generations. It is inconceivable that today, in the United Kingdom, one of the richest countries on earth, people still rely on food banks to feed their families.
A close friend who helps at a centre for the disadvantaged, suggests that the people who come to her are often users of the food bank and are what is blithely termed ‘the working poor’. “These are not scroungers or illegal immigrants; they are people who just don’t have enough income to look after their families” she says.
I quote Jack Monroe: “… the unplanned overdraft smashed open by a bounced electricity bill spirals into bank charges and late payment charges and ends up with rent arrears and the threat of eviction… within two months I had gone from a full-time, salaried job in the … Fire and Rescue Service to sobbing on the phone, begging the energy company not to turn off the heating in the flat.” Jack has a baby boy two years old and got into debt quickly because of the steep financial penalties associated with the crime of having no money. (Hunger Pains: Life inside foodbank Britain, by Kayleigh Garthwaite. Policy Press, University of Bristol. I beg you to please read this book.)
What bugs me is that we feel grateful to a government simply doing its job, looking after its people. This is a need that should be provided without even thinking about it. Bearing in mind that food banks are run by charities and not government, then where have we gone wrong? Our leaders hardly blink at the prospect of spending £30 Billion on renewing weapons of mass destruction (remember them?) but baulk at the thought of spending a few million on providing food for ‘the working poor’.
In 2013 the British government blocked a £22 million European Union fund to help finance food banks in the UK. It said it was a matter for the UK alone. Richard Howitt, Labour MEP stated “It is very sad that our government is opposing this much-needed help for food banks on the basis that it is a national responsibility, when in reality it has no intention of providing the help itself. The only conclusion is that Conservative anti-European ideology is being put before the needs of the most destitute and deprived in our society” (Mail online, December 2014)
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has estimated that the government would have to donate £150 million to clear hunger from the UK, a drop in the ocean as part of the country’s annual budget. (Mail online, December 2014).
Charities perform a great and necessary role in our society but they shouldn’t have to; we are a rich nation, it’s just a matter of sorting out our priorities. But we can hardly be surprised by the uncaring attitude of this UK government, when, in this crazy world, one man can buy his third yacht for £100 million whilst thousands of his ex-employees are made unemployed; at the same time a man who worked for an organisation which saves lives must use a food bank.