10th June 2014

Out of the mouths of babes

No rehearsed party line, no clever rhetoric, no agenda, just this from a hungry 10-year-old: “It shouldn’t be like this. All people should have food.”

Last night’s Breadline Kids on Channel 4 made for uncomfortable viewing, even for someone involved in a local foodbank and already too familiar with heart-breaking stories of poverty in Britain. Hearing about such desperate realities from the mouths of children is incredibly moving – of course, that’s why the programme was made – but it also brings fresh insight that leads to renewed compassion and impetus to do something to help.

The arguments used by politicians on both sides of the polarising debate about food poverty are familiar and lack nuance; the children featured in Breadline Kids spoke in more articulate and profound sentences than many adults. We’re not so used to hearing about what hunger is like from the perspective of a child: “When you skip a meal you get a really sore feeling like something is biting you,” says 10-year-old Cara, who moved in with her grandmother Lucy when her mum became seriously ill. Lucy is on a zero hours contract so the money coming in fluctuates from week to week.

It’s hard (I hope) to keep believing the myth that in general foodbank recipients want to go to foodbanks when a 10-year-old speaks of the shame of it, saying: “I don’t want to tell my friends I went to the foodbank!”

It’s equally difficult to maintain a query over the rise in food poverty that someone involved in politics recently asked me about – “Do you think the real reason more people are using foodbanks is because there are more of them and they’re now widely known?” The Government’s own research says that there’s no evidence for this. Yet there are countless stories of people plunged into poverty by circumstances beyond their control.

Take Tom, who can’t feed his 14-year-old daughter Niomi and his 12-year-old son Drey. Tom had a good job, but when Niomi was diagnosed with leukaemia he gave it up to take care of her. He can’t get Job Seekers’ Allowance because he can’t look for work. Niomi feels guilty. Their story is the antithesis of the benefits scrounger stereotype.

Another child on the Dispatches Breadline Kids programme said this: “She used to be a lot cheerier... Now she's just destroyed, and that's not what mums should be like.”

And then there’s a different mother who’s been destroyed too, mum-of-two Susan, filmed in Breadline Kids telling of such desperation that she has turned to prostitution: “I hate what I do. I’m blown apart inside every time I have to lie down and be an actress on a mattress, but I do it out of necessity.” Through tears, she admits that she has sold sex while her two daughters are downstairs watching television, but she says: “I’m doing this for my kids,” adding: “I’m telling my story so people know how bad things can get for families.” There are many more real-life stories on the Trussell Trust’s website.

Breadline Kids made compelling, distressing, frustrating viewing. Thousands of tweeters took to Twitter to voice their shock, outrage and compassion. But the challenge is what we do when we get out of the comfort of our armchairs. There are 3.5m children in Britain in poverty – almost a third of all children – and yesterday’s Below the Breadline report (released to coincide with the Dispatches programme) by Oxfam, the Trussell Trust and Church Action on Poverty makes for bleak reading.

We must do more than tweet in response.

Whether you can give several hours to volunteering at your local foodbank or give a tin of food, please give it.

Whether you can spare change the next time someone asks you or think creatively about solutions to the root causes of food poverty, please do it.

Whether you have a platform to speak to those in power or a fence over which to speak to your neighbour about food poverty, please speak out.

Whatever you do, don’t just tweet, and definitely don’t do nothing.

This blog post originally appeared on the Jubilee+ website.

Natalie Williams

Posted by Natalie Williams


25th April 2014

Foodbank blame game misses point

Last week the Trussell Trust released some shocking statistics from its foodbank network, revealing they provided at least three days’ food for 913,138 people between April 2013 and March 2014, of whom 330,205 are children. The total number is a 163% increase on the number they fed the previous year – 346,992.

On the same day, End Hunger Fast sent an open letter signed by 40 Anglican bishops and 600 church leaders to Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, and Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband, calling on them to lay aside party politics to take action to tackle “this national crisis”.

In its coverage of the letter, the Daily Mirror claims that the number of people needing help from a foodbank in the UK is the same as the number of people hit by famine in Mozambique. (Of course, though the numbers may be similar, the experience of poverty and hunger will be markedly different.)

Separately last week, a Just Fair consortium of anti-poverty charities including the Trussell Trust and End Hunger Fast published a report entitled Going Hungry? The Human Right to Food in the UK, which states:

“Welfare reforms, benefit delays and the cost of living crisis have pushed an unprecedented number of people into a state of hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity in the UK. [... ] It is our opinion that the UK has violated the human right to food and breached international law. This state of affairs is both avoidable and unnecessary. We call on the Government to take immediate action to ensure that the no one in the UK is denied their most basic right to sufficient and adequate food.”  (Executive summary)

The report also notes a British Medical Journal report last year found there had been a 74% increase in malnutrition-related admissions to hospital between 2008-09 and 2012-13.

Debate rages in Parliament and in the press, in the comments forums on national newspaper websites and online in general about the causes of increasing food poverty in the UK: as seen above, some say it’s the current Government’s welfare reforms that are largely to blame; others claim fiscal irresponsibility by the previous Government is the main source of the problem; still others hold bankers responsible for causing the recession; while some blame those receiving food parcels, accusing them of mismanagement of their finances (at best) or even opportunistic scrounging (at worst).

On Easter Sunday the Mail on Sunday ran an article that it says “undermine[d] the [Trussell] Trust’s claim of 913,000 users” after it sent undercover reporters to foodbanks. A backlash on Twitter not only slammed the newspaper’s tactics and approach, but also led to thousands of people donating thousands of pounds to the Trussell Trust’s Help Crack UK Hunger appeal.

Whichever side of the political spectrum we are on, Christians are compelled by the teachings of Jesus to bear certain things in mind when weighing in on these debates. Firstly, that every human life has value and dignity that is not dependent on our behaviour or circumstances, but rests solely on the fact that we are created and loved by God. Therefore, in both our attitudes and our behaviour, we are to treat everyone with respect, kindness and compassion.

Secondly, Jesus fed the hungry – he said: “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way” (Matthew 15:32). I think we’re on safe ground in assuming that Jesus didn’t have the disciples check the credentials of the 5,000 he fed that day! There’s nothing in the Gospel accounts to suggest everyone listening to Jesus’ teaching ended up following him (at least one of them didn’t!), nor that they couldn’t have been better prepared and brought some food along with them, nor that some didn’t get in on the action just for a free meal! Jesus simply fed those who were there and hungry.

Finally, endless debates about who is to blame are futile unless they point us to a solution. Political point-scoring becomes irrelevant when faced with a million people who cannot afford to adequately feed themselves. Yes, it is important to ask how we got here, but the much more important question now we are here is: what will we do now?

What will you do today to help alleviate poverty for your neighbour?

This blog was originally published on the Jubilee+ website.

Natalie Williams

Posted by Natalie Williams


26th August 2012

The eternal investment

When we expire on Earth, we can take nothing with us. We arrived naked and we leave with nothing – not even a carry-on case! But, as Christians, we can invest in eternity and store up treasure in heaven (see 1 Timothy 6:19 and Matthew 6:20). This isn't like treasure here on Earth, which can be lost in a moment; it's unseen treasure that can never be spoiled or lost.

The greatest treasure we can have it to be with Jesus for all eternity, seeing him face-to-face. But the Bible also talks of an inheritance for those who are in Christ and rewards for work done in faith (see 1 Peter 1:3-4, 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 and 2 Corinthians 5:10). Some of the ways in which we store up this eternal treasure are outlined in this passage in 1 Timothy, where the apostle Paul writes that we are "to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share" (v18).

The good news of Jesus is spread through word and deed: God is good and has been good to us, so now we reflect that goodness in our actions to others. Every kind action expresses the gospel, and as a church we want to find multiple ways to help and bless our community, such as the foodbank. We don't want to just tell people of God's love (though that is important); we want to demonstrate it through actions, or as Paul writes here, by being "rich in good deeds".

Just as God has been very good to us, he has also been incredibly generous to us: Jesus gave himself for us, laying down his life for each one of us. His generosity cost him everything! Since God is so generous, we need to be the same. Being generous can be costly and inconvenient, but is part of investing in eternity and, as it says in Proverbs, those who are generous will be blessed – it really is better to give than to receive!

Linked to generosity, we should also be willing to share. It can be easy to give away old stuff that we no longer need or want, but how good are we at sharing the possessions we value, or our time?

The only way we can be rich in good deeds, generous and willing to share, is by God's grace, and this is what the apostle Paul brings us back to at the end of this letter, writing: "Grace be with you." (v21) As John Stott says, "They would not be able in their own strength to reject error and fight for truth, to run from evil and pursue goodness, to renounce covetousness and cultivate contentment and generosity, and in these Christian responsibilities to remain faithful to the end. Only divine grace could keep them. So at the letter's conclusion, as at its beginning (1:2), the apostle wishes for them above all else an experience of the transforming and sustaining grace of God."

Verses: 1 Timothy 6:17-21

Food for thought:

  • How are you investing in eternity?
  • Are you acting out of your own steam or God's grace?
  • What stands out most for you from this preaching series on 1 Timothy?

Santino Hamberis

Posted by Santino Hamberis










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