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25th April 2014
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.
Posted by Natalie Williams