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10th June 2014
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.
Posted by Natalie Williams