Thursday, 14 January 2021

Food, Glorious Food


Over this last week I’ve joined in with many conversations about food parcels given for children’s lunches.

Parents have been sharing their disappointment and outrage in what they’ve been given to supplement lunches whilst the country is back in lockdown.

This topic leaves me quite conflicted.

7 years ago I was living in poverty.

At the time a simple action left us in that position.

I invited a friend from church, who was currently living in sheltered accommodation, to come live with me. My health had a slight decline and I thought him moving in would benefit; I have someone to help and he has somewhere to live.

As he moved in we adjusted our financial situation. I was in receipt of disability living allowance, housing benefit and employment support allowance.

Having an extra “body” changed the rates received on the latter 2.

However, the friendship broke down. Living together showed a different side of the person I knew. There were non-stop arguments, constant political debate where I was continually forced to listen to radical far-right opinions and a high level of mixed discriminative abuse and mockery.

Subsequently, I kicked them out.

Then the benefits stopped.

Within the UK you can add people to your benefits. Usually their income or social economic position lowers the individual benefit. However, taking people off of the benefits would mean a readjustment that could, potentially, increase the amount of money you get.

When that happens all benefits get stopped so a governing body can determine if that’s acceptable. This can take between 3 to 6 months to resolve.

Being on benefits is hard financially. Life was already tough and I, like many on benefits, wasn’t lucky enough to be sat on a savings nest egg.

Once the money stops coming in you become increasingly aware of the payments going out.

You have to split what money you do have between paying utilities and “non-essential” items.

You find that you reject one bill so you can afford to pay the other. You push every red payment notice to its limit. You wait until they cut you off to pay.

Everything non-essential stops. TV subscriptions, Internet packages and mobile phones.

You calculate the difference in having no heating verses wearing several layers. I would go to bed dressed in long johns, joggers and 2 jumpers; it kept me warm and stopped me paying what I couldn’t afford.

Food and shopping changed.

No luxuries. No treats. You stand at every section, in every aisle and you calculate the amount of product verses the price and quality. Even if the supermarkets own toilet roll is like stiff tracing paper and cuts you, that is the choice you HAVE to make.

I got to the point where I was using Food Banks. I couldn’t have survived without them. That, in itself, was hard.

Of course, that moment and transition is a hard pride pill to swallow. Do you go hungry again or do you ask for help? Sooner or later the pressure of living makes you choose.

But the actual process of getting that help is tedious. You have to prove that you tick “appropriate need” to get the support. Which, if you were like me and didn’t realise, is truly heart-breaking when you turn up, desperately in need after weeks and days with no money, food or energy to only be told to come back next week with the correct “in date" paperwork.

The little food you have becomes meals for your children. You starve yourself because that means they get another meal, another day. You wait until they’re out the room and you pick up the last remnants of their dinner to eat yourself because that’s a better option than starving another day or scraping away the smallest amount of leftovers.

“Meals” consist of ingredients you’d never conceive to put together. They’re not meals. They’re 2 items of food masquerading as meals.

Half a tin of baked beans and 2 handfuls of pasta.

Broccoli, gravy and a slice of bread.

A sliced sausage, a handful of pasta and some sweetcorn.

It didn’t matter. Food was food. Hunger was hunger. My children needed feeding.

Many people didn’t realise. Even now when I’ve spoken about it people question why I didn’t ask them for help but what do you say?

How do you tell someone how low and desperate you are?

It took me 3 years to get back to an “above poverty" standard of living despite benefits being restored after 5 months. Those months of covering and pushing debt around creates a long consequential echo.

Things are now better. We still have the same benefits as before. Life can still be hard. We still find ways to make our food last when we can’t quite cover the remaining days at the end of each month but we’re no longer there.

So, after all of that, we get to these school lunches.

Are they good enough? No. Not at all.

Do they represent the financial equivalent that each child should have per week? No. Not at all.

I could, in fact, make that money last for more than 2 weeks if I went shopping on it. I think a lot of people could.

What the government and the private companies are doing is ridiculous and criminal.

However, I am seeing people with the above photos, discussing how it isn’t suitable as their child doesn’t eat half of the food because they’re fussy.

I’ve seen people complain about food “almost” being out of date so they can’t use it.

I’ve seen someone saying “I hope people don’t rely on them.”

This I have a massive issue with.

This will be someone’s lifeline.

Food that’s almost out of date can be cooked, frozen and then eaten on the day. Food can be split, have smaller portions and mixed with other items.

Those who really need the food, would appreciate everything that is there. Being fussy over the wrong flavour frube isn’t a priority in those peoples minds.

This food is enough and can make 5 lunches.

If however this is your reality wake up call then you need to look at what you have, what you use and what you do.

If you look at this and say it isn’t enough for the money, it isn’t nutritionally adequate for children and isn’t enough for a child to survive a week on then you need to do 3 things:

  1. 1.     Check your own privilege
  2. 2.     Fight and Campaign for better food parcels for families in need.
  3. 3.     Help fight poverty in the UK

I get caught in this murky grey societal line. I want to scream and shout that this isn’t good enough. That the government needs to be better but I’m also looking at this and thankful that I have something that can help us last the week.

Those who truly need this help will never look at this box and say “this isn’t enough”. They’ll look and say “Thank God we’ve got this help".

Isn’t that the saddest part of all of this?

We CAN look at this and say that isn’t good enough when many can’t.

I write this  because I wanted it to be clear from my point of view. Some people need to he more grateful for what they receive. They can still be outraged but do so because of those who are in need, not because it doesn’t suit their privileged expectations.


Unknown said...

Fascinating blog post Martyn. I'm SO sorry to read about your experiences a few years ago. I have to say I was one of the privileged people who called out our Gov about the inadequacy of the food parcels this week, but with my position of influence I hope it perpetuated the message up a little higher. I really hope somebody with the power is able to improve the provision for vulnerable families - somebody wealthy is pocketing the difference and people deserve better.

JOhn Adams said...

People have actually been complaining that the food is "almost" out of date"? What a very odd thing to say! I do get what you're saying about people speaking from a position of privilege (I guess I'd have to include myself in that) but assuming those images shared on social media were genuine, I was appalled (to clarify, I'm not saying they're all fakes or this is a QAnon conspiracy, but Chartwells has publicly labelled one as fake. The fact they've only said one of them isn't genuine says a lot!). Just to turn this on its head, there are people out there who need help. Help is provided by the Government and the bill for that lands at the taxpayer's door. I want to know that tax is being spent properly and if thirty quid's worth of food has been promised, thirty quid's worth of food-aid been delivered. Foodbank usage was rocketing prior to COVID, numbers relying on foodbanks now must be through the roof. Glad to hear you did back on an even keel in the end and hope you never find yourself in that position again.

Damion Founde said...

Great post.
Very thought provoking. And a great message to send out to people.

I hope you and your family are keeping safe and well.