Last week my community midwife told me that 4000 children in my town of Eastbourne go to bed hungry every night. 4000 in what I consider to be quite an affluent area of the country. I was horrified and saddened by the idea of a child, any child, going hungry but especially right on my doorstep. In this day and age, how is it acceptable for a child to not be eating? When we live in a world of excess.
She then went on to tell me that, as a community midwife, she's been in some of these homes (because apparently not being able to feed the children that you have doesn't stop some people from having more) and that quite often the parents aren't going without. Cigarettes, alcohol and (yes I know it's a cliche but...) giant televisions. I can believe it, too. When I was a college student I worked for Tesco and regularly accepted food tokens for milk and bread (which you are entitled to if you're on a very low income) and then would serve the same people cigarettes and cans of lager. I was never sure which shocked me the most aged seventeen; that they would rather smoke and drink than spend the little money that they had on the three children in tow, or that they had such a blatant lack of shame to make it so apparent by buying their personal items right after spending their government-funded benefits to feed their offspring.
Call me a cold, heartless, judgemental cow if you wish, but I don't believe it's right to be buying such luxuries if you have to rely on milk vouchers to feed the children you brought into the world. Children are purely a selfish experience, nobody HAS to have children in this day and age, the population will not die out if you don't reproduce, you are doing no service to the world...nobody NEEDS to have a baby but everyone should have the right to do so should they wish but surely it's only fair on them to do so only if you believe you have the means to take care of them properly.
I'm not saying that you should only have children if you can 'afford' them, none of us can plan for the bumps in the road that might lie ahead, and I can speak from personal experience of making a budget stretch, of looking at the contents of the fridge and worrying if we'll make it to the next food shop which is always on a very strict, fixed price of £50 a week for two adults, toddler and now a newborn.
So what do we do about this situation? This food poverty that is so, so real and right in front of our faces? Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver already tried to tackle the issue and received a lot of anger because of it (at least his heart was in the right place, as a parent, he couldn't bare the thought of children going hungry, of children suffering...it's not his fault he has absolutely no idea how to live on the breadline) and the BBC did a show a month or two ago about teaching people on limited incomes how to feed themselves well. Not one of the three chefs they featured could shop for a decent meal with the daily budget these people live on.
The Liberal Democrats have the right idea giving free school lunches to infant-school-age children as of next year. I know that a lot of people are negative, don't want them, etc. whatever. You don't have to accept them, you don't want the saving? Then carry on giving your child packed lunch, it's a personal choice. I saw someone wrote on Twitter at the time that they didn't want free school lunches as they had a hot meal at dinner time as a family. That's great but...am I the only person that thinks there's nothing wrong with two hot meals in a day? I often give Moo a hot lunch and a hot dinner (sometimes she'll have a hot breakfast of porridge too), am I doing something wrong?
But free lunches for 5-7 year-olds isn't going to save the world, more needs to be done, where do we start? I don't really know what to do on a national scale but I do know that there are already charities out there trying to help.
So I've decided that next month I'm going to do something about it. Next month I am going to apply to volunteer at my local food bank. I don't have a lot of money, I can't financially help anyone, but I can give my time, my experience and above all, myself. Christmas is coming, it's going to get busy there and I for one can't sit at home or out for coffee with my friends, essentially doing nothing, when I know what I know now.
I'd love to know your thoughts on everything I've talked about here today, good or bad...please comment below with them if you'd like to share them.
Labels: Benefits, eating, Food poverty, healthy, life, money