Did you see Famous, Rich and Hungry on TV last week? I watched it on catch-up over the weekend...
I was actually really impressed with the way the show was put together. For a start, the celebrities didn't just do 3 days with a token poor family, and then go back to their happy lives - they were moved on to another family who couldn't afford to eat. As one of the presenters of the show said, long term hunger affects you physically and mentally and it was interesting to see this affecting the volunteers.
More than one of the celebrities pointed out: this is the UK; people should not be starving.
It was heartbreaking to see parents going without food - not just every week or so, but routinely, every day. To see a father know exactly how many Weetabix there are in the cupboard, and feel endlessly guilty about eating half of one himself. I know that feeling only too well: if I eat this, I am taking it out of my daughter's mouth.
For crying out loud! We are one of the richest countries in the world! What is going on?!
Yes, some of these people have made poor choices. Many of them are in debt. One single mother was in debt because she had borrowed money for estate agent fees, removals and a deposit to move house. In that situation, I don't see how she could have avoided that debt.
Firstly - yes, the parents may have made poor decisions, and they should face some consequence for their choices. But their children have not made bad choices. Their children are just children, and they deserve to grow up with food in their bellies and clothes on their backs - and more to the point, they deserve to have a parent or parents who don't break into tears or go crazy whenever food is spilled because they know there is nothing in the cupboard to replace it. They deserve to sit and eat a meal with their parents, not to feel guilty that their parents are going without so that they can eat. And really, for how long do we punish someone for a bad choice any way?
And secondly, if the adults are making poor choices - so many of them, on such a large scale - surely society as a whole has something to answer to here? For so many people to be in such dire straits, surely that is a sign of something terrible going on? Somewhere along the line, we as a society have failed people - that these people have then gone on to have children who are also being failed, and will probably end up in the same sorry situation.
To me these shows were a clear sign that there is something very wrong in society. People are getting stuck in a cycle of poverty where they're not just skint, they don't just not have much money left in their purses at the end of the month, but there is nothing left in the purse, nothing in the bank, nothing in the cupboard.
I know what it's like to look in the cupboard and find there is nothing there. I know the guilt you feel when you eat something that could have served as another meal for your child. I know the shame of realising that yes, you are one of those people who needs the help of a food bank. I consider myself incredibly fortunate that it only happened a couple of times.
I am lucky because I had a job to go back to, and because I have been educated to a reasonable enough standard that I could consider going self employed as a freelance writer. But what about people who are in that sort of situation, but don't have a job, can't get a job, don't have something they're able to do to help themselves?
One couple on the show both had criminal records from drug habits they had before their children were born. The woman had recently been charged with shop lifting - some bacon. Who shoplifts some bacon, except someone who is just plain desperate, who routinely foregoes food so that her child can eat, who hasn't tasted bacon in so long that she just goes mad and has to have it? In my opinion, if a mother is caught shop lifting bacon these days, they should let her take it, and a dozen eggs too. Perhaps even a free frying pan and some mushrooms.
And yes, there will always be the feckless losers who see benefits as a lifestyle choice, spend their money on booze and fags (and drugs), and don't give a shit about their kids. If you read the Daily Mail, you'll probably think that's 99% of those claiming benefits. The reality is that actually, the majority of people on benefits can't afford to smoke, to drink, to take drugs, to feed themselves or their children. The reality is that as you read this, thousands of people in this very country are not just hungry, but starving. They're desperate and depressed and miserable, and the media is busy painting them as villains.
Stewart Lee made an interesting observation on his TV show this weekend: in the 1980s, the Labour Party thought that the poor, who did not deserve to be poor, should be helped by the rich, who did not deserve to be rich; and the Conservatives believed that the poor deserved to be poor, and should not be helped by the rich, who deserved to be rich. Nowadays, both of the main parties believe that the poor should be tied up in a bin bag and thrown into a canal. "The Conservatives, to be fair to them, at least have the guts to look as if they mean that."