When Will The UK Recognise Food Poverty

Jack Hughes 6 January 2021
Image Credit: Pxfuel

£81, 932. Imagine this was your annual salary, with the addition of tax-payer subsidised meals and a whole host of expenses for travel and subsistence. Imagine you were stood in the work canteen, unable to decide between a rabbit and apricot terrine at £3.95 or a tomato and almond frangipane tart at £3.59. Gourmet grub at fast-food prices; this is life as an MP. Is there not something sickening, then, that Tory MP’s overwhelmingly voted against extending free school meals for children in our country who so desperately rely on them?

The government in its pig-headedness over the issue has proved yet again that it is out of touch with the majority of the UK population. Sat in their ivory towers, government officials have no sense of the food poverty that blights this country. They have no regard for the millions of people who, thanks to this vote, will struggle to put food on the table for their children, as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbate the crippling austerity of Tory cuts. Single mothers will be forced to starve themselves so that their child can eat; low-income two-parent households will have to make difficult decisions about the price, and quality, of food they can afford to put in their shopping trolleys. All the while, Tory MP’s remain oblivious to, or should that be willfully neglect, another epidemic in this country that is causing heartbreak and taking lives.

 

Ignorance surrounding the food poverty threatening many within the UK is nothing new

Ignorance surrounding the food poverty threatening many within the UK is nothing new. Gung-ho discussions of a no-deal Brexit have failed to address the certain disaster that would be the removal of vital trade networks. We cannot magically become self-sufficient, our agricultural system does not currently function in this way; we, therefore, are reliant on imports. Coming out of the EU will slow down food imports, increasing the amount of perished goods, thereby making the price of essentials skyrocket. What is even more comical has been the government’s insistence on its capacity to import from the US, an outcome that is neither desirable (the importation of hormone-injected beef and chlorinated chicken) nor convincingly practicable (the US has not guaranteed anything). What is set in stone, however, is that those who pay the price will be the poorest, who will either be unable to afford the food they need or whose health will be compromised by low-quality imports. To those quaffing champagne and munching on rabbit terrine, these problems are worlds away.

The two-tiered food system we inhabit in this country must be addressed as such. Nowadays, we speak of the UK as having a strong food culture, even a culinary renaissance. But for who? The vaunted Michelin-star restaurants, the knit-your-own-yoghurt food festivals and farmers’ markets, who do they cater to? Certainly not to the parents up and down the country who just want to make sure their children go to bed with a full belly.  And not being able to participate in this elite foodie conspicuous consumption is frowned upon, even shamed, as you have the likes of Jamie Oliver poking his nose into the nutritionally poor meals that are the norm for millions and attributing them to ‘laziness’.

Food is a leisure pursuit for the middle classes; for those in poverty, food is survival.

But apparently, you can eat well on a budget. Tory MPs have been sharing on social media how an egg only costs a few pence. The last time I checked, that’s not how you buy food at the supermarket, however, maybe that’s the way you pluck eggs from an organic chicken’s backside at a farmers’ market. Then there is Jamie again, telling those ‘on a budget’ (shouldn’t that be POOR) that they should soak dried beans and pulses for hours on end. Food is a leisure pursuit for the middle classes; for those in poverty, food is survival. So please forgive those ‘lazy’ mothers who pick up a packet of chicken nuggets instead of a 5kg pack of red lentils.

The UK has no food culture to speak of if it cannot feed its most vulnerable. Something has to give, whether that be the ever-increasing price of food or the pitifully low wages and austere welfare payments people in poverty have to rely on. An egg may only cost a few pence, but when a person is waiting five weeks for their first Universal Credit payment, those few pence make all the difference.

I don’t have a solution to food poverty, but here are a few thoughts: How about we hold our politicians responsible? How about we say no to their broken promises and smokescreen long-term ‘plans’, when change is needed now? How about we all take collective responsibility in the way we eat as a nation – the children whose health and wellbeing will be affected by the government’s vote against free school meal vouchers are our future, and they could do astonishing things if we only gave them the chance. We can remove ministers, switch governments, overhaul the economy- food poverty is entrenched within UK society and the only way to combat it is through compassion and understanding.