Senator Rob Portman, food banks and why empathy fail is rife among our politicians

It took his son coming out as gay for Senator Rob Portman to reverse his stance on gay rights. What will it take for our leaders to acknowledge the impact of welfare reform?


The mysteries of parenthood are many and the childless must humbly accept the things they will never understand – what unconditional love feels like and the particularly acrid smell of baby poo, to name but two – but since when was equal rights for all on that list?

Last week, Republican Senator Rob Portman became the most prominent member of his party to support same-sex marriage. This was prompted by his 21-year-old son, who recently came out as gay. Congratulations, Senator, on your change of heart. Your story is a moving testament to the power of parental love. It’s also a depressing testament to the limits of the average politician’s imagination. Does it really take an experience so close to home for an elected official to appreciate the injustice of discrimination?

Over here, legislators are experiencing their own empathy fail over food banks. According to the Trussell Trust, the number of people dependent for their survival on charity handouts has increased from 29,000 to 300,000 in just two years.

Chris Mould, who is the head of the foodbank network, warns that more people will go hungry when the Coalition’s welfare reforms are enacted next month. “People who have been involved in formulating the new welfare policy don’t have an adequate understanding of how precarious the situation for people on low incomes has become.”

As if to illustrate this inadequacy, the DWP responded to these figures by reaffirming their commitment to the current course, failing to acknowledge any link between food banks and welfare reform, and attributing this tenfold increase instead to the success of The Trust’s own marketing efforts.

If the Government really believed in this marketing miracle, it would have snapped up The Trussell Trust’s PR team and set it the task of transforming the Coalition’s own out-of-touch-posh-boys rep. In fact, the lack of adequate Government response to poverty is no more a question of marketing than it is of ideology. You cannot propose your Friedman-cribbed solution to an economic problem, if you cannot even recognise the problem in the first place.

It seems over-simplistic to suggest that policy-makers must experience poverty before they can understand it, doesn’t it? We know that our MPs mostly went to the same schools and the same universities but, whatever that says about social mobility, surely an expensive education plus a sprinkling of noblesse oblige would ensure that what they lack in lived experience, they make up for in imaginative empathy? Ha.

In Budget week, when the link between Westminster decision-making and real people’s lives is most evident, that notion seems more naïve than ever. Changing the status quo is easier said than done, but let’s kid ourselves no longer: the only way to ensure compassionate government is diverse government. Or we could just wait until George Osborne’s son gets a little bit older and keep our fingers crossed.

Parents, take this tip

Things I don't understand about parenthood #2: Readers with children, please explain to me why your eight-year-old needs an iPad? Does little Jack need to Skype with Hong Kong investors en route to school? Or does he just prefer The Washington Post’s digital edition? Whatever he told you, be warned: a rash of “surprise” stories about iTunes bills in the papers suggests he’s actually using it to play extortionate online games. Why not save money and teach a lesson about the emptiness of consumerism in one fell swoop? He can do as we did: go round to a friend’s house - you know, the one with the more gullible parents - and play on their expensive technology. For free.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration Engineer

£24000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: These refrigeration specialists...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Logistics and Supply Chain

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an operational role and...

Recruitment Genius: CNC Sheet Metal Worker / Fabricator

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working within the workshop of ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st / 2nd Line IT Support Engineer

£20000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist high tech compa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nick Clegg (R) Liberal Democrat Leader and former leader Charles Kennedy MP, joined the general election campaign trail on April 8, 2010  

Charles Kennedy: The only mainstream political leader who spoke sense

Tim Farron

The strangely parallel lives of Oliver Letwin and Ed Miliband

Matthew Norman
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral