Professor Green: I’ve spent time in Britain’s food banks – the destitution these people are facing is appalling

The visitors I met don’t want to rely on services like these to feed their families. We all need to do our bit so they don’t feel forced to

Professor Green
Saturday 09 November 2019 14:49 GMT
(The Trussell Trust)

With Christmas fast approaching, many in the UK are gearing themselves up for a season of joy and excess. Ahead of the parties and gift-giving, however, I’d ask people to step back and think about the many families that will struggle to put lunch on the table on the 25th December. As seems to be the case year after year these days, food banks and charities are currently preparing themselves for the busiest Christmas yet.

But it’s not just the festive period they’ll have to worry about. The harsh reality is that many families deal with hunger year-round. While I’ve worked with a number of important charitable causes throughout my career, this is one that remains particularly close to my heart.

It’s no secret that I’m passionate about food. It brings people together, gives us a chance to reflect with those we love and provides a sense of community. A decent meal imparts a sense of safety, happiness and contentment. The fact that there are families in the UK without the means to put food on the table is unacceptable. More than that, the thought of food as a source of unease and uncertainty for many people is deeply unsettling.

The statistics are startling. 14 million people in the UK live in poverty. Over four million of these are children. In the last year alone, The Trussell Trust, the UK’s biggest food bank provider, has delivered over 1.6 million food parcels to vulnerable people, with over one-third of those given to children.

I was confronted with the extent of the problem whilst volunteering at my local food bank in 2018. I met the people at the frontline of UK hunger and discovered how easy it is to be blinded by statistics, but meeting hungry people brought the issue home. These people are living on my doorstep. It humanised the statistics and forced me to consider the underlying issues that drive people to use these services.

More recently, I volunteered at a community centre in Stratford, the Carpenters’ and Dockland Centre. Not only has it become an invaluable community hub, but it was also a deeply humbling experience. Even with the burden of poverty on their shoulders, the visitors I met were resilient and positive. Crucially, being there and listening to them helped me to further understand the complex and varied reasons people come to use the services of food charities. Assumptions are too easy to make – whether it be that these people choose not to work or struggle to budget. The truth is that finding yourself in need of this kind of support can be as simple as receiving an unexpected bill or a delay with benefit payments.

We should strive for a society that no longer needs these services – they have become an accepted part of austerity in Britain and that needs to change. There’s no doubt that eradicating these inequalities is far from straightforward, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help to provide people with the tools to break out of the cycle of poverty. It costs virtually nothing for those among us who don’t have to live that reality to raise awareness, volunteer our services for those who need it and to hold the government accountable in terms of how their policies affect the average person. You can even head to supermarkets like Tesco, which is currently offering a 5 pence per pack donation on your behalf with every purchase of special packs of PG Tips, Hellmann’s, Colman’s, Knorr, Pot Noodle and Graze.

The people I met don’t want to rely on these services to feed their families. We all need to do our bit to help make a change so they don’t feel forced to. While the cohort of volunteers I met go over and above to offer their support, there is a responsibility on each and every one of us to do our bit – no matter how small.

Educate yourself, volunteer, and tell yourself that you have the power to lend a helping hand. Even a small act of kindness can make a difference to those in your local community.

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