Food poverty and food waste: a shameful paradox

A Parliamentary report – backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Mail on Sunday – and due to be released tomorrow, will detail how UK hunger can be ended by 2050. This brilliantly written blog post from Wonky Veg sums up some of the reasons why the UK has seen a rise in food bank usage, and explains why food banks aren’t a long term solution to (food) poverty.

foodbanksorting

The UK is the seventh richest country in the world, yet grotesque levels of inequality keeps rearing its ugly head. Unblemished by austerity, the richest one per cent of Britons own the same amount of wealth as 54% of the population, while one thousand of the richest people in the country have doubled their wealth in the last five years. This disparate pattern is unravelling on a global scale, with the world’s richest people seeing their wealth increase by half a million dollars every minute.

Yet while disproportionate salaries, shameless tax avoidance and a bloated bonus culture furnishes the select elite – hardship, hunger and destitution is a grinding reality for 13 million people in the UK who live below the poverty line.

For four million of these people, food poverty – one of the starkest signs of inequality – blight their daily lives, as they seek the reliance of…

View original post 1,091 more words

The Street Store

There’s something so exciting about simple, effective ideas that are a force for social good. Street Store, which describes itself as

the world’s first rent free, premises free, free pop up store for the homeless

is one of these concepts. If you’re new to Street Store, you should absolutely watch the video below to see how it works.

Warning: this video has been known to cause viewers to feel a wee bit emotional!

I’ve been so inspired by The Street Store that I’m currently looking into the possibility of organising one here in Southampton. I hope that by partnering with either (or both) of the organisations that support homeless people in this area – Two Saints and The Society of St James – I’ll be able to make this happen.

(With thanks to Jacqui for passing the Street Store link on to me).

It can happen to anyone

BuTh1lNIIAADvSN

For me, the hands down best part of volunteering at Southampton City Mission, is coming into contact with a hugely eclectic mix of people. You never know who’s going to walk through the door and what you might end up talking to them about.

The first year I worked with people experiencing homelessness at Crisis Christmas, I realised that pretty much everything I thought I knew about ‘the homeless’ was a myth. I had a lot of preconceived notions in my head (thanks in part to skewed portrayals in the media) that turned out to be quite far off the mark. Food bank clients also lend themselves to certain stereotypes. Not everyone who uses food banks is chavvy or homeless or uneducated or unemployed. This fact really hit home this afternoon.

When talking to food bank clients, the volunteers naturally ask questions to show interest, make the clients feel comfortable, and simply to find out a bit more about them in case we can do anything else to help. Often the clients are curious about us, though. Today I’d gone over to a well-dressed Asian man with his food parcel, and initiated a conversation as I usually do. We spoke a little and then he asked me how long I’d been volunteering and what I did the rest of the time. When I explained I work at Southampton University, his face lit up. It turned out that he used to work in the Student Centre for years and spoke about working on the different campuses, until he was made redundant.

Usually when I’ve seen a client off, I feel a glow of satisfaction at having sent them home with some food, after a good chat and a bit of a laugh. Some of the clients really make my day and I hope by chatting to them they go away feeling cheerful, and as if somebody does care. For the first time today, as I said goodbye to the Asian gentleman, I felt a deep sense of sadness. At one time, this man would have been one of my colleagues. I might have spoken to him, passed him in a hallway, queued behind him for my lunch.

What many people don’t realise is all it takes is a series of unfortunate circumstances and pretty much anyone can find themselves without a roof over their head or in need of a food bank. I’m employed by the University on a zero hour contract (shocking, but more common than you’d think), for example. I could easily find myself with no hours… I’d struggle to find another job that paid as well… I have limited savings and the cost of living continues to rise… It doesn’t take much to find yourself in debt, for things to spiral out of control, for a load of little events to build up and get out of hand.

The realisation that homelessness and food poverty can be experienced by just about anyone – and I’ve heard of a barrister being on the street, by the way – is extremely sobering. More people need to recognise the reality that poverty isn’t a situation you end up in just because you’re lazy, stupid, bad with money or from a certain social background. You never know what life can throw at you and there’s a certain arrogant complacency to believing something like losing your home could never happen to you.

The next time you see somebody begging in a doorway, selling the Big Issue on the street or busking on the tube, please don’t immediately dismiss them as losers and wasters. You have no idea how they came to be there.

Christmas is coming!

As I write, I can see the sun – having made a comeback after a rainy spell – shining on the houses across the street. The sky is a pale blue with a scattering of a few barely visible, wispy clouds. Which of course makes the title of this post seem even more ridiculous.

Since 2011, it’s been around this time of year that I’ve started thinking ahead to Christmas. Not because I’m one of those super organised people who gets their shopping in well ahead of the inevitable December high street madness, but because Christmas for me has come to mean Crisis. And Crisis volunteer applications have to be submitted in October. This year I’m being given a head start, because I’m going to be a Key Volunteer and need attend a training session next month.

For anyone who doesn’t know what Crisis Christmas is all about, the basic idea is this: Crisis opens a number of centres for 7-10 days across London at the end of December. People who are homeless come along and get a hot meal, and can access various services while they’re there. These range from doctors, podiatrists and hairdressers to art and crafts, sports and CV writing, with loads more besides. The aim is to provide comfort, warmth and friendship during what can be a difficult time of year for some, but more critically to encourage people to take positive steps towards improving the quality of their life. For some this might involve breaking an addiction or cycle of debt; for others finding employment or reconnecting with family.

untitled

I’ve volunteered for a few charities, and have always found it enjoyable and rewarding, but I’ve never come across anything like Crisis Christmas. When I’m there, I work harder than I do in my regular job. I barely sit down all day, don’t stop for lunch (unless mince pies on the run count) and last year still went in on my day off. Why? Because it’s an absolutely amazing environment to be in, with some incredible people – guests as well as volunteers. I honestly can’t think of anything I’ve found more fulfilling than Crisis Christmas. It’s a bit crazy, a bit intense, you never know when you might be asked to clean the toilets, and you always end of your shift grubby and knackered, but you genuinely feel like you’re part of something worthwhile and special, and that by being there you’re actually making a difference to the guests.

group

Crisis is really where it all started. Volunteering there altered my preconceived notions of what a typical ‘homeless person’ is like (in short: there’s no such thing), and fostered what has become a growing interest in issues surrounding poverty in the UK. Every Crisis Christmas has strengthened my belief that I should be doing something other than teaching, and has made it harder to keep ignoring the persistent voice in my head that tells me I want my job to focus on making a real impact on people. So, along with the 4000 odd guests who attended Crisis Christmas last year, I feel like I also have something to thank Crisis for.