I’ve volunteered for my local Citizens Advice Bureau since I left uni in 2004. I’m there for a couple of hours twice a week. I see clients one day and on the other I do some behind the scenes social policy work (which is mostly collecting evidence and a little campaigning). I enjoy both bits – getting to meet new people however briefly and talk with them and the social policy which helps me to contribute to wider work and perhaps make a bigger change.
When I first started seeing clients there were some coming in who had no money. It was and still is a common thing. Delays in benefit payment or wages for example. It was 2005 and one or two of those first clients went on to say they’d not been able to eat that day because of it.
I remember being completely shocked by that. My disability means I am reliant on benefits for my income and I knew about the hitches that could come up. But I’m lucky I’ve family and friends around. I just couldn’t imagine one of those late benefit payments meaning I went hungry.
Fast forward to a few months ago. It’s early 2013 and I’m talking to another client. I can’t remember the details but it’s another case of not received money they should have.
Two people in similar situations but over the years things have changed. The question of food is one I now ask regularly when a lack of money is reported “are you managing to eat?”
And when the reply is that they prioritise feeding their kids and eat when they can a feeling of shock no longer comes up. I’ve heard it before – in fact statistics suggest that 1 in 5 parents regularly skip meals in order to feed their children – and I just ask “is that everyday?” And continue.
But as I ask that second question and continue talking to the client in the back of my mind it hits me: I’m complacent about that.
Just how and when did questions like that become run of the mill, something I ask regularly? I hate how comfortable I’ve become asking it. When did we reach a point where it’s 2013, we’re in the UK and referring people to a food bank is something I’m used to?
Food banks are a useful resource and it’s good they exist. But no one should have to chose whether their kids eat or they do. And even more so no one should need to rely on a charity to get food. It’s thought that half a million people in the UK will receive a food parcel – usually providing enough food for four days – this year.
I’m a bit angry about that.