The Politics of Hunger: Grinning MPs, foodbanks, and service users.

Being a parent is HARD. You spend your whole life worrying about them. There are endless groups, chores, homeworks, tears, pains, and drama. It’s a fulltime job that often leaves you frazzled, battling insomnia, and desperately trying to balance the books. Almost every parent faces these worries, but not every parent has to try to figure out where their child’s next meal is coming from.

My husband worked but I was unable to due to disability. Money has always been tight, benefits aren’t known for their abundance, but we were keeping our heads above water, mostly due to the existence of tax credits. In 2015, my husband was ill in hospital and I had been desperately trying to balance everything, and, for the most part, I was succeeding. But nothing prepared me for what was to come. Due to a bureaucratic error, we were left with no money for an entire month. The first week was hard but I coped, expecting that the error would promptly be sorted. Alas, there was no change. The cupboards slowly depleted to nothing and I could no longer feed my family. I had to rely on the kindness of friends, a bakery which donated their old bread at the end of the day to a support service who were working with me, and a food bank.

I had never had to use a food bank before, and it felt like such a failure to need one. When you find you can’t feed your own children it makes you begin to reassess your life. I had never felt so desperate and hopeless in my entire life. The foodbank was tucked away next to a funeral director. I travelled up this maudlin alley, feeling it was rather fitting.

My heart fluttered as we faced the unmarked building hidden from public view. The food bank was full of very pleasant staff who were incredibly warm and non-judgemental, but nonetheless, my sense of public failure continued to haunt me. There’s something of the workhouse about foodbanks. Their décor and set up is purely utilitarian, as required of their budgets. I felt incredible relief as they stocked bags with tins of beans, hot dogs, mince, and peaches. They even provided sanitary towels, toothbrushes and shampoos, but the entire time, you can’t really shake the feeling that this is a form of begging.

As wonderful as foodbanks are, as wonderful as it is to suddenly know that your children won’t go hungry, there is no empowerment in the situation. There is no agency. You are a recipient of other people’s charity. You are reliant upon other people’s desire to help you. It’s not a right, it’s pity. This is why it’s a punch in the gut to see photo opportunities of Tories opening foodbanks with huge grins on their faces. They smile as they stand next to a Tesco’s trolley full of produce to go to foodbanks. It isn’t Tory kindness or pity that put that food in those trolleys. It was Tory cruelty which created the need, and societal desperation to right that wrong which filled those trollies up. Never do we see the intended recipients. They are secondary to this story. It is best not to see them as actual people, lest the voters understand that anyone could be placed in that situation should fate cast its indiscriminate hand against them.

The Trussell Trust, for unfathomable reasons, is supporting this PR stunt. Occasionally their volunteers appear in these pictures, but never their service users. Indeed, they have created a false equivalence between MPs from other parties, and the Tory MPs directly responsible for the necessity of their existence. If you ask why they have allowed this, they simply tell you that MPs from all parties have opened their foodbanks, or attended collections of donations, gurning in front of Tesco signs. One cannot imagine they’re unaware of the responsibility of the Tories for the hardships of their service users.

I find myself in yet another difficult financial position, in which I’ve had to rely on others in order to put food in my children’s bellies. As I sit there wondering how long until my phone provider cuts me off for non-payment of my bill, and I look at the diminishing amount of food in my cupboards, I see these pictures of these Conservative politicians who seem overjoyed about children relying on charity to be able to eat, and it breaks me inside. I feel broken as a person, and as a parent, but even more than that I feel we are broken as a society. All I can do is hope that the Tories are ousted in the next general election. If only people could be as generous with their votes as they are with their canned goods, we could make this country a better place.

 

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