Dickensian diseases make a comeback

On Tuesday evening I visited a food bank in the constituency to learn more about the vital work they are doing, not only providing food to those who are struggling to afford it, but also to offer advice about benefits and other sources of help. They see their mission as making themselves redundant – they aim to help their clients get back on their feet so they don’t need the food bank any more.

Confidentiality and privacy were uppermost in the minds of the volunteers at the food bank, so we didn’t take any pictures, and I’m not going to say where it was. Some food bank users still feel shame or embarrassment about having to accept charitable food parcels, but they are definitely not alone.

The DWP reported that 3% of all individuals in the UK used a food bank in the financial year ending 2022, a 37% increase on the previous year. There are just under 1,400 Trussell Trust food banks in the UK, in addition to at least 1,172 independent food banks.

The need for food banks has exploded in the last 10 years, largely attributed to restructuring of the benefits system under Conservative austerity. This academic paper rather dryly notes:

“The structure of the welfare system has been partly responsible for driving food bank use in the UK since 2011. Severe food insecurity could be alleviated by reforming aspects of the benefit system that have been evidenced to be implicated in the rise in food bank use.”

To live even the most frugal of existences in the UK requires an income of £120 per week. Universal Credit currently provides £85 per week – a gap that many find impossible to close. Often, their only option is to skip meals.

The Guardian notes:

“Millions of people – including one in five families with children – have gone hungry or skipped meals in recent weeks because they could not regularly afford to buy groceries, according to new food insecurity data.

According to the Food Foundation tracker, 15% of UK households – equivalent to approximately 8 million adults and 3 million children – experienced food insecurity in January, as high food prices continued to hit the pockets of low-income families.”

We’re seeing a rise in malnutrition-caused diseases that should have been relegated to the history books – rickets and scurvy.

This is shameful. For children especially, lack of decent food affects early brain development, affecting them for a lifetime and increasing the inequality gap. In a developed country such as the UK, the ability to afford nutritious food should be a basic right.

The Lib Dems are pledging to repair the broken safety net by reversing the Conservatives’ £20-a-week cut to Universal Credit. I would also like to see wider provision of free school meals – and for those meals to be of higher quality. For example, in Japan, there is a mandatory school lunch program. It is not free for all students, but it is highly subsidised and costs about £2 per meal. Lunch menus are designed by nutritionists to ensure that the students receive a balanced, healthy meal every day, prepared with fresh foods (not frozen or processed), contain 600 to 700 calories and include carbohydrates, meat or fish, and vegetables.

Surely even a Conservative government can see that giving children a healthy start in life would pay massive dividends later on – lower burden on the NHS, healthier and more productive workers (taxpayers).

I’d also like to see provision of more land for community gardens, where people of all ages can work together to grow fruit and vegetables. When I was little, my mother used to have an allotment. My sister and I enjoyed “helping”. While our assistance may not have lightened Mum’s workload, we did at least learn where our food came from, and discovered the joy of peas fresh from the pod, and freshly picked corn on the cob.

Good food. Good lives. Good government. Not so much to ask, surely. 

Other News:

Still on the subject of food, delighted to see this coverage of my visit to Crappers Landfill to hear about their Sustain food-growing project.

We have now announced our fabulous panellists for our event on 7th March, Fairer Food, Better Britain, organised in collaboration with the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester. Please join us for an evening of inspiration and discussion around issues including regenerative agriculture, local food production, agroforestry and alleviating food poverty. £5 waged/free to unwaged and students.

Delighted to see that the EU has at least partially recognised ecocide as a crime. The Stop Ecocide campaign was started by my dear friend, the late, great Polly Higgins. She would have been delighted. Too bad she’s not here to see it, and too bad we’re not in the EU any more.

We are looking for help with media liaison and social media. 
Ideally 4-8 hours per week. Details available on request. No obligation – please get in touch!

To keep up to date with me and my campaign, please follow me on Facebook! Or on LinkedIn, if that’s more your style.

We’re keen to welcome more campaigners to our team to help with deliveries and/or doorknocking. Please consider lending us an hour or two a month. Email my wonderful Campaign Organiser, Poppy Fair, for more details.

We are also looking for financial support. Every pound matters – even the price of a weekly latte would help. If you’re ready for positive change in the South Cotswolds, please put your money where your mouth is by hitting Reply to this email, and I’ll let you know how. Thank you! 🙏

Quote(s) of the Week

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
— Virginia Woolf
Have a great week!

Photo: Oliver Twist asks for more porridge

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