Mr. Cameron, your attitude to Food Banks reminds me of the Blue Peter presenters who, back in the black and white days of 1968, had to contend with a merrily defecating baby elephant. All smiles for the cameras they just couldn’t get Lulu to stick to the script. She pooped on their shiny studio floor, her gushing waterfall of wee spread alarmingly, and for good measure she pulled over her handler, dragging him through the muck. Plucky grins pasted to their faces, our intrepid BP team resorted to pretence and denial, trying to insist they had it all under control.
You too squirmed with embarrassment when asked by Jeremy Paxman this March about the proliferation of Food Banks, and the number of workers on zero hour contracts. Not wanting anything to spoil your happy story of an economic up-turn, you were powerless to prevent Mr. Paxman focusing on some unpalatable truths:
People are going hungry in our country.
Many of those people are children.
Many of those people are parents who have skipped meals in order to feed their children.
Many of those people are old, and have had to choose between heating and eating this winter.
Many cannot pay their bills and eat because zero hours contracts and low wages don’t add up to a subsistence level income, let alone a decent standard of living.
Many of those people have disabilities or learning difficulties so they struggle to find a job.
Many are chronically ill and cannot hold down a job. They are not alarm-clock Britain.
A worrying number of these people do not have the literacy or IT skills to apply for jobs online, and so have their benefits withdrawn for weeks at a time.
I know this because I work at a Foodbank. My husband tries to teach IT skills to job seekers. My friends have hungry pupils in their classrooms in Primary and Secondary schools around Britain. My friends are nurses and health visitors seeing hungry children and parents in their homes and in hospital wards.
Mr. Cameron, your election victory speech told us that in Britain a “ good life is in reach for everyone who is willing to work and do the right thing”.
But what about those people who struggle to work, work, work from 16 to 66, or whenever they will finally get a small state pension? What about those who do not have the opportunities, the skills, the strength, or stamina to “ do the right thing? ”
And anyway, isn’t the “right thing” to share with each other? For those who have enough to help those who don’t?
In the words of another politician, Mr. Cameron, I can’t help thinking that
“ The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life, the sick; the needy, and the handicapped.”
Hubert H. Humphrey ( 38th Vice President of the USA, 1965-69 )
Here is the elephant in the room, Mr. Cameron, this hungry group of people who need you to help them. Unlike Lulu this particular elephant is not making me laugh. It is not a funny story.
Mr. Cameron, you told us that Britain is a country of “such good humour and such great compassion.” I was glad to hear you say so. In the coming months will we see compassion in action? Will you give those who are struggling something to smile about? Or will it just be the richest 1% laughing all the way to the bank?