Do They Know Its Christmas? was released exactly thirty years ago to publicise third world food crisis. It was a call to arms; to recognise the seriousness of the problem of hunger and to do something about it. Who would have thought that, thirty years on, another call to arms against food poverty is being made but this time on behalf of people living in Britain?
No one could seriously argue that the food problems faced by our poor are on the same scale as the famine that still exists in parts of Africa today. Nor is it morally tenable to suggest that we should switch off foreign aid and redirect those resources to tackle food poverty at home; though, regrettably, some will suggest this. Rather, the case has to be made that, as the fifth largest economy in the world, there is sufficient wealth in the country to do both.
Some commentators apply a twisted logic whereby the main victims of world-wide financial speculative mismanagement are the ones who are demonised. In this alternate universe the solution to our economic problems is to reduce the spending power of those on the lowest income whilst boosting the spending capacity for those already on high incomes. As the gulf between rich and poor increases at such a pace, it is inevitable that significant portions of our population fall into food poverty through no fault of their own.
Emerging to rise to the immediate challenge of keeping families from starvation are numerous committed individuals and organisations who are working selflessly to stem the tide. Even they are not free from criticism from the ‘demonisers’; for some today even philanthropy has to have a hidden agenda. Whilst their work is essential and, unfortunately, likely to have to continue for the foreseeable future, their efforts alone will not provide a permanent solution to the problem of food poverty. It is only big ideas, bold thinking and a significant level of public commitment that is required to sort this mess out.
The first step would be to check and then reverse the levels of inequality. A prosperous and healthy country is one without an underclass that struggles to make ends meet, unable to afford the basic commodities that most of us take for granted.
Another big step would be to carry out a root and branch review of food production, food imports/exports, distribution, sales and overall food management. The aim of which would be to create a national food programme that provides sufficient/reasonable returns for producers (farmers etc.), distributors, and retailers. Such a programme would need to provide value for money for consumers and tackle the chronic problem of food wastage; as well as reversing the present situation of healthy food being, on average, more expensive than low nutrition options.
There are many more ideas and options we could tale and as this is Food Poverty Week we all have an opportunity to think seriously about the issue, improve our knowledge about the subject and hopefully try and do something to solve the problem.
Christmas is not far away and this is a very difficult time for families in poverty. We live in financially precarious times; it is estimated that many of us are only a few wage packets ourselves away from financial stress. So there is not much room for complacency; to quote from the Band Aid song:
Spare a thought this yuletide for the deprived
If the table was turned would you survive?
Policy Advisor, Bolton at Home