I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Thanks to 'Cash for Kids' we can now feed the next 100 hungry families who come through the door

Kids going hungry have been playing pretty big in the news over the last week thanks to yet another in depth report into the country’s seemingly inevitable slide down the pan. I can’t remember the exact stat. It was scary. Stats are always scary these days. I suppose we should be thankful that the measure of hunger amongst British kids at the moment is a youngster showing up at school with no breakfast inside them and maybe no meal the night before either. I guess families would jump at that in the baked out dying fields of the Horn of Africa. Many Greek families would probably see this level of hunger as being not so bad really. Even the States are further down the road to the kind of pot bellied hunger we have always associated with the Third World. I podcasted a Radio 4 thing about American hunger a few months ago. They did an interview with some kids in a tough area who were pretty well subsisting on school food. One little girl of about six who had the saddest, quietest voice you have ever heard was asked how bad things were at home. At first she just couldn’t say it. Then she got it out. Almost inaudible. “My mummy ate a rat.”

“My mummy ate a rat.”

So, yeah. We’ve got a way to go yet.

We got some good news at First Base last week. An outfit called ‘Cash for Kids’ said yes to our request for funding for 100 emergency food parcels for families. It seems that the award will be timely. Every week we are seeing more and more families coming in who are in no position to buy any food. They come from the Social and Women’s Aid and Welfare Rights and Citizen’s Advice and almost inevitably they are horribly embarrassed that things have come to this.

The stories are seldom the same. Sometimes it is down to a late night escape from domestic abuse. Sometimes it is a lost job or a cut in hours. A mess up with benefits. A chop in tax credit. All sorts. And when a family of three or four come through the door with pockets as empty as a banker’s soul it needs rather more than one basic food parcel to keep them going for two or three days.

Well thanks to Cash for Kids we are now in a position to cover things for the next hundred families through the door.

Maybe it is worth listing what we can do with £1000 to help out a hundred families. We aim to put them in a place where they can feed up to four people for three days.  In some ways, some might be surprised at how far you can get with £13.34. Actually that isn’t quite right. Our family parcel includes three loaves of bread which we don’t have to pay for thanks to the generosity of Greggs the Bakers who donate us 50 loaves every week – an absolute complete and utter Godsend. Let’s call it £15 – a fiver a day.

Day 1

Breakfast                                 Cereal, Toast, Butter and Jam

Lunch                                      Beans on toast

Snack                                      Crisps + a banana

Dinner                                     Savoury Rice and Sweet and Sour sauce

                                                Strawberry Whip + tinned peaches

Before bed                              Biscuits + a drink (Tea or blackcurrant cordial)

Day 2

Breakfast                                 Cereal, Toast, Butter and Jam

Lunch                                      Hot dog sausages + Instant Mashed Potatoes

Snack                                      Jam sandwich

Dinner                                     Pasta + Bolognese sauce

                                                Rice Pudding

Before bed                              Biscuits + a drink (Tea or blackcurrant cordial)

Day 3

Breakfast                                 Cereal, Toast, Butter and Jam

Lunch                                      Tinned spaghetti on toast

Snack                                      Biscuits

Dinner                                     Pasta and Tinned Meatballs

                                                Sponge cake and Custard

Before bed                              Biscuits + a drink (Tea or blackcurrant cordial)

Not bad for a fiver a day. Well it is the best we can come up with. And this of course begs a few questions, many of which seem to be getting asked on a pretty regular basis on the phone in shows. Basically the big ask of the day is who can’t find a fiver a day? Is it the unemployed family of four who are on benefits? Probably not. Assuming they are in social housing they will be getting all the rent and rates covered by housing benefits. In terms of cash they will have somewhere in the region of £150 a week coming in. Not enough for a month in Barbados but enough to have £115 a week leftover for electric, clothes etc having spend a fiver a day on food. It seems that most of the families who lack even a fiver a day to pay for food tend to be working. They have Northern Rock 120% mortgages taken on a few years ago and equity that has gone negative. They have maxed up credit cards and debt collectors are on the phone all day, every day. The calculations they used to decide the mortgage was affordable have all gone wrong. The husband might have banked on a certain amount of overtime which has now disappeared. The wife might have budgeted for Tax Credits based on a certain number of hours a week of work which seemed a shoe in at the time but now have become a pipe dream. The electric and petrol bills have shot through the roof and the bank of mum and dad has run out of cash. All of which sends them through the doors of the Social or Welfare Rights or Citizens Advice in a state of shame and embarrassment. And then they come in to us.

Maybe yet again we are missing the real story. The very poorest among us seem to be the ones who have jobs which need cars and mortgages which seemed like a good idea at the time. The victims of Brown’s ‘No more boom and bust’ claptrap. They are ones who time has caught up with. Just like the whole country really. And will we be seeing more and more in the months and years to come? Oh yeah. Things at the moment have a horrible tip of the iceberg feel about them.

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