On Monday, Church Action on Poverty, Oxfam and Trussell Trust published Below the Breadline – an expose of crisis of food poverty and hunger that increasing numbers are facing across the UK. Channel 4’s Breadline Kids did exactly the same thing.
But what have the political classes been discussing this week? Not why so many people are going hungry, but a tweet.
MPs, columnists, and today, the Deputy Prime Minister have been lining up to fulminate about the outrageous fact that Oxfam tweeted an image of the Perfect Storm. No matter that it only had ten words on it. No matter that it didn’t anywhere on the tweet say (or even imply) that the Coalition is responsible for the perfect storm. No matter that it is actually based on a well argued and reasoned Oxfam report published two years ago. No matter that all the things listed in the ‘Perfect Storm’ (unemployment, zero-hours contracts, high prices, benefit cuts and childcare costs are patently things which people in poverty are self-evidently struggling with). Which of these is a charity committed to tackling poverty in the UK not expected (or allowed) to mention?
But what of the scandalous fact that a million people had to turn to foodbanks to be fed in the sixth wealthiest country on the planet?
As one of the principle authors of Below the Breadline, I am not angry on my own part, but for the way in which the artificial storm blown up over a single tweet has obscured a debate about the real issue that Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty, Trussell Trust and indeed Channel 4, were seeking to highlight this week.
People are going without food, and all some politicians and commentators care about is a tweet.
And just for the record, and the Deputy Prime Minister’s benefit, Below the Breadline is not an attack on the Government’s austerity programme. It isn’t actually an attack on the Government at all.
Below the Breadline is a cry for an informed and adult debate about how we tackle the crisis of food poverty and hunger in the UK.
I’m not asking for politicians of any colour to agree with everything we said in the report. But I would hope that they would at least be willing to engage with the real questions – and want to come up with real answers for the thousands of families who can’t look forward to being able to put a meal on the table for their kids this weekend.
At the moment, it feels like we’re a million miles from that.
And that’s what makes me angry.