My awareness of social and political injustice dates from the 1980s. Unemployment was running at four million and UB40 had a hit song called One in Ten. A couple of lines from the lyrics that hit me hard were, ‘Nobody knows me, but I’m always there, a statistic, a reminder of a world that doesn’t care’.
Media furore over research into food banks is all about figures. How many meals are fed to how many people through how many food bank initiatives, such as the one in Oxford? How does that compare with last year’s figures, or those of the year before?
How many people are put in a position of extreme need because they have had their benefits sanctioned or suspended? How many because of unmanageable debts? How many because they are underemployed, or living on a low wage?
An All Party Parliamentary Group co-chaired by Frank Field and the Bishop of Truro is currently gathering evidence from around the country.
As reported in the Oxford Mail last week, Oxfam, the Trussell Trust and Church Action on Poverty published Below the Breadline, a publication that itself was an update on a similar report a year ago.
This week, the Diocese of Oxford publishes our own 999 Food: Emergency Food Aid in the Thames Valley, which is an informal snapshot of our patch.
It is more story-based than statistics-based, and explores the role of churches in the task of feeding hungry people in our communities.
Spiritual leaders of yesteryear were part of a long struggle to establish a social security safety net to ensure that nobody in the UK would starve when they fell on hard times. These people would, I am sure, turn in their graves to know that this net is being dismantled – with many people having their total income removed for weeks, sometimes months, at a time.
Christians of today are campaigning vociferously to advocate for the reinstatement and protection of that safety net.
We have figures for many things, and we are told by politicians that social policy is ‘evidence-based’. So when it comes to food poverty, why is nothing changing?
Behind the statistics are real people: struggling human beings doing their best to survive their vulnerabilities in a hostile world. Those running food banks know this. They know these people, and advocate for them. Many of those who help run and support food banks have themselves experienced the need for the services they provide. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’.
Through compassion and solidarity, food bank workers, donors and supporters are a reminder of a world that DOES care.
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