Tag Archives: End Hunger Fast

Fair Pay Fortnight

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In a twist of irony, I was invited to attend a working lunch last Friday – the day I was participating in the End Hunger Fast. Even more appropriately, the lunch was part of the TUC’s Fair Pay Fortnight on the subject of low pay and payday lending, so it seemed right to go while I was fasting in order to campaign on the same issues! As well as the regional TUC and a representative from USDAW, Paul Blomfield, the local Sheffield MP, was one of the speakers.

Some interesting facts and figures were presented on the day. Low pay in the region means that workers in Yorkshire and Humberside earn £38 per week less than the national average, while 20% of people in Sheffield earn less than the Living Wage, a wage which is considered to be the minimum needed for an acceptable standard of living. No wonder The Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that more people living in poverty are working than are not.

This is a climate where high-cost lending flourishes. We were told that Wonga makes 10,400 loans every day, a figure which has risen by 70% in the last year. Wonga can make £1.2 million profit every week even though 2/5 of borrowers struggle to repay loans. In fact, people who default and roll-over their loan to the following month make more money for the lenders than those who repay on time. Additional interest, fees and default charges are where the money is, adding up to a perverse business model where the target market is those who can’t quite afford to pay.

The proliferation of payday lenders is a symptom of the wider economic climate. Over time since the 1980s there has been a shift of 8% in the make-up of GDP away from wages towards profits (and thereby dividends). The cost of living crisis is as much about falling wages as it is about rising prices. Wages have been frozen, jobs have changed from full-time to part-time, from secure to insecure, and the minimum wage has become the default norm instead of the safety net minimum (and has fallen in value as well).

This was all very interesting. But the best thing about the meeting was the chance to talk to other people in the room about our past experiences and ideas to make changes in the future. And then, the convenor of the meeting took our ideas and formulated them into a plan of action. So refreshing to move from words to actually doing something about it!

There needs to be some fleshing out of the ideas but four strands of action were suggested. Firstly to work alongside the local credit union to promote it, and encourage people from all walks of life so save and borrow with it. Secondly to launch a campaign against advertising by payday lenders, to stop advertising to children and to regulate advertisements in a similar way to how gambling adverts are regulated. Thirdly the TUC would undertake some research to find out which local businesses pay a Living Wage, so people can make an informed choice about where their money goes. And finally, to encourage people to belong to unions, as this improves their pay-bargaining strength. I hope it doesn’t take too long before a way to get involved in these actions gets back to me. In the meantime, I’m going to find out if Sheffield Diocese is a Living Wage employer.

Fresh Fruit Blues

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We successfully completed our challenge last week as part of the End Hunger Fast campaign. The four of us ate and drank only what would be in a typical food bank parcel for three days, and filled our recycle bin with empty tins!

In some ways, this was an easy challenge. One aim of the challenge was to stand in solidarity with people in Britain who are going hungry, but actually, there is no need to go hungry with a food parcel. Although it consists only of dried or tinned food, the range of food is designed to be pretty nutritionally complete, and to be enough food to last a family for three days, giving breathing space to deal with whatever crisis has led to needing a food parcel. So we had plenty to eat, and even some left over at the end.

There were other challenges instead. The first was to turn a pile of shopping into three breakfasts, three lunches and three dinners for everyone. This took a bit of thinking and planning in advance, but we managed not to eat the same think for three days. Oh, apart from breakfast, which was only Corn Flakes and No Toast! No bread in a food parcel as it is perishable, so packed lunch was a challenge. There is pasta in the mix, and lots of people donate little packets of noodles, pasta, cous cous etc. So packed lunch was based around things like this, mixed with items out of the fish/meat and veg tins. At home I was able to have soup or a tin of spaghetti hoops! For dinner we had tuna, pasta and peas with tomatoes (and more for lunch the next day!), corned beef hash (definitely the favourite) and chilli con carne.

The thing about this challenge was that we were eating food which someone else has chosen for us. It took away our own choice and made us to eat things we wouldn’t do normally. It also means that there were restrictions. I measured out the juice on Monday to make sure we all had a fair share until Wednesday. I was worried that the milk wouldn’t last, and there would have been no alternatives if anyone didn’t like something.

But the biggest challenge, which none of us had expected, was the lack of fresh food.We didn’t realise how much we would miss it! I don’t avoid tins and packets in my cooking, and there was nothing in the food parcel that I would never eat or buy (apart from tinned carrots – yuck!). But three days with nothing fresh at all, and we were all desperate for something cool and fresh in our mouths! I can’t believe how sweet and delicious a piece of apple tasted at breakfast last Thursday.

Food banks do a really important job. They help to bridge the gap when people are in crisis, and mean that people do not need to go hungry. But food banks know they are not a long-term solution to the problem. Certainly after eating a food parcel for three days, I wouldn’t want to stick to that diet for any longer. The food bank I worked with for a while (Knowsley Foodbank) gave out fresh food whenever it could, which made a big difference for many. Food banks also sign post people to other help, such as debt advice, job search support, benefits advice and other services. We also need an end to poverty wages, insecure jobs and uncertain hours; access affordable credit; and a fair benefit system which doesn’t penalised the vulnerable. That’s why we’re going to continue to support End Hunger Fast and join the national day of fasting on 4th April.

Taking the Foodbank Challenge

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We’re taking the three-day food bank challenge next week! Starting on Monday, our family of four will only eat the food which a family of four would get in a typical Trussell Trust foodbank parcel. We’re doing this as part of the End Hunger Fast. This campaign in running through Lent, standing in solidarity with people in this country who are going hungry, and calling for changes to end this scandal.

My daughter was concerned that we’d be taking food from someone who really needed it! But I reassured her that we’d get the food ourselves from the supermarket, which I have done in preparation. As you can see, it is mostly tinned and dried food. No fresh fruit or veg for three days, although some food banks do manage to find ways to give out fresh food. However, sometimes people have to give the fresh veg back as they can’t cook it, not having enough money to pay for electricity or gas.

I’ll be recording our daily experiences on Facebook, and I’ll write here again at the end. So far, apart from missing fresh stuff, one of the challenges will be finding stuff which can be packed up for school lunches. Not everyone who comes to a food bank is entitled to free school meals for their children. The three-day food parcel is for anyone facing a crisis leaving them unable to feed their families. Debt, fluctuating hours of work, illness and unexpected bills can all push people over the edge. The other issue will be lack of choice and flexibility. Careful planning will be needed to make sure the food can be turned into 9 meals and we will be limited to what comes in the parcel.

But we’re optimistic that we won’t be hungry, which, after all, is the point of the food bank. Anyone who knows us IRL might remember the food challenge we took last year – to live below the line on £1 per person per day for food for 5 days. After that, anything is possible.

This is an artificial situation for us. We are doing it to draw attention to the campaign and as an act of solidarity. But I’ll leave you with a link to A Girl called Jack’s blog, who can tell you what it is really like to go hungry.