Language & Culture Editor
If poverty bites, or you see people who look like you struggling, might you suggest that they have the wrong kind of cookie? Or perhaps that they need to pick a fruit and veg snack instead of a fizzy drink? It’s not always easy to know what’s needed or to know how best to help when there’s so much confusion about what to feed someone.
BBC journalist Matt Thomson joined The Great Food Fight to talk about the food crisis and how to help people who are struggling.
Q: Can food banks be part of the solution?
Well, food banks are a symbol of poverty in this country and it’s not a good example.
You can draw two extremes in this country. You can draw the extreme left and right politically, where it’s a ‘poor people pay’ scenario, or you can draw the extreme right and middle of the country where it’s people should be grateful for the opportunity to work, even if it’s in a crappy job, doing a great job and contributing to the economy.
Q: How do you know that someone who is seeking help is struggling?
The best way is to talk to the person, because there are probably some emotional parts of these conversations which people don’t always want to share.
Sometimes the most people get out of this is they feel like they have a human connection to someone who isn’t expecting them to offer help. But sometimes that leads to an emotional connection and someone saying ‘you know what, I’m really thankful for this and I’m sorry that you’re in such a situation.’
Then you’re either going to say ‘well it’s pretty well documented that this is how it works,’ or ‘I’m sorry, can you not get out there and fight the good fight.’
Let’s face it, when someone comes to you out of the blue in a food bank you’re often not sure how to deal with them. Are they really needy? Do they genuinely want help? You also have to make sure that they have space for their other needs in life, such as housing, that’s often not provided by food banks.
Q: So I’ve just come from visiting my local food bank, there are loads of different services available for people depending on what they’re struggling with. So there’s lots of goodwill out there. Why can’t the food bank be just one of the solutions?
The food bank actually wasn’t the solution for me. The solutions have to come from the community, from my local community, from my neighbours. There’s a lot of great service that happens across this country, but the problem is in the supply.
I was surprised to see there were 1.7 million children under 14 in households where the main earners aren’t working, and that doesn’t count other families where, for example, the sole member of the family has been in a disability claim for a long time, can’t really work because of an illness or disability.
Think about all the support that should go in to try and get people out of poverty.
Q: How do you solve the problem?
We are a society which celebrates competitive, meritocratic organisations in business, sport and even government.
Here in the UK we have a very interesting balance between doing everything we can to stop people falling into poverty, and then there’s everything we can do to make sure that people don’t fall into poverty.
I think the answer is in the middle. It’s to start to find a solution that supports everyone to feel like they’re somebody, that they have a chance to help themselves, to get out of poverty.
So we should stop trying to lower taxes on the rich, we should actually stop paying our taxes, but if we do that we are going to throw all the money at the homelessness problem, which will also lead to more poverty.
We should try to lower student tuition fees, and then why shouldn’t students have a chance to help themselves?
Q: What about our lazy nation. We go hungry before we go hungry.
We should do our bit and tell people what they should eat. People who come to our food banks are told what they need to eat, and people who go to prison are treated like criminals, and things like job interviews are actually quite different from when we were growing up, it’s very difficult to break in to a new job.
The answer to people’s hunger is simple: we need to make it not difficult to get into work.