There’s a food collection in work at the moment, for the Cardiff Foodbank. They do amazing work, collecting, sorting, and handing out food to those most in need in Cardiff and this post is not meant to be negative about foodbanks in any way shape or form. But – hello – last time I checked it was 2013. That’s TWO THOUSAND AND THIRTEEN, people, and we are lucky enough to live in a first world country. What is going on if people cannot afford to feed themselves and their families? And if the UN is officially ‘alarmed‘ by the situation in the UK?
Seems to me as if there are three problems here. Firstly – wages. Yes – isn’t it wonderful that we have a minimum wage, currently £6.19 an hour. Except it’s not actually enough to live on, is it – that would be £7.45 per hour, as calculated by the Living Wage Foundation. But we wouldn’t want to put the minimum wage up to a Living Wage, would we now – think of all those lovely multinationals who wouldn’t take twats like Iain Duncan Smith out to lunch any more if we did such a thing.
Secondly – benefits. (Just a little reminder here in case you’re a Daily Mail reader that only 2.6% of benefit claimants are unemployed. Or to put it another way, only 3% of benefit spend goes on Jobseekers Allowance.) But jobseekers, DLA, attendance allowance, incapacity benefit – the point is, none of them do what they are supposed to do, which is to give people a reasonable amount of food, warmth and dignity. Of course, a fair bit of the benefit bill goes on income support and housing benefit, and another big chunk of HMRC spend goes on Tax Credits, so that those people on minimum wage can actually afford to live. Hang on, couldn’t that be solved by raising the minimum wage a bit so that the state didn’t have to top up their earnings? Oh – sorry – we couldn’t POSSIBLY raise minimum wage – see Iain Duncan Smith and his lunches, above.
So that’s one side of the coin – people don’t have enough money to buy food.
The third problem comes from the other side – the food prices themselves. Now, I know everyone seems to worship at the magically correcting free market altar, and I know on paper that market forces, rational expectations and the like should all make for a wonderfully self-levelled world. Which I suppose they might, if everyone just consumed what they needed. But once greed becomes a factor, the idea of free market economics providing for a fair and happy world for us all just goes right up the swanny. You might have heard of ‘food speculation’ (but depending on which newspaper you read, you might well not have – it’s something of a dirty little secret for the people in the know). Basically, food speculation is bankers betting on the price of food, to make cash. So some people come out of it very well indeed, thank you – like Barclays, who are estimated to make up to £340 million a year from gambling on our food supplies. But most people don’t. Those who are hardest hit are the food producers, and next on the list is anyone for whom food expenditure makes up most or all of their income. Which is a hell of a lot of people in the developing world – and, because we seem to be regressing here in our supposed world leading country, more and more people here in the UK too.
What can we do about it? First and foremost, please give to your local Foodbank. Just a couple of extra items in your trolley is going to make a real difference to someone – it could mean a child comes home to a hot meal for instance. Secondly – don’t vote Tory – they really are a cliquey club of rich little schoolboys who don’t give a shit about you, me, or our kids, as long as they’re all right. Thirdly – check out Bankers Anonymous to help those poor wankers – sorry bankers – quit their gambling addiction. And finally, if you want to know more about food speculation, the best and clearest information is to be found on the World Development Movement’s website, along with ways in which you can put pressure on the government here and at a European level, to regulate betting on food prices in global markets.
I guess I’m thanking my lucky stars that it’s not us at the food bank. Probably you should be too.