When I left CAFOD to come to the Centre 12 years ago, I thought I had left food poverty and destitution behind. Well at least in terms of having to confront them face on in the course of my work, that is.
Yet here we are in 2014, in the seventh richest country in the world, debating whether the fact that nearly one million people are turning to food banks to survive is a chimera or not. And that’s just the known figure and does not take into account those people who are helped by Churches, community groups, friends and family.
I remember during one of the nastiest periods of famine across a swathe of Africa in which I was engaged, one thoughtful journalist said: “If the hungry could eat words, there would be no starvation in Africa.” Yet a group of parliamentarians have just launched a formal Inquiry into the causes of food poverty. The Cardinal Hume Centre will be contributing evidence based on real people’s stories of their daily struggles which we are now witnessing every day. Yet I wonder, aren’t the causes obvious? They cannot make ends meet and their children are going to school hungry and coming home to empty cupboards. What may not be so obvious, however, is that many of these people are working but their wages are not keeping pace with the increased cost of living. Others are trying to find work or simply cannot work and as the real cost of welfare reform hits home, they can’t afford to pay for food or have had their benefits cut with the draconian application of sanctions.
Our founder, Cardinal Hume, visited Ethiopia in 1984 in what he described as a life changing experience. As he put it: “You cannot look into the eyes of a starving child and remain the same.” He knew that food alone would not solve the crisis and campaigned for food aid to be part of a package of immediate response alongside an all- out effort to address the root causes of famine. As (some) government ministers and (some) senior prelates argue that it’s not hunger but fecklessness that drives people to food banks, I wonder what he would say? When he faced opposition to his calls for the British Government to increase overseas aid, he talked about perpetuating “the myth that the people of Africa are irrational and irresponsible while conveniently distracting attention from our underlying responsibility….for the grossly inequitable division of the world’s goods”. If he met with influencers and decision makers today, I believe his question would be: “What have you put in place that will address the causes of food poverty?”
Everyday the Cardinal Hume Centre works to improve the lives of families living in poverty – offering free advice, advocacy and training. We simply can’t do all this without the help of our wonderful supporters.