Even though we’re well into the election now I don’t want to give up doing all the things you expect of me as an MP, and that includes supporting charities who are collecting for food banks at this really difficult time of year.
Every year I visit a local Tesco and join volunteers and staff who are collecting donations for FareShare Sussex, who distribute to local food banks.
I barely knew what a food bank was before austerity gripped our country. Now there are over 2,000 of them across our country. We have some really wonderful food banks in Brighton and Hove and I visit them often. Every time I’ve spent time at one I’m always left with a very deep sense that something has gone very wrong with our country. I’ll never forget the conversation I had with two women. Both had been to university locally and both had previously very stable and comfortable lives, yet due to relationship breakdown and sudden job loss both found themselves in very poor accommodation and unable to make ends meet. Both sat there in tears as one told me ‘if you’d said to me a few years ago that I’d be needing food handouts I would have laughed at you’.
Austerity has pushed too many people close to the edge without them even knowing it. In-work support for people on low incomes has been cut completely, and compounded by Universal Credit which has been used to cut welfare rather than its original intention which was to simply benefits. Compounded by massive rises in housing costs and bills, and so many people simply can’t cope anymore.
Being in Tesco for a while as loads of shoppers come over to make really generous and thoughtful donations is inspiring though. The heartlessness of a government which landed us in this situation is not reflected at all here in our community and person after person comes over to make donations. And then, as every year, a saintly figure comes over with a donation of, wait for it, ten full trolley-loads of food! I missed him and his family this year, but was really happy to be there last year when he came in.
I’ve learned from this experience that as little or as much as you donate isn’t what matters most. What really counts is that we as a community come together to take care of ourselves until we can get a government that will step up and end the conditions that lead to hunger in the first place. I see signs of this everywhere though and it’s never been easier to donate. As you can imagine, I’ve not made it to the gym often since the election was called, but when I went the other evening after campaigning I was amazed to see that even my local gym is taking food collections. Right now we really do need to pull together for those in need so thank you to everyone who’s acting personally or through their place of work, it really matters to a lot of people.
A lot of thought and work went into Labour’s pledge to halve food hunger within a year of taking office, and following it up with a National Food Commission to monitor and understand food insecurity and its causes so that policy can always be judged on the impact it will have on people’s ability to get by. This is the kind of fairness and humanity we need back in the way we run our country and I can tell you I’m trying my very best!