Christians on the Left host food poverty debate

The number of food banks is on the rise in Northern Ireland. According to Advice NI, the number of food banks in Northern Ireland has increased from two in 2011, to at least 14 in 2014, and Trussell Trust reports distributing more than 11,000 free food parcels this year. Churches have taken a lead in mobilising volunteers, distributing food parcels to those in need, and working with charity and statutory organisations to get people the support they need to improve their circumstances. But the goal must always be a society in which no one goes hungry and where food banks no longer exist.

COTL event A

On Thursday, 4th December, at Queen’s University, Christians on the Left will host a debate exploring the practical, theological and political dimensions of food poverty. Christians on the Left is officially connected to the British Labour Party, but has taken on a multi-party shape in Northern Ireland, with members and support coming from across our political spectrum. The event will be opened by director of Christians on the Left, Andy Flannagan, a Portadown native who now lives and works in London.

On the panel, front-line practitioners, theologians, and policy thinkers will discuss a wide range of issues including: what’s happening on the front lines of food poverty; food banks and welfare reform; theological and Biblical dimensions of food poverty; and what policy ideas are needed to eradicate hunger and malnutrition in our society. While the event is hosted by Christians on the Left, the panel, and indeed the audience, will not necessarily be coming from a Christian or Left-wing background. All are encouraged to come down, join the debate, and engage the panel.

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  • Newton Emerson

    It seems pretty obvious that the goal here is to have as many food banks as possible, in order to generate poverty hysteria now that the official (but equally bogus) statistics are losing credibility.

    The use of food to tide people over (delayed benefits are the principal reason given for going to food banks) is purposefully designed to be emotive and manipulative. Why not just give people some cash? Aren’t food bank proponents the very first people who’d complain if our benefit system moved to US-style food vouchers?

    Food banks in fact only prove what a very wealthy society this is, with no poverty-related hunger whatsoever. The demand for free food should in theory be infinite, yet campaigners are struggling to give it away.
    Despite massively ramping up its local operation (and portraying the resulting increase in supply as an increase in demand) the Trussell Trust is still only handing out 32 food parcels per day to a population of 1.8 million. This is meaninglessly trivial.

    There was a guy in Portadown years ago, a bit ‘touched’ as we used to say, who turned up to every funeral in the town to stand at the back of the church hall and scoff the sandwiches. Are the food banks even reaching all that ‘demographic’, let alone discounting it?

  • chrisjones2

    I agree.This defies basic economics.

    If there was a demand and the goods are free one would expect 100% take up – indeed infinite demand.

    As they cant shift it all either demand is very low because people don’t need the food or they wont eat it because its is seen as low quality crap.

    People in NI need to get real. They have too few problems in their lives.If they want to see REAL poverty let them do to estates in towns like Dundalk or Manchester and Leeds

    Its the same with homelessness.yesterday it was announced that DSD had spent hundreds of thousands on an iphone app to help homeless people find shelter.

    Pause for a moment. How many genuinely homeless people have an iphone?

    In NI we have too many do-gooders funded by religious groups or mostly by the state and chasing too few real causes /problems

  • Newton Emerson

    Storey told the assembly last week his own officials had conceded there are only about 20 genuinely homeless people in Northern Ireland.
    There must be more homelessness billboard posters in central Belfast alone.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I agree.This defies basic economics.

    basic economics is nothing to do with the real world.

    If there was a demand and the goods are free one would expect 100% take up – indeed infinite demand.

    Yes, but there are things called “ethics”, and people who possess them are reluctant to take resources intended for the poorest people if they are able to afford them.

    People in NI need to get real. They have too few problems in their lives.If they want to see REAL poverty let them do to estates in towns like Dundalk or Manchester and Leeds

    I am aware of no difference between the poorest parts of Dundalk and the poorest parts of Belfast such as specific parts of Poleglass or Twinbook I can think of. Can you explain what you mean here ?

  • chrisjones2

    Try driving through parts of Dundalk or Leeds or Manchester.You will see burned out cars, rubble in the streets, children in the streets with no shoes.We have some of that poverty but not on the same scale

  • Jim £53

    Then Storey should consider his position. He is not only out of touch with reality, but his assessment borders on the realms of dangerously incompetent.
    I spent four years homeless, sleeping between hostel institutions or the street, and I met hundreds, if not thousands of other homeless, dying slowly from the ignorance of people like yourself. People who glibly take the grandiose high moral ground, by throwing around some figures, and cliques to undermine and gag those already marginalised and voiceless in an ever increasing hostile environment, a hostile Europe for the vulnerable.
    The hostels are full, with waiting lists of years to get into one, and a longer wait to get out of one, and the abuse that takes place within these institutions is just another acceptable injustice the homeless must deserve.
    Your attitude to our vulnerable is like something from a Charles Dickens novel. The vulnerable do not register their protests to government, because they live almost subterranean lives, buried below the smug and privileged lifestyles of the ‘hard working taxpayers’.

  • A few points about food banks.

    Myth: people like getting “free food”

    You actually can’t just show up at a food bank and get free food. You need to be referred by professionals and have demonstrable need. All the evidence suggests people feel a stigma about using food banks and will only turn to them as a last resort.

    2. Myth: more people are using food banks because more are opening

    The government’s own report shows food bank usage is not supply driven and that only one in five of those who are food insecure will use emergency food support.

    https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/283072/household-food-security-uk-executive-summary-140219.pdf

    3. One the point that “the goal here is to have as many food banks as possible”

    Certainly not the point of this event. On a personal note, if people donate food without asking the bigger questions—what are the root causes of food bank usage—I think they run the risk of normalising food banks, which can then seem part of the normal welfare machinery. Those that open food banks need to continue to remind themselves that food banks are abnormal.

    4. “no poverty-related hunger whatsoever”

    Newton, you love this argument. But let’s not confuse third-world starvation and hunger in crisis-ridden countries with food poverty here in the UK. Food poverty in the UK is not purely about calories and starvation. As you know very well, the price of food and other essentials is rising, wages are stagnant, and benefits are being reduced. This leads people to hold back on flexible expenditures—usually heat and food. Food poverty is about choice, nutrition and good health—something poor people don’t have in many cases.

    I’m not a left-wing fundamentalist. Many of the anti-poverty strategies favoured by the right—anti-addiction programmes, early intervention strategies, raising skills and education of our workforce (thus raising wages)—are all very appealing to me personally. But your own arguments don’t even reflect common Tory parlance—you’re
    off somewhere completely beyond the grid of evidence-based augment.

    5. Yer man that was “a bit touched” in Portadown

    Food banks aren’t about the weird guy wandering into a church to “scoff the sandwiches.” You need to be referred by a professional. Each parcel, designed by dieticians to provide recipients with nutritionally balanced food, will last a family for three days.

    6. Pushing the debate forward

    For me, pushing the debate forward means we need to seriously address malnutrition, geographical location of our large supermarkets (many in Belfast don’t own cars and are forced to shop at Centra and SPAR at huge additional costs), low wages, rising cost of living, among other issues.

  • chrisjones2

    They must have a charity each

    That explains the cost of the AP too – they have given them all an iphone 6 so they could access it

    And it ignores the issue that many of those ‘homeless’ WANT to live as they do – as with some of the tramps who live around Belfast City Center. Some may be mentally ill but some choose to live that way

  • Comrade Stalin

    I find this highly doubtful.

    Social housing and the dole is pretty much the same here as it is in Leeds or Manchester.

  • Newton Emerson

    The immorality here is the exaggeration. Extreme poverty and homelessness exist in Northern Ireland and fortunately they are both rare enough to be amenable to effective, targeted action.
    But that wouldn’t justify legions or bureaucrats or industries of professional activists, or feed a co-dependant culture of third-sector/media hysteria – so suddenly a quarter of us must be poor, half of us must b in fuel poverty etc etc. The billboard poster point is not trivial. Each one of those posters costs enough to keep up to pay for one hostel place at least. But that’s not the point of them. They are there to justify and aggrandize those who put them up.

  • chrisjones2

    Was this in Belfast?

  • Comrade Stalin

    This is very informative Barton.

    RE shopping at Centra. Are you aware that Tesco and Sainsbury now do off-peak grocery deliveries for £1 when spending £25 or over ? It’s usually the slots late at night (ie later than 9PM). But the service is there.

  • chrisjones2

    The structure of communities and problems of drug addiction vary wildly. Some end up as sink estates

  • Comrade Stalin

    Drug addiction is the severe problem that appears not to have touched us in a big way here yet (for reasons that are not clear) and it would certainly explain a class of poverty that we don’t have here.

  • Ian James Parsley

    I don’t profess to know anything about “food poverty” in particular, but I do know something about “poverty” and, as it happens, I am one of the professionals Barton refers to who refers people to food banks.

    Let us run with the “20 homeless” point. It may well be accurate that only 20 people in NI are living literally without shelter. However, probably thousands are of no permanent abode. That has serious implications – try signing up for training, getting a job or even accessing basic health services without an address you can call your own. Actually, you need an address for a food voucher…

    I would suggest the same applies with food. People may not literally be starving, but they may well lack the nutrition necessary to function properly. Again, there are all types of reasons that may be.

    I suspect, therefore, I agree with Barton!

  • Comrade Stalin

    I suspect the definition used by the Housing Executive (which was quoted by the Minister) comes with a caveat.

    Here is what the Minister said :

    In the Housing Executive, a definition is given to homeless, and I have repeatedly asked the Housing Executive to tell us how many people are really homeless — how many people in Northern Ireland tonight will not have a home. It is very hard for it to give us a definite figure. I have seen figures of 22 or 23.

    This definition is of people who can be found sleeping rough on a given night. It sounds like it does not include those who are staying in a hostel, on a friend’s sofa, etc.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Ian, you got in just ahead of me. The definition is of people who are sleeping rough. According to this number, if you are in a hostel or are in the care of a charitable organization or the Salvation Army, you are not counted here.

  • That’s interesting! I’ll take advantage of that personally. On the point of food poverty, though, it assumes people have internet (many don’t) and a credit card (many don’t). But banks I think are making it easier to get a basic account with a debit card. It’s a good idea, I like it as a way to address location of larger shops. Tesco & Sainsbury should pair up with advice centres to come up with a campaign to let people know. I’ve long believed that anti-poverty activists need to work closer with businesses, who have a lot to offer communities.

  • Newton Emerson

    Well God forbid we would define homelessness as ‘literally without shelter’. As Storey went on to tell the assembly, many other forms of serious housing stress exist – but they are very different to homelessness, and require different solutions.
    The inflation of the term to cover those who are literally not homeless is similar to handing out food to people who actually need money. It’s a campaign tactic that distracts from and dis-serves real need.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I must be some sort of unfashionable traditionalist, but I defined “homelessness” as not having a home. Home-less.

    The term “serious housing stress” is one of those official euphemisms used to try to explain away the scale of a problem. A person who has no home to go to and is sleeping at a hostel or on a friend’s sofa for whatever reason is a serious problem that somehow has to be addressed.

  • chrisjones2

    I think its not just the poverty – thats bad enough – its the utter destruiction of the wholecommunity

  • chrisjones2

    I am shocked.Our politicians would do that?

    As with everything in this administration one needs to also ask who benefits? It all runs like a virus through the body politic and the streams of money it spends

  • chrisjones2

    I am sorry to be cynical but I know many people who have multiple addresses – one for the dole,one for work, etc etc

  • Comrade Stalin

    There is definitely an issue with access to basic banking services for those on low or no incomes. I think there’s a case for state provision there.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Chris – surprisingly many of the homeless have iPhones. It would be against their human rights not to have them. Like 50 inch tv’s they are necessity in today’s world.

    As to the piece above – free food! What’s not to like.

  • kalista63

    Don’t judge a book by its cover. Ya walk through the front in Bangor but you may be unaware that within this characterful houses people are living in inadequate B&Bs. As for Poleglass, cut in off the main road and drive in and you’ll see pretty much anything you’ll see in a sink estate. Get to know it and it’s like stepping in to the set of Shameless.

    Go up to Poleglass or Twinbrook tonight and you’ll see all the insanity you’ll see in Bolton or wherever. Yeah, drive down the road to BT9 and it disappears, he’ll, it disappears when you drive to BT.11 for the most part.

    What we also have here is a massive, well organised and easily accessible black market that knocks out more than just ganj, fags and booze.

    Of late, I’m delighted to be a Christian thanks to the only opposition to the ConDems coming from the churches in the face of the, well, we’re not QUITE as bad Labour Party.

  • kalista63

    A couple of decades ago, I worked for Simon NI in a hostel. Most of the rooms had en suites with gold taps and a jacuzzi in them. Other benefits were a butler for each resident and 24 hour room service.

    Until he lost his Michelin star, Michael Deane would cook the meals but he was sacked when he lost the star.

    They also had a Rolls Royce and retained a chauffeur to drive residents to sign on, go to the doctor and so on.

  • kalista63

    Obviously, we’ve all been hungry and felt how it knocks our sharpness off. That’s not a 4 o’clock lag for these people, it’s a constant.

    I’m well out of the loop with these things re. the situation in NI but am more familiar with what’s happening in GB and they’ve an issue that people who are working are having to avail of food banks, including, as I recall, professionals such as nurses and teachers.

  • Veronica

    What vile nonsense.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Do you have personal experience Veronica or are you just another non questioning, liberal bleeding heart?

  • kalista63

    I’d be all for seriously investing in the Post Offices banking but I think there’s interests who wouldn’t be keen on that, for their own ends.

  • kalista63

    Have you heard of coin operated TVs?

  • kalista63

    I’ll throw you, Newton and Sergio the taxi fare to go IN to Poleglass and spend the evening there.

  • Ian James Parsley

    No doubt there are. And there are those who claim housing benefit while co-habiting with someone who then also claims for their own while “renting it out”. And so on…

    But I spent some time researching the issue and I’ll say this: proportionately I saw evidence that people reliant on benefits were any more likely to cheat the system than, say, self-employed people cheat the tax system. If anything, I’d say they’re less likely to.

  • Ian James Parsley

    If I may add an entirely separate point. The reason I often come across as “right-wing” is that I am cynical about human nature. I think, at heart, we are conformist and greedy – we saw clear evidence of that yesterday in the crazed and frankly ugly “Black Friday” shopping frenzy.

    Likewise with poverty, sure we’ll all spend two quid on a Band Aid single to feel good about ourselves, but are we really willing to do anything about poverty? No. We’d rather spend £30 “buying stuff” (that was the average spend in the UK yesterday for every man, woman and child) than contributing to tackling poverty… and God forbid we actually do something about it!

    Those who run food banks are therefore to be applauded. They are filling a gap the State can’t fill (if it did, Newton‘s cynicism would soon turn out close to the truth!), and they are getting out and doing something. I suspect others will confirm my experience also that while some people attending food banks are “regulars”, actually many aren’t. You’ll find the odd person on a low wage who has had to replace a television, or buy a child’s sport kit, or fix a broken exhaust and found that actually ends just haven’t met this week. If, during a period of economic crisis (specifically a wage crisis) there are people willing to volunteer their time to help, they deserve our respect and support.

  • Veronica

    Personal experience. I spent just under a year as a homeless person, both on the street and in hostels, and never encountered what you describe. Here’s an idea; get one of the iPhone-owning homeless that you’ve seen to take a selfie with you and post it on here. It might be difficult since they don’t exist, but I’m sure you can give it a good old college try.

  • chrisjones2

    The government’s own report shows food bank usage is not supply driven and that only one in five of those who are food insecure will use emergency food support.

    Ah ‘food insecure’ -I see a whole new language is evolving

  • chrisjones2

    Let me make my position on this clear.

    Personally I have donated food occasionally to food banks – and not just at Christmas. I believe that they are a useful if limited response for urgent need

    I have also often given money to people sleeping rough in the streets – though more often London than here where the need is so much greater.They are human beings in trouble and need help.I recognize though that for some them- especially the drinkers / junkies – its a much more complex issue and their mental health issues and addictions need addressed,

    My problem that is then generalized into much bigger societal ‘demand’ for free food that I think is a solution looking for a problem.As Newt says – give them money and enable them to make decisions. Give them help to negotiate their way back through the benefits system.

    Much better than tins of cheap stew or beans

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Then I defer to your better understanding and apologise for the comment.

  • Ian James Parsley

    “Food insecure” is a ridiculous term.

    It should be about adequate nutrition. How we go about that, when you begin pursuing it, is extraordinarily complex.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Screw them. If it’s right, do it.

  • Yeah, my bad, you read a lot of policy documents, and you forget to communicate like a human. Might be a useful term to researchers—not sure of the whole conceptual framework the term hangs on—but for us, it’s probably not useful at all. Food poverty is about access to healthy food, nutrition and poverty in general. It’s an extremely complex issue, and a lot of people, Newton I suppose, aren’t interested in interrogating the hidden reality and its root causes.

  • Ian James Parsley

    To be clear, I wasn’t blaming you for using it; I was making precisely the point you make that government documents too often use terminology which impedes understanding and in fact encourages the notion that it is all about creating work to keep officials busy, rather than actually addressing problems.

  • chrisjones2

    Just like Premier Inn …but perhaps costs more more bed night?

  • Gerry Leddy

    One thing the gay cake row has revealed something I did not know before and perhaps the homeless/ hungry did not know or be aware of, the Presence of a Jesus ethically run bakery company.

    No Hungry homeless or deprived person will be turned away from such bakeries, running their business with the ‘good Samaritan’ in mind

    and Jesus’s statement (,Matthew 25:41-45) Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

    Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

    Fair play to Ashers making a public stand as disciples of Jesus, establishments the needy poor and hungry will never be turned away from. Not exactly food banks but for those who need them, supplies on Manna from Heaven

  • Morpheus

    What parts of Manchester are those? Longsight? Wythenshawe? Burnage? Didsbury? Ardwick? Moss Side? Whalley Range? You see I worked there and ran a football club in Manchester for many happy years and have never seen anything even close to what you describe.

    CS is right, “Social housing and the dole is pretty much the same here as it is in Leeds or Manchester.”

  • Morpheus

    Now there’s a challenge – how about hitting the streets and living with the homeless for a week or two? They could meet them all, play Angry Birds on their iphones (good grief!) being only ’20 genuinely homeless people in Northern Ireland’ and all.

    But I suspect the “I’m alright Jack” attitude will prevail,