Rhianna Dredge is a second-year student at the University of Gloucestershire studying Religion, Philosophy and Ethics: “I’m passionate about all things social issues related, which has led me to explore in my studies the problems facing society and how we can make the world a better place, including various religious and philosophical perspectives.”
What is food poverty?
Food poverty, or insecurity, is the inability to access nutritious food, with many going full days without a meal. Across the globe, about 40% of people cannot afford to maintain a healthy diet, with around 1 in 10 of the world population being unable to access enough food to eat at all. While anyone can feel the effects of food poverty, families with children in the household tend to be the greatest sufferers, and often rely on the help and support of local communities, food banks and free school meals to ensure at least one hot meal a day for their children.
How is the UK affected by food poverty?
In the UK food poverty rates have significantly risen since covid, with the cost-of-living crisis only amplifying the struggle. In January 2023 (according to statistics from the Food Foundation think tank) an average of 22% of household’s experiences food insecurity, unsure of where their next meal was coming from, leading to meals often being skipped, or members of the house being prioritised for food over others.
With a threshold that was set before Covid and inflation, over 800,000 children living in poverty slip through the net and are denied free school meals, leaving many having to go days at a time without a hot meal.
Statistics from the Trussell Trust reflect the desperate need there is within the UK. Having delivered a record 1.3 million emergency food parcels for the period between 1st April 2022 and 30th September 2022 – half a million of which were for children – foodbanks were left struggling to maintain their service, due to the increased costs of foods and fewer donations.
In his letter to Parliament in 2020, where he campaigned for the extension of availability of free school meals to also cover school holidays, Marcus Rashford perfectly summarises the leading cause of food poverty in the UK. “The system was not built for families like mine to succeed,” he wrote, “regardless of how hard my mom worked.” This highlights the damaging impact our current economic system has on the UK’s poor.
Having been selfishly designed by the rich for the rich, economic growth is a top priority of government, regardless of which party is in control, and ignores the needs of the hungry. With the focus of government being misdirected, money gets invested into projects and initiatives that can help to increase profits, rather than basics like road works, community centres, fixing broken park apparatus and emptying bins.
This focus on economic growth relies heavily on the backs of the UK’s work force, with little in return for their labour. Regardless of how hard or how many hours people work, it’s rare that those who have lived in poverty will ever escape, due to the system needing to keep the less fortunate struggling.
Zero-hour contracts are a clear example of the economy not working for the poor– while workers struggle with the lack of workplace and financial security, businesses are able to increase their own profits, aiding economic growth.
These crushing effects of a system that prioritised its own development over the needs of those that help to maintain it, leave many families and households unable to afford the bare necessities after bills, with food for many becoming more of luxury then a requirement.
So, what is the Christian response?
Jesus was a saviour, a liberator, a voice for the powerless, who helped to feed the hungry and put a focus on the marginalised, teaching his followers to do the same – the exact opposite approach to the economy and government.
“He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free.” – Psalm 146:7
UK churches, alongside other faith-based groups, have been vital in the response to food poverty, with Christian organisations like the Trussell Trust accounting for around 60% of foodbanks, and delivering millions of food parcels a year to households struggling to afford to eat. Foodbanks like these have seen a massive increase in demand with the current cost-of-living crisis, with hundreds of thousands more people requiring help.
Foodbanks aren’t the only way Christians have been able to help fight against food poverty. With churches and Christian communities embracing Jesus’ teachings, they help to provide a safe space for those in need, offering a place to talk and a welcoming community to listen, as well as childcare and meals, helping to ease the financial burden placed on people.
This Christian ethic can be seen in initiatives made to fight against food insecurity and global hunger, like the United Nations ShareTheMeal app that allows people to easily donate money that helps to provide those in need with a meal.
Even something as simple as small acts of kindness, like buying food for the homeless, or donating to a local foodbank, embraces the Christian sense of community and the selflessness Jesus had by putting others first, while also brightening the day of someone whose world often can seem quite dark.
Is there a solution for a better, more food secure society?
Though in our current economy it may seem like there’s no alternative, and we tend to just accept the system we have been given, there is another way.
By adopting what economist Kate Raworth refers to as “Doughnut Economics”, in her book of the same name, we could have an economy that is compatible with the Christian ethic. By setting a minimum and maximum boundary of how far we can push the economy, ensuring we have the basic social foundations we need to make sure issues such as food poverty are taken care of, while also respecting the environmental limits for living sustainably, it creates an ethical system with a happy, healthy, middle ground. This model of society upholds the teachings of Jesus, focusing on the actual needs of society, embracing the Christian message, and creating a food secure society where no one should go hungry.
One Reply to “The Christian response to UK food poverty”
I have used Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics as the framework for my book “Towards Oikos” on inequality and the climate crisis encompassing Christian ethics.