When speaking to parties interested in joining Business against Poverty we are sometimes asked how our movement helps address poverty here in the U.K. We are proud to talk about the success of our Dignity project (which provides essential white goods to those families in need) and also how our members support the long established purpose of our charity, helping poor communities across the globe.
In recent months, the growing plight of U.K. families, struggling with rising prices and fuel bills has been well covered in the media. And the impending increase in National Insurance contributions is expected to make matters worse. We acknowledge the Government’s initiatives to help relieve pressure on the poorest families but recognise that many will fail to qualify, requiring them to make some very stark choices.
Whatever our political views, it is staggering to think that the world’s fifth largest economy is seeing so many families, especially with children of school age or younger, forced into poverty.
The conversation can extend to whether charity should begin at home. And in current times that is an increasingly valid question. However, our charity (like many others) operates with limited resources and a change in focus would likely mean cutting funding to projects elsewhere. It is sad and frustrating but at times we are faced with making stark choices also.
Poverty robs a person of their dignity and it can mean depravation on an unbelievable scale. A big question for a charity like ours is how do you make a choice of which child to feed?
Imagine 2 children standing in front of you. One child is from the U.K, the second from Romania or Nepal.
The child from the UK is wearing hand-me-down clothes donated by friends or bought at a charity shop. Their school has donated a second hand school uniform. Financial circumstances mean that the child is having to forgo many of the things they enjoy. There is teasing in school but the school is supportive and helps where it is able. Sometimes the only food in the house is cereal or toast. There are occasions when the child goes to bed feeling hungry. Their mother is exhausted with trying to make ends meet. There is some security knowing that her home is funded by her local council (or through benefits) but bills are a struggle. During term time she relies on the school to provide her child with a hot lunch and breakfast, although this is not always available during the school holidays. The family receives benefits and qualifies to use the local foodbank. If the mother does work she is paid at either the national minimum or living wage. Their struggle is unpleasant at times and more than most of us would wish to endure but it has the potential to be temporary.
The second child from Romania or Nepal is dirty, poorly clothed and exposed to a bitter winter. Home can only be described as a shack, made from discarded materials and mud. Heating is
provided by a single stove, burning wood or rubbish to keep warm and to cook. There are no sanitary facilities. Food supplies are dependent on what little money has been earned that day or what has been scavenged from other’s domestic rubbish. There are 11 members of the family living under the one roof from babies to grandparents. None of the adults hold the necessary documents, even a birth certificate to be registered on government systems and consequently the family receives little, if any, state support. The mother struggles to breastfeed her baby and knows that the child has a high chance of dying before the age of 5. This has sadly happened once before. There is little free healthcare. It is unlikely that the children have been inoculated against childhood diseases. Coughs and colds are fought without medication. There is a constant risk of disease. School is several miles away and there is no transport. Only a basic education is provided with the family required to provide the necessary study materials. There is no canteen. Like many in the community, the father has long term alcohol dependency and struggles to find work. The eldest daughter earns money for the family through her own sexual exploitation. There is no prospect of their conditions improving.
This is the misery that Valerie and I have often witnessed in the ghetto slums and the reason we set up People against Poverty. We have chosen to work with children and families where others do not, where state support is mainly absent and where premature death is likely. All children are worthy of help but many would be left without hope and a positive outcome were it not for the direct support our Business against Poverty members help provide.
Bill Huxley, Founder Business against Poverty