“Two boiled eggs – 28p, slice of wholemeal bread – 3p, butter – a penny or two.”
As is customary whenever food poverty makes the headlines, infuriating lists begin to spill over on social media, detailing just how “cheap” it is to feed a family.
Anyone could do it, really, they proclaim. And if you can’t afford to feed your kids, well, then that’s your fault for being poor. Or perhaps you’ve got your priorities wrong.
Middle class Tories and the usual right-wing pundits have been particularly vocal in attempting to justify the Conservatives’ recent vote to block the extension of the free school meals scheme into October half-term and the Christmas holidays.
These people might think what they’re doing is proving how feeding children is cheap and easy. But in reality, all they’re showing is their own ignorance of the causes behind food poverty, and just how out of touch they are with the average person’s daily reality.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m out shopping I really struggle to find individual slices of bread for sale and cartons that only contain two eggs. Not to mention tiny slivers of butter.
And it’s especially hard to cook up a meal when you don’t have enough money to pay the gas bill, or to stock your kitchen with basic utensils.
There have been suggestions that people should simply “grow their own food”, when not everyone has access to a garden and allotment waiting lists are laughably long. In some areas, you’ll be waiting over ten years to get one. And of course, we all have time to be tending to an allotment.
Others are hot with rage that parents don’t just forage some apples for their children, because, obviously, urban areas are packed with orchards where kids are able to frolic, freely scrumping fruit.
There seems to be a whole subsection of the population who live in a world completely disconnected from the reality of poverty and its complex causes. Well, lucky them.
Each time food poverty is discussed, disgraceful and galling comments about the cost of cigarettes and alcohol next to food items begin to circulate.
Perhaps those people have forgotten that 72% of the roughly 4.2 million children living in poverty in the UK – that is to say a third of all children in the country – live in a household where at least one person is working, according to the Child Poverty Action Group.
The truth is, hard working parents are skipping meals so that their children have more to eat. That is the reality of Britain in 2020. Some are forced to rely on few types of low cost food, meaning they can only provide unbalanced meals. No parent wants to be in this situation.
This is the harrowing reality for millions of families, where circumstances have forced them to choose between paying rent, heating their homes and feeding their children.
Of course, there are also situations where children are living with parents who have addiction issues. But to focus on these cases paints a skewed picture of the drivers of food poverty.
The idea that providing free meals in the holidays for the children of poor families creates some sort of “dependence” is equally ridiculous.
Children are the future of this country, and our ruling class has decided that the most underprivileged among them simply do not matter.
A dependence on what? Needing to eat to stay alive? The sort of people who say this are quite happy for children to rely on the support of charities, organisations that have had to pick up the slack where the state has utterly failed.
Not a single one of these spurious arguments stands up to any sort of scrutiny. This Conservative government has plunged millions of people into poverty through their failed and wholly ideological austerity agenda.
The five-week wait for Universal Credit payments has left people hopeless and struggling, and yes you can request an advance on your first instalment but this must be paid back.
There’s something really disgusting about MPs on an annual salary of £81,932 (as of April 2020), who receive Parliament meals subsidised by the taxpayer on top of expenses, voting to starve vulnerable kids who rely on getting a school dinner so they don’t become seriously malnourished.
It’s just as sick-making to see people who have absolutely zero experience of living in poverty try to “own” suffering and desperate families by posting pictures of their meals and totting up the cost. It’s not inspirational or clever, it’s vile and stupid.
This scummy behaviour needs to stop. Children are not responsible for the choices their parents make. Children did not ask to live in a world where Conservative party policy has ridden roughshod over the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society. Children are the future of this country, and our ruling class has decided that the most underprivileged among them simply do not matter.
I suggest that these keyboard warriors shut up about budgeting, open their ears and actually listen to the lived experiences of those experiencing food poverty.
Shh now, you’re embarrassing yourselves.
Harriet Williamson is a freelance journalist.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.