Food or heating – what would you choose? Some may be confused by the question, wondering why one would have to choose between the two. When in reality, this is the choice that many people face in the UK each week. The breadline is something which has become increasingly familiar to more and more people. Poverty is no longer something that we can solely associate with under developed countries, as it is happening right here in the UK.
Stale Bread is Better Than None
The breadline, now widely used as a term to describe poverty, originated from a literal queue of people waiting to receive bread or other food given as charity. ‘Living on the breadline’ therefore became a phrase that people used to describe those who survived on free food handouts. The earliest notarised instance can be found in the Democrat and Chronicle, a daily newspaper serving the New York area founded in 1833:
The bread line at Fleischmann’s bakery, on Broadway, where … 479 men, by actual count, were waiting their turn to get the charity ration of stale bread doled out there to the poverty stricken. (1898)
The owner of the Bakery, Louis Fleischmann, established the unique charity ‘the breadline’ at Christmas in 1876 and distributed unsold bread nightly, seeing as many as 5000 loaves a night being handed out. Unfortunately, the definition of ‘the breadline’ is something which is still relevant today. In 2020/21 approximately 2.5 million people used a foodbank in the UK, over 600,000 more than the previous year (Statista, May 2021). This figure should be shocking, it should anger people. This is the sign of a humanitarian crisis, a crisis that appears to be getting little attention from the government.
The poverty line is defined as those who earn 60% below the median household income, which in the 2020 financial year was £29,900; putting the poverty line at an annual income of below £17,940. According to the Child Poverty Action Group, 14 million people live in households below the poverty line. On top of this, some households are going to have £20 cut from Universal Credit a week at a time when prices are rising and society is still recovering from the pandemic. This £20 cut will push 20,000 more children into poverty, a fact which should instantly urge the government to reverse the cut.
In a country where 6.7 million tonnes of food is wasted per year, which equates to £10.2 billion, there should be no one going hungry. As a country, we are too reliant on importing food, much of which we can already grow here. Particularly with the repercussions of Brexit beginning to be felt, communities should be coming together to support one another. We are not simply consumers.
We are people. People who demand change to the broken system that allows children to go hungry and punctures holes in their only lifejacket. Emphasis should now be placed on access to healthy food. Food banks are a temporary fix, not a long term solution, and something which should not be needed in a country where we have a surplus of food. Food education in young children is vital to equip them with the knowledge of nutrition and the life skill of cooking to sustain themselves. Local businesses should link together to help the community and in turn support each other. Sustain, an alliance of organisations and communities working together for a better system of food, succinctly put: ‘all local action has at its core a belief that people can make a difference, and that seemingly small actions can often have wide-reaching benefits.’
Charities you can support:
Food or heating – what would you choose? Some may be confused by the question, wondering why one would have to choose between the two. When in reality, this is the choice that many people face in the UK each week.