Being invited to the G8 summit was a surreal point in the career of a single mum turned breadline blogger turned accidental activist. I started writing a blog in response to a local councillor claiming that “druggies, drunks and single mums are ruining the town”, to foster a culture of transparency not afforded by the sparse minutes of local council meetings. I found myself a year and a half later at the G8 summit, campaigning again for transparency, and my other great passions, food and nutrition.
Listening to Frank, a Save the Children campaigner who, at 16, “had food, but not always enough food” as he grew up as a young boy in Tanzania, I was struck by the similarities in our stories. Despite the miles between us, I had food, but not always enough.
Yet where Frank lives, it is recognised that aid is needed. Hunger is an acknowledged issue, and the UK has subsequently pledged 0.7 per cent of national income to overseas aid to tackle that issue. Figures in The Lancet last Thursday show that 3.1 million children die of hunger every year.
Half a million people in outwardly prosperous, affluent Britain are said to rely on food banks. Hunger in the UK is often invisible. I was frequently told that I didn’t “look like a poor person” as I skipped meals to feed my son, and sat in my flat with the lightbulbs unscrewed and the heating off in the depths of winter. It took a perceptive supervisor at a Sure Start group to see that I always had seconds, sometimes thirds, of the free lunch, and to refer me to a food bank.
Food banks meet a need, but are not the solution. They are very good at pulling people out of the river, but someone needs to go upstream and find out why they are falling in. That person should be the Prime Minister, who had the opportunity to put hunger on the agenda once and for all.
But on Monday night, David Cameron posted a photo of his dinner menu on Twitter, including fillet of beef, violet artichokes and rose creams. A reader of my blog commented: “Pampered Government ministers with full bellies are pontificating on hunger, while children are going to bed, and going to school the next day, having not had a nutritious meal. Sickening.”
The Enough Food If campaign, for which I was at the G8, believes there is enough food for everyone in the world, if world leaders would tackle uneven distribution and unaffordability. But cash that could help nutrition and welfare budgets is lost in tax havens, offshore accounts, and creative accounting.
As the Prime Minister strode out on to the bank of Lough Erne for the outdoor press conference, I held my breath. A few words could end hunger for thousands of children and their families in the UK.
I was disappointed. The Lough Erne declaration was all “we should”, not “we will”.
While I welcome the commitment to international aid, Mr Cameron now needs to get his own house in order, to tackle hunger and poverty issues in his own country, so that he can ask the rest of the world to “do as I do”, not “do as I tell you to do”.
Jack Monroe, The Independent, 23 June.