Hunger Hurts – Still. A year on…

Today is exactly one year since I typed out, on my battered old Nokia, the words that have been reblogged and repeated in international news reports again and again and again over the last twelve months.

The post, entitled ‘Hunger Hurts’, starts with the line:

“Today has seen fourteen job applications go in…for care work, shop work, factory work, minimum wage work, any kind of work, because quite simply, this doesn’t work…”

I repeated the words in Parliament last month to a shocked, silent assembly:

“This morning, Small Boy had one of the last Weetabix, mashed with water, with a glass of tap water to wash it down with. Where’s mummy’s breakfast? He asks, all blue eyes and two year old concern. I tell him I’m not hungry, but the rumbling of my stomach calls me a liar. But these are the things that we do.”

Publicly falling apart at the seams, I continued:

“People ask me how I can be so strong.
People say to me that they admire my spirit.
Days like today, sitting on my son’s bed with a friend, numb and staring as I try to work out where the hell to go from here, I don’t feel strong. I don’t feel spirited. I just carry on.”

And I did. I carried on. Hunger Hurts was my turning point – the rock bottom that I hit, the night I decided to hold a big open house sale and sell everything that I could in my home to raise the money to clear my rent arrears. It’s the night I resigned myself to sacrificing everything I had in the way of material possessions, in order to keep four walls around me. I cannot read those words myself, without my stomach twisting, as I remember the cold bloody winter, sitting in a flat with no heating, the Christmas Day spent by myself because I realised my son would have a better time at his fathers than in a freezing cold flat with no tree and no presents – as I lay on my sofa without him and sobbed, alone.

Hunger Hurts is the most-read post on my blog to date, and as relevant today, as half a million people are reported to rely on food banks here in the seventh richest country in the world, and I urge you to read it and reread it until you can possibly comprehend what life is like for those half a million people – and those many, many more who do not receive the help that they so desperately need.

The timeline of events over the last twelve months has been a roller coaster, surreal as Xanthe Clay from the Telegraph came over for Morrocan-Not-A-Tagine for lunch, leading to the article My 49p Lunch With A Girl Called Jack. That article led in turn to a recipe book deal with Penguin, and subsequent appearances on Sky News, the BBC and ITV to talk about food and poverty. The Guardian described me last week as ‘The face of modern poverty’ – and indeed, I have been to the G8 summit, and spoken in Parliament on poverty issues. With that comes a public backlash, with hurtful comments about my weight, my appearance, my sexuality, my former landlords choice of decor, my parenting – as some people forget I am a person, and I hurt, and I feel, and I cry, too.

I also moved from my two bedroom flat, into one bedroom in a house I share with five people. I tuck a mattress under Small Boy’s single bed, and heave it out at the end of the day. Sharing a bedroom with a three year old is an interesting experience – but I tell myself that it isn’t forever.

I no longer claim Housing Benefit – the payments were suspended when news of my book deal reached the Housing Benefit department at the council – before any payment from my publisher hit my bank account. So I moved, to somewhere half the price, for some sort of security, at last. Less than ideal circumstances, but security all the same.

And for those that regularly ask me – yes, I still spend around £10 a week on my food shop. I’m learning to indulge again – but indulgence for me these days is a jar of black olives, or some (value range) salted cashews – I think once you learn how to eat great food on a low budget, it’s impossible to go back to spending £50 a week on food again.

Although my circumstances have changed somewhat in the past year – I have a job, am self employed, and a recipe book deal – I cannot put down the mantle and stop campaigning, or forget where I have come from. I am an ambassador for Child Poverty Action Group, and I have raised over £6,000 for charity this year through two extremely personal challenges, sleeping rough in a car park for the YMCA in March, and Living Below The Line for Oxfam in June.

Regular readers will be able to recite that closing sentence – as true today for half a million families in the UK as it was for me, typing through angry tears on the 30th July last year, that poverty isn’t just having no heating, or not quite enough food, or unplugging your fridge and turning your hot water off… Poverty is the sinking feeling when your Small Boy finishes his one Weetabix and says, More Mummy? Bread and jam please Mummy? As you’re trying to work out how to carry the TV and the guitar to the pawn shop, and how to tell him that there is no bread and jam.

A year ago, I was angry about my personal circumstances.

Now i’m angry about everyone else’s.

For those asking ‘what can I do to help?’ – well, donate something to your local food bank. Tins, nappies, baby formula, UHT milk, cereals, toiletries, pasta, rice, tinned fruit and vegetables… Volunteer at a children’s centre or a play group – I found the ‘free’ things to do with Small Boy were literally a lifeline to me when I had nothing to do in my day, no money, nothing to look forward to. Visit your local volunteer centre and see how you can help, someone, somewhere. Donate old clothes, shoes and blankets to your local homeless shelter. Don’t step over people in the street – give them the £3 you might have spent on a latte.

I almost have my happy ending. Almost. But hundreds of thousands of families in Britain are starving – and they don’t get a book deal, and they don’t get to roll onto the Sky News sofa and shout at politicians about how it is, so until Hunger Hurta becomes an antiquated, Dickensian fable of what life WAS like in quaintly-titled ‘Austerity Britain’, while Hunger Hurts is still true for just ONE family, let alone half a million, while people like Lord Freud can get away with pontificating on the ‘unnecessary’ nature of food banks, I must carry on. As an ambassador for Child Poverty Action Group, writing for Oxfam, raging against the machine, shouting at the rain, meeting with Government advisers and repeating again and again and again and again until they get it:

“Half a million people in the UK are relying on food handouts. Food banks are not the answer. They are a sticking plaster. There comes a time when you need to stop just pulling people out of the river. You need to go upstream, and find out why they’re falling in.”

Jack Monroe. Follow me on Twitter @MsJackMonroe. Find me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

A Girl Called Jack is available to order here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/A-Girl-Called-Jack-Monroe/dp/0718178947

53 thoughts on “Hunger Hurts – Still. A year on…

  1. Jack,

    This made me sob.. Im too proud to tell you the reasons why But it did. You Jack are a very special person and Thank goodness for you is all i can say..

  2. I am so glad that life is better for you one year on and angry that it isn’t for so many others. I am giving clothes and food, but remember that ‘it is justice, not charity that is wanting in the world’ (Mary Wollstonecraft, ca. 1780s). Let’s keep shouting and debating and telling it like it is until there is justice.

  3. We have monthly dress down days for £1 for charities at work. For past two years we have made the January one a “bring a donation for the local food bank” rather than just cash. Have found people tend to give more, far more that £1 worth. This is a simple idea that could be copied by others until the government does finally wander upstream.

  4. Reblogged this on Virtual office news and commented:
    If you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t read this blog yet, do it now… this is one of the most important blogs in the country. Read it, follow, it, tell your friends about it. And then ask what you can do to stop people going hungry.

  5. Stay strong Jack. Keep pushing, keep smiling. We’re a family of 4 struggling to rent privately – husband developed a chronic illness, myself – given up on career for now to be his necessary carer, we have 2 teenagers, and can’t get secure housing – agents / owners saying “no” left, right and centre. “We’re not all in this together”, in quite the same way, to quote Cameron, are we?
    I personally admire you, I am proud of you. Go girl… You’re brilliant!

  6. What a wonderful post- all of your posts are so insightful and I’ve really enjoyed cooking some of your meals, I can’t wait to buy the book! I work, full time, and never thought I’d be in ‘poverty’… But this week I had to cross my fingers to hope the petrol in my car was enough for the (no alternative) drive to work as I didn’t have the money for more, and have been drinking water to feel full. So many people are struggling with modern poverty.

    Ignore the comments about your appearance/weight/sexuality/kitchen tiles or anything else- they’re irrelevant and nonsensical. Anyway, you’re gorgeous!

    • I totally agree with those last comments. It’s awful what dirt people will throw at you for no reason whatsoever. What do the landlord’s choice of tiles or countertop have to do you with fact that you are struggling? I didn’t trawl through all the comments on the Guardian site because the vitriol disgusted me. Jack, you’re an inspiration to so many people and I hope your personal circumstances improve soon and that your book is a huge success.

  7. You should be so very proud of what you have achieved Jack. I’m glad things are going better for you now. And so sad that so many others have to live in that way.

  8. Jack, I’ve just discovered you in the last week, but you’re an inspiration. Thanks for the great writing, and I’m so glad that things are getting better for you. If you happen to find yourself in Ireland at any point, I can think of several groups that would love, love, love to have you as a guest speaker.

  9. 23 years ago I managed to (just about) feed my two daughters but I had to exist on their leftovers……….. if there were any. Now they are adults with good jobs and a healthy respect for how people survive in very difficult circumstances. I’m very proud of what I achieved and I know they are better people because of that

  10. Hi Jack,

    this has made me want to help out or donate to a food bank. I will encourage others to do the same. It is not a solution like you say but if a family goes hungry time and again, what will this do to our society? what does this say about our society? Not much.
    Keep going. You are doing a great job.

    Dayna xx

  11. Having spent a few months making shopping for food for a fortnight with £16 with my daughter then 15 a game to cover up the panic I felt, I understand the fear the feelings of hopelessness, it could happen again to me again for different reasons atos and assessments will be my life for the next 15 years. I make donations regularly knowing it’s quite likely to be me asking for help one day in the future, I wish the majority would think just for a minute “that might be me” through unemployment or sickness, it can happen and it does.
    Thank You Jack for continuing the fight xxx

    • Oh yes. How easy it is to forget “there, but for the grace of God, go I”

  12. Hello Jack,
    This is powerful and effective and good writing. You’re destined for great things and you deserve them. Don’t let others drag you back, continue trying to drag them up with you. Inspirational.
    I’m looking forward to collaborating with you with Fellow HQ. You’re making a difference.

  13. hi Jack,
    I and I’m sure every other Children’s Centre Worker in the UK are giving you a huge cheer for being brave enough to tell it like it is and then deal with the haters too. A big thank you to you. To others reading comments I wish I did not have to say this but keep on giving to foodbanks- it is the long summer holidays at the moment and with children to entertain and no free school meals many families are really struggling.

  14. Pingback: Hunger Hurts – One Year On and still hungry for change | Miranda's Island

  15. Astounding writing from a hero of our time.

    You tell it like it is, you’ve lived through all this and indeed are still living on little, but have made your voice heard and that takes a real talent and a special skill. You have caused many of us who had known of food banks to actually get off our bums and go and donate to them.

    Ignore the idiots who would do anything to knock you down (mirrored tiles indeed …..huh!!) keep fighting the good fight knowing that on a daily, nay hourly rate you are gathering an army of followers that will listen, that will act and that will defend your right to speak out against poverty and hunger in this country.

    You go girl, and SB has a Mum he can be so proud of. :-)

  16. Jack, you’re an utterly amazing person.

    It’s really important you keep on going with this. You have a real chance to make a huge change. There are a huge amount of people behind you. In this era of the ‘occupy’ movement, people are poised to demand a fairer arrangement for our society.

    And your unique voice is rallying middle Britain. We all fear being cast down to that level of poverty, particularly if we had a taste of it growing up, and we like to think that the poor today are somehow different from ourselves and therefore it couldn’t happen to us. But your story shows it can, and through no fault of the person. Puts all of the rhetoric about the ‘benefit scroungers’ into perspective.

  17. It’s very brave of you to stick your head above the parapet, Jack, but it inevitably means that you attract some very nasty remarks. Unfortunately the internet is a haven for trolls because they can post all kinds of bile whilst remaining totally anonymous. We used to say ‘crawl back under your stone!’ but these days it’s a sad fact that you can post all kinds of tosh without even emerging from your rock. I wonder how many of your detractors would have ripped you to shreds had they been required to use their real identities? People on benefits are often derided for allegedly failing to contribute anything: we have been through all that strivers and skivers/workers and shirkers nonsense recently. There is so much concentration on the pittance that the government sometimes hands out to society’s unfortunates – if they’re lucky. How many of your detractors have contributed anything even half as valuable as your blog? Your ultra-low budget cookery is inspirational. Even were you not now in a job, in my view you’d still be contributing far more to society than most. And I really cannot understand people who feel that all this is somehow negated by body art, kitchen decor or any of the other things that regularly get thrown at you and are really not anybody’s business but your own.

    PS A friend of mine recently did a door-to-door charity collection around her village. As in the area where I live, there is a fairly straight divide between the posh bit, which is awash with BMWs and frou-frou conservatories, and the poor bit, which is mostly full of old bangers and peeling paintwork. The impoverished bit of the village contributed well over thirty quid to her collection. BMW-land coughed up around £3.50. Something for the trolls to think about when they’re next droning on about their right to judge others because they are ‘paying for everything’, perhaps. But I suppose they’d simply say that it’s proof that the ‘squeezed middle’ really is hurting …

  18. I can only imagine what you have been through. You are the voice of those who dont have your eloquence with the written and spoken word. We, the greater public are led to believe those on benefits are ne’er do wells who just cant be bothered to work. How you have opened my eyes! Dont stop. Keep writing. Keep speaking. Remain in the public eye.

  19. What a marvellous blog. As many others have already said, you are an inspiration. I admire your guts and determination, and the fact that you are taking such powerful constructive action to change not only your world and that of your son but also the world for other people. As for your detractors, they are probably having a go at you because at heart you make them feel ashamed for some reason – you are showing them up (they’re just like Scrooge before his ghostly encounters) and they don’t like it. It must be foul to be on the receiving end of so much spiteful and ignorant flak, but to me it shows that your message is getting across because it’s making your detractors feel uncomfortable. Good for you!

    I hope your week’s photography shoot is going well and that the book is a bestseller. I am quite sure that it will be, and I’m looking forward to buying a copy myself.

    xxx

  20. I read a the comments and read people stating that they have dress down days to donate £1 to charity, what would they say if they were asked to give 10% of their income not just once but every month then they would make a difference. Three years ago i was a working, but then i had a fall downstairs, now i often live on cereal while i struggle to keep a roof over my head. I am not so lucky i cannot walk away from my house, which belongs to the bank more than it does me. It’s easy to donate when you have more than you need but when you have nothing you really do empty out your house and sell everything. With the selling goes your pride and your dignity.

    Thank you for all that you do, just keep banging on doors, maybe someone will actually hear.

  21. You should tell the bastards, undoubtedly jealous of your success and shaking their heads wondering why they are still anonymous losers when they have not had the challenges you’ve faced, “I have been called worse things by better people!” That gets ‘em everytime!

  22. Addendum to earlier comment:

    As a Greek woman with a large posterior and a loud mouth, a common response to haters is, “Kiss my big, fat, Greek ass!”

    I have no idea if you fall lovingly into the “hontra kola” category as I do
    but if you do, I would tell the next person who dares to insult your existence to do just that.

  23. Dear Jack, I listened to the Radio 4 show on Sunday and felt so moved by what was shared over the airwaves. I’ve read much about you since then – you’re such an inspiration. Talk about True Grit – you have it in spades.

    I was feeling extremely sorry for myself on Sunday as I’ve been suffering from severe depression for the last fifteen months and have lost my job of 10 years as a consequence. Apart from the loss of my salary (which has been catastrophic) the most difficult thing to cope with was the wake-up call I had when I realised that all the people that I thought were my friends had dropped me like a hot cake once they became aware of my illness and my forthcoming dismissal through ill-health. Life eh!

    However, listening to the radio programme and having read much about you on this blog, you’ve made me feel that there is hope for the future after all.

    When my children were growing up (I’m 54 now and my children are 29, 25 and 23 – still my babies), my hubby and I had absolutely no money due to his poorly paid job. My children went without so much but today they really appreciate what we did for them It’s not all about giving them the most expensive things, it’s about giving them the most important commodity of all – your time and love. You’ve done this in spades by caring for your little man, feeding him when you had nothing for yourself.

    You should be so very proud of yourself. You’ve done amazingly thus far and life will hopefully reward you well. If you were here now with me, I would give you such a huge hug.
    Best wishes for the future – Myra.

  24. wow – there’s digging yourself out of a crappy situation, we could all probably do that if we had to – but to turn that crappy situation into a career move while inspiring millions of others at the same time….well, respect doesn’t begin to cover it! here’s to your further success and the brighter future you and your son deserve.

  25. I just listened to the Food Programme show via podcast. Your story is my story and that of a few others I know.

    I currently share a house with four other men; we’re all financially strapped and underemployed. It’s interesting to observe how we each deal with food availability. Some utilize a local food bank or take advantage of donations from their church. I’ll hear on occasion how one of them may have gone a day or two without eating. Unfortunately, one has a penchant for stealing from the rest of us. It’s fortunate that I’m frugal and I have cooking skills, so I can plan for my meals and nutrition.

    Still, there have been times where I’ve had to do without in order to feed my cat.

    Having been a starving graduate student, this is not unfamiliar territory. What’s different this time is that the prospects for escape from this situation seem ever so remote. But what sustains me is to be able to appreciate life, whatever the circumstances are.

    I’m glad that you have given voice to this issue and happy to have heard your voice.

  26. Ah, those sad individuals ready to hurl insults for their own self glory or to grab a headline, They will try and knock you down, but pity them; for their total lack of understanding, compassion and humanity.

    You’re doing a brilliant job as a campaigner, cook and a mum – you’ve got a wealth of support from people who actually care, and you’ve inspired and moved an old cynic like me. The comments above show how much you’ve moved and influenced so many people. I’ll be following your journey, cheering for you and happily shouting down the ‘naysayers’!x

  27. Hi Jack,
    Just discovered you on face book and was inspired by what you are doing before I discovered what you’ve been through. I’m really glad that things are beginning to look up for you and even more glad that you still have a heart for those who are where you were. Your blog has certainly spoken to me and it seems from this page many others. I pray that it will make a radical difference to the way we live and that the message you are bringing will lead to an end of people living as you had to.
    Thanks, for making a difference.
    Valx

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  29. Yes I understand the housing problem. Im expecting our baby girl in October. We live in a tiny one bedroom flat. We wedged a crib next to bed. No chance of affording a two bedroom private. Name is on the housing list but we get bids knocked back. My hubby works here we are on such a tight budget that fitting travel money in is not easy plus the extra rent and bills it will be. Plus the housing is in the city we live just outside the city so far from hubbies work It would be so we plan to stay overcrowded as no choice at the mo. Our livingroom kitchen combined but we would use a sofa bed when she older to give her the room for playing. We have hardly any floor space. I admire you sharing a room with your child :-)

  30. You’re an extraordinary woman, a complete inspiration.
    Amazing writing. I’m buying your book as soon as it’s out.
    Thank you for all that you’re doing.

  31. Hi Jack,
    I’m British, but have lived outside the UK all my life and have only just come across your blog. Wonderful stuff, I must say. Your recipes are great and I’m going to put them into my weekly menus. I read your Hunger Hurts article first and it brought me back to a couple of years ago when my little girl was born. I was living in Portugal and although I do have a husband, neither of us had work contracts, we were freelancing (I know, crazy thing to do when you’re about to start a family, but beggars can’t be choosers, eh) and we were either getting paid late or sometimes, not even at all. We’d moved to Portugal on a whim and it was hard work. It’s a lovely place with great food and I really learnt to budget. No need to go into the details, you get my point, you’ve been there, done that. Anyway, the thing I thought was wonderful was the community spirit. There was a small office where you could go and ask for clothes and other necessities for your kids. It was a bit like a borrowing service: you use the clothes and when the kids have outgrown them, you bring them back and someone else uses them. I’m now living in Germany and it’s better. One salary for the three of us, a small flat in a quiet neighbourhood outside of town and I’m now what the Germans call a Hausfrau, a stay-at-home Mum. This is because childcare for a two year old is hard to get. But I’m waffling, sorry. I found a thing called a Give Box, a colourful wooden box with a plastic curtain containing books and clothes and other things that people no longer need and want to discard. They trust you to take what you need and to give what you don’t. I think it’s a wonderful concept. I don’t know if any of this is of interest to you, but I just thought I’d share. From one Mum on a budget to another. Take care and hope you get to where you want to be.

  32. I can only echo so many of the other postings here, Jack. I am particularly struck by your complete lack of self pity when, goodness knows, you must have felt awful at times. I want to ask your permission to print a slightly abridged version of your “Hunger Hurts” blog in the Bideford Quaker newsletter. (It only has a circulation of about 30). I have added links to the Guardian video and also to Hunger Hurts – Still. A year on… The Quakers are good people, and your blog will help them get more of a feel for what it’s really like to have to try and live on benefits – and, hopefully, donate even more to the Norther Devon Food Bank. Several of us have been involved with homeless people, and one (at least) has experienced actually being roofless for a time.

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  34. Jack, I started reading your blog a few days ago and the Hunger Hurts posting moved me to tears. My youngest is 2 (also blonde and blue-eyed) and the thought of him asking for food I couldn’t provide tore my heart.

    I live in Southend. I know it’s not about one family but I wanted to travel back in time and bring you the bread and jam. Since I can’t do that – and happily don’t need to now – I’m off to find the local food bank.

    Keep doing what you do.

  35. Jack your post a year ago made me cry, opened my eyes and changed my attitude for ever.

    I am crying again you are an amazing inspirational person

  36. Hi Jack, I’ve been standing up for you. Just thought I’d give you the reason why. I have in turn been at a stage where my rent was in arrears, water was cut off, naff all in the fridge for a family of 4 then rich, then poor again. That has been going on for 30 years. Since then moved away out of the UK for a high paid job and then lost it so went to what I know – music. Now living from hand to mouth with far too much outlay, no benefits. I’m glad I’m not in the UK any more because the quality of life is so much better here. I heard you on radio 4 and you inspired me – reminding me how to live on a tenner a week again. Your tagine was superb. Take care – and if they don’t like you, screw em. Robin

  37. Hi jack,
    have been reading your blog for a while now and been with you on the ups and downs on what you have written.
    All I ask is on your blog you keep on the front page the history of what you have been through. So people can see what you and small boy have had to endure.

  38. I do not know if it’s just me or if perhaps everybody else experiencing issues with your blog.

    It appears as if some of the text within your content are running off the screen.
    Can someone else please comment and let me know if this is happening to them as well?
    This could be a problem with my internet browser because I’ve had
    this happen before. Kudos

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