The struggles of families living on low incomes are becoming increasingly hard. Already tough before the pandemic, lives have been put under even greater strain with the fallout from furlough, where households lost at least 20% of their income and never recovered the shortfall, meaning they are short now all the time, not the odd month. The mental health burden that weighed so heavily on so many shoulders with the loss of social contact or loved ones lost alone, a bomb that is detonating in households around the country. The horrors of lockdown continue to dog the steps of so many people – domestic violence, child sexual abuse, children lost in the system.
The situation we face is extreme, and those in political positions seem more remote than ever. It is to communities, to community solidarity, that so many of us turn. Foodbanks, we know are dealing with rocketing demand, food pantries the same. Schools and hospitals are keeping supplies of food and essentials not only for patients and students, but for staff who can no longer make ends meet. While food poverty is entirely unacceptable in a G7, or any, economy, those keeping others alive are the ones we depend on now.
I saw this at the Cottage Family Centre, a resource for the local community, during a recent visit to Kirkcaldy. Two centres, and a café, are lifelines for local people who have little or nothing to fall back on as the days shorten and the purse strings tighten. The centre provides children's groups, counselling support, access to essential items – like nappies, baby formula, sanitary products, with no questions asked. Mums, dads and carers can come in for a chat, a cup of tea and problems shared. Adults are trained in practical skills like painting and decorating – firstly to help them sort their own homes out and then as a skill they can use to earn an income.
The Centre has the first, formal, charity partnership with Amazon. Amazon has a big warehouse locally that takes returned goods that are in perfect condition. Essential items are re-distributed to families in need in Fife, who are referred to the Cottage Family Centre through a network of partners working with those in need. Other local businesses and partnerships are joining in, providing support with white goods, beds and bedding and more. For families relocated due to domestic violence, this resource is vital as they start their lives with their children again, from scratch. From curtains and duvets, plates, cups and saucers, all the returned and otherwise unwanted items, are a godsend to those who have nothing or who had to leave everything behind. For each item, there is someone who wants it.
Ajaz.org first concern is children. Poverty has a very, very high price tag. It is children that pay that price, each hour of each day. I will leave you with one story that provides, for a second, an insight into what is happening in homes across the land, out of sight. At a recent event at the Cottage Family Centre, children could choose a toy to take home. A large range of lovely and exciting toys glittered before them – an Aladdin's Cave for kids, if you will.
On the side table, some foodstuff for a later session was stacked up. A small girl was beckoned forward to choose what she wanted from all the toys before her. Shyly, she pointed not at the dollies and games, or jigsaw puzzles or teddies. Her choice? A large bag of rice, on the foodstuff table. The helpers there were surprised and asked her “wouldn't you rather have a dolly, hen?” No – it was the rice she wanted, for her mummy, and she carried it in triumph home. We all know what this means.
We can hope our political leaders can make wise choices and get behind the most vulnerable in our communities. Making access to food a right, not luck or a privilege. We all have choices. To look the other way, or to join in and share what we have, no matter how little, so maybe that wee girl next time could choose a dolly, and not a bag of rice.
Nicola Brentnall MVO, CEO Ajaz.org