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Comment: I’m hungry to remove this indignity
After an extremely self-indulgent Easter break, a week of which I spent entertaining French friends, trying to prove to them that English cooking is every bit as good as theirs, I am now back to taking skimmed milk in my tea and walking to the supermarket with my tartan shopping trolley.
(Don’t laugh - the trolley is an investment; if I look after it and don’t overload it with too many sacks of potatoes or jumbo packs of washing-powder, I’m hoping it will double as my Zimmer frame in 20 years’ time).
I admit I have only myself to blame for my weight gain and all this hard work shedding that half stone of blubber is probably no more than I deserve for showing off my culinary skills while pretending I’m doing my bit for our national tourist industry.
Joking apart, I am ashamed to say while I am back on the bathroom scales and eating celery sticks for lunch, food banks are proliferating.
The irony is that as some of us are trying to cut down on what we eat, food banks are springing up all over the country; as I scan the shelves for low fat yogurt, the online forum Netmums estimates one in five mothers are going hungry in order to feed their children.
There are now more than 400 food banks nationally and our use of them has increased tenfold since 2010.
Shockingly, food poverty can be found even in the supposedly affluent Home Counties.
For instance, there are currently two food banks in the Rickmansworth area (in Mill End and Maple Cross) and one in Watford.
Between them, they have helped feed some 4,000 people in the past year alone, many of them hungry thanks to late wage cheques, unemployment, sickness, homelessness, refused loans and no free school meals during holidays.
Typically, people come for tinned fish and carrots, longlife milk, basic toiletries, nappies and household cleaning products but according to Iris Bangs, who helps run the Mill End food bank, claimants sometimes also ask for shoes or a suit to wear to an interview.
One poor mother at one food bank was desperate enough to ask for a pair of PE shorts, without which her son would be sent home from school, and for sanitary towels for her teenage daughter.
Can you imagine the courage that must have taken?
It’s very easy to point the finger, but it does seem as if DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) changes to the benefits system, which have lengthened the time it takes to receive benefits while simultaneously raising the bar for eligibility for Job Seeker’s Allowance, are partly to blame.
As a taxpayer, of course I want to get the unemployed off their sofas and into work; and as the wife of someone who lost his job earlier this year, I’m all for helping people to update their CV and apply for jobs, and insisting they attend interviews or training schemes, because it benefits them in the long term.
But to allow people to go hungry while they look for a job is cruel and humiliating.
And in a rich country like ours, it’s a disgrace.
n rickmansworth.foodbank.org.uk. Telephone 07716 856892.
n watford.foodbank.org.uk. Telephone 07852 171906.
The Tricolore flags are flying, the posters are going up and my children are already dodging my attempts to drum shopping French into them in preparation for Chorleywood’s third French market on Sunday, May 9.
The first market two years ago was a tentative move on the part of the French twinning association, parish council and business association to raise awareness of our entente cordiale with the French town of Dardilly, near Lyon and boost trade by bringing more people into town.
As initiatives go, it couldn’t have been easier or more fruitful. The French set out their stalls early in the morning, the Charles Aznavour and Sacha Distel tapes go on and from 10am, literally hundreds of smiling people streamed down the hills into Chorleywood’s town centre. The atmosphere at the previous two markets was electric.
Market director Muriel Charles, who comes from Rouen in northern France (where the English put Joan of Arc to the stake), has been taking her market around southern England for a decade and tells me Chorleywood is the most successful venue on her itinerary.
So do come and practise your franglais with the stallholders, whose stalls are called "échoppes" in French, by the way. Now you know where our word "shop" comes from.
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