Listening to the comments from the Archbishop of Canterbury, I find myself agreeing with him – not only is he following the Biblical instructions of feeding the hungry, but he has highlighted one big problem in this country.
Many years ago, there was National Assistance to buy the basics for those who could not claim sick benefit or unemployment benefit, for the rest of us there was our wages and you struggled by on what you earned plus family allowance – but not for the first child – plus free school meals.
Therefore, to many the introduction of family income supplement was wonderful, it wasn’t very much – but to those who had too much week left at the end of their money it meant surviving without borrowing.
The welfare state has improved since then – we all know there are some who will take advantage of the system – they were about in the 1950s & ’60s as well – but it’s not as bad as some of the papers and half the government would have you believe.
I have seen all sides of the situation, I won’t go into it now, but let’s just say that sometimes I’ve wondered where the next penny would be coming from and at other times I’ve filled a supermarket trolley so high that I couldn’t see over the top of it.
So when Justin Welby chirped up, I found myself listening and fully agreeing with him. The welfare system when it works, is good, but what happens when it doesn’t?
For the average low-paid worker who relies on all the working tax credits – if they are still called that – they celebrate if they have a pound left at the end of the pay circle, but that’s with little Johnny and Sally going to school and enjoying their free school meal.
Mum’s happy to give them beans on toast for tea as they will have had that nutritious (we hope) meal at lunchtime, but what happens when they break up from school? Remember as all infant schools now have to supply free school meals to the students up to and including year two, this could affect more families; where mum quite happily supplied beans on toast, soup, sandwiches etc. for tea – she now has to supply a second meal as well – with no extra money!
So what does she or dad do? First thing she does is look for economy burgers, sausages etc. – why – because they are cheap. Secondly, her main meal now comprises toast or a plain jacket potato and, although the kids are filling up on the cheap junk food which does not contain the correct amount of nutrients and they are becoming obese.
Finally, in desperation, the family go to a food bank and everyone gets fed properly for a while until the cycle starts again.
How can we stop this – well there are several ways, large companies who are making huge profits (yes there are some out there) should be impelled to pay a living wage – less strain on the government and sigh of relief from the families. The expense of Christmas will still be there – but they can at least feed everybody properly.
Smaller companies who cannot pay the living wage could be made exempt from this – we don’t want them going out of business, so their employees would still claim working tax credits and free school meals – but could they not receive vouchers during school holidays to supplement their money? These could only be used for food – a bit like the old luncheon vouchers that some companies used to give to staff. I spent mine in Sainsburys – it bought enough to provide lunch sandwiches for at least two of us!
For as Mr Micawber stated “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”
And that is what successive governments have failed to realise, school holidays, even staying at home are too expensive for some – well done Archbishop – now let’s get it sorted.