Latest figures from the Trussell Trust show that foodbank use in the UK has increased 13% over last year, with the organisation having distributed 1.3 million three day emergency food supplies to people in crisis. Over 480,000 of these went to children. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation two thirds of working-age adults and children in poverty live in working families, with child poverty on the rise in lone-parent families, driven by low-paid work, high rents and weakening support.
Where does God exist in absence: the absence of food, the absence of hope, and in the shame, misery and perplexity felt by people who need to rely on foodbanks – our neighbours?
The need for food banks in our society reaches deep into our theology to ask harder and more difficult questions about the nature of our society and its governance. Click To Tweet
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labour in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.
“My husband was lucky, I thought. When he lost his job as an office worker, he got another one almost straight away at a store that was opening up. But then the store started to cut his hours until he was only working about half the week. Before long, he wasn’t making enough money for us to cover the bills, and my part time job was not making up the shortfall. After a few months of tightening our belts, we realised that we would have to cut drastically if we were going to be able to pay our rent on our flat. At that point, we started to think we would have to start choosing between eating, heating our flat or paying the rent and other bills. We had to put the children first and soon we were giving them what we could afford in food and eating whatever they left, which was often nothing. We felt miserable all the time and ashamed that we could no longer pay our way. Family and neighbours were kind to us, but we still couldn’t make ends meet.
“I got depressed and went to the doctor, where I just sat and cried, I felt so hopeless. How could we both be working but not able to pay our way or look after our children? I was terrified they might be taken into care. The doctor gave me vouchers for the food bank and said I wasn’t to be ashamed as loads of people were in exactly the same position.
“So I went to the food bank and a lady gave me three days food: sugar, biscuits, pasta, tinned meals, that sort of thing – and also they had some nappies and baby wipes. I was so relieved. When we sat down and had our first filling meal for weeks, we were so grateful. But the worry and embarrassment is still there. We still feel like we failed, when we never wanted hand-outs from anybody. What will happen to us in the future?”
What actual difference can our contribution make to her situation? As citizens we have rights at the ballot box and the ability to act within our own communities, but in addition where should we place our anger, our bewilderment, our frustration and our despair? And if we are comfortably off, reading about Rosie, feeling sorry for her, but still a long way from experiencing her depression and anxiety, does our anger and despair really mean anything? Does Christian faith require us to write to the Daily Mirror, or do our theological tools equip us for other kinds of speech and action? How are we, as Christians, to respond to Rosie’s question ‘What will happen to us in the future?’
If you want to explore these issues in more detail see the Liberation and Entrapment Project: Mission and Food Banks from the Mission Theology Advisory Group (MTAG).