23 December 2013

Beware the march of IDS

This winter, the Red Cross is handing out food parcels in the UK for the first time since World War II.

I'm just going to leave that out there for a moment for you to take in. If this fact doesn't embarrass or amaze you, you should probably stop reading now, because the rest of this post works on the premise that a society that cannot feed its own citizens is not one worthy of the name. The UK is the only G8 country to receive this unwanted attention, and as stigmas go, it puts us right up there with Zimbabwe and Syria, albeit on a less dramatic scale. Around half a million people in the UK used food banks in 2013, an increase of 170% since this time last year.

Someone who isn't embarrassed by this is Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, though the government of which he is a member has a somewhat schizophrenic attitude to the situation. On the one hand, his fellow ministers with less self-awareness than fungi are pictured grinning as they open food banks in the apparent belief this is something to be proud of. And on the other, Mr Duncan Smith has condemned those who run food banks for encouraging a culture of dependency. That's the problem with food of course - it's very more-ish. The poor should learn to get by without it instead of allowing themselves to become the victims of nutrition.

This week, Mr Duncan Smith had two chances to do something to at least pretend to take it seriously as a political issue. But a debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday turned into an even less edifying spectacle than usual, with backbench MPs on the government benches openly laughing at stories of food bank users' hardships, and Duncan Smith himself walked out early, after refusing to answer questions. Later on in the week, he also refused to meet the UK's largest food bank charity, accusing them of "scaremongering" about the size of the problem.

So what can we do to provoke a political reaction, and maybe get some media traction, now celebrity chefs taking cocaine is becoming yesterday's news?

Next year is the 20th anniversary of Band Aid's single Do They Know It's Christmas. How about a commemorative re-release next Christmas, but this time all the proceeds to go to food banks in the UK?  For the 'Band Aid generation', which includes most of the members of the present government, there can surely be no more stinging a rebuke than the symbol of generosity of their youth boomeranging back to remind them of the moral failings of their middle age? For politicians who equate being 'in touch with public opinion' with 'keeping up with celebrity gossip', to be forced to comment on that single being the Christmas number one, would be a beautifully ironic way to hoist them by their own petard. And the proceeds would also help half a million families know that it's Christmas time at all.

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