I have a read a couple of things over the course of the last week that have caused me a certain degree of alarm. Alarm, and a sense of increasing uneasiness.
The first was an article by Suzanne Moore in The Guardian where she talked about how food has become the ultimate class definer and divider. She talks about Britain being one of the richest nations in the world but that there are people all over the country 'who go to bed early with a bag of chips to keep warm.' She goes on to say that television programmes such as Master Chef are seeing contestants whip up meals that are becoming more and more outlandish and alien to us, and often bear little resemblance to what people actually eat on a daily basis but they are increasingly a talking point, a driving force of culinary competition and neighbourly rivalry. What you eat and where you source your food, has become another status symbol, another rung on that ladder to a place of social utopia where not only have you kept up with the Jones', you've surpassed them.
Eating lots of fresh, local produce, as is encouraged by the ever-increasing number of celebrity chefs, is to be applauded, certainly. Its numerous benefits, from health to environmental to economic, can't be argued, but it all comes at a price, literally. So to combat this and help disadvantaged people make ends meet and to eat better along the way, and this is where there alarm began to set in, the British government have announced the introduction of food stamps, claiming that it will aid in the move away from a welfare and entitlement culture. From now on, local residents who apply to the council for emergency assistance, will be given a one-off food voucher, as opposed to the cash loan that was given previously. It can be used to buy food and nappys but not alcohol or cigarettes.
The term 'food stamps' brings Junior Certificate history lessons to mind, and with it, images of 'The Emergency' in Ireland during WWII where petrol, butter and bananas were all rationed and regulated via food stamps. Then and now seem hard to compare in the same light, and the idea that policies of old are back in use, seems even harder to comprehend.
The aim, I presume, in this fantastic time of austerity, is to save cash. Why then, are the councils who are switching to providing food stamps rather than providing short-term loans, also 'preparing to give cash grants to food banks to enable them to take on full-time staff and increase opening hours' and therefore increasing their expenditure. Putting money into people's hands, rather than vouchers which can only be redeemed against items approved by the government, increases spending power and therefore helps to stimulate the economy, or have I got that all wrong??
The second alarming piece of news came today, from the same newspaper. It was this article, which states that the Queen is to get a £5 million pay rise from the taxpayer. The article goes on to say that about £10 million of this is to be spent on staff wages, wages which have been frozen for a number of years and have not increased along side the Queen's substantial pay rise. The total paid to the Queen this year, known as the sovereign grant, is set at £36.1 million and provides for the running costs of the Queen's household. It does not however, cover the cost of security or police protection.
Food stamps for the poor and marginalised and a £5 million pay rise for the Queen. After a week which saw 2.7million Facebook users changed their profile pictures to an equals sign in support of gay marriage, it would appear that the idea of equality for all hasn't quite reached the fat cats in Westminster.