Saturday, 19 October 2013

Foodbanks and frugality

 The news that food bank use has tripled this year should be a cause for concern to everyone. The largest food bank charity, The Trussel Trust, has backed calls for an enquiry into this increase. The likelihood of this happening seems remote given that the Government seems quite confident that the cause is that more food banks are opening (not the changes to the benefit system then?) On the subject of benefits, another idiot Government spokesperson said that their was "no robust evidence (does that mean there was some evidence then?) that welfare reforms were linked to increased use of food banks" and that "90% of benefits are now paid within 16 days." I wonder if the people responsible for making this statement have ever tried not eating for 16 days? I wonder if ten percent of them have tried going for longer than that without money for food?
 If you have concerns that some of those using food banks simply manage their money poorly, or that they have injudiciously got into debt, or that food banks encourage dependency, then you are not alone. I share those concerns. However, I am pretty sure that many people using food banks are desperate and I feel disinclined to try to judge whether they rank as the deserving or undeserving poor. The food I donate to my local food bank is largely cheap stuff, value brands. If anyone is desperate enough to want £15 pounds worth of this kind of food, I reckon they must be in need of one sort or another and they are welcome to it.
   I am in the fortunate position that I have never really felt short of money or gone hungry. However, a few years ago, when Mr M gave up work and we were relying purely on my salary, we did find that we were spending more than we had coming in some months and we had to think about money more carefully. We were used to pretty much spending what we liked and suddenly the big bills that came in, such as the clutch on the car and the washing machine both needing to be replaced in the same month, were a real problem. We had savings, but I began to understand why people without any reserves might resort to pay day loans and get caught up in the  iniquitous interest rates charged by companies such as Wonga with their evil little puppets  masquerading as benevolent old folk.
Mr M soon learnt to economise, he now works an average of two days a week and we have  more coming in than we have going out, but we do still try to live simply as a point of principle. One of the things that I've have noticed about Quaker friends is how simply they live, and this remains a touchstone of Quakerism. It is also true that Christians ought not to value money or material possessions. How anyone can find any justification for the prosperity gospel  given the frankly bloody uncomfortable things Jesus has to say about money, I don't know.
So here are my ideas for living more simply.

1. Recognise that we are pressurised by a consumer society which is constantly telling us we need more and that our lives are not worthwhile without things. This is the you deserve it culture. It goes to great lengths to make you spend money when you will quite often be just as happy and comfortable (more so in fact) without the new clothes, new TV, new computer, new sofa. Really think about whether you need to replace something or whether you need new shoes, or a phone or whatever it is. The "because you're worth it" AKA "we long to rip you off" guff was used to market L'Oreal shampoo. Measure your worth in something more important than a bottle of shampoo anyway and, rather than thinking about what you deserve, think about the fact that L'Oreal shampoo costs anything from 5.99 to 17.99 per 250 ml bottle ( I kid you not) and that any bottle of shampoo ( I like the Creighton's range at 99p for 250ml at Bodycare but that's just one of my little luxuries) will do exactly the same job. Honesty, it will.

2. Given the frightening cost of fuel and energy, not to mention the impact on the environment, turn the heating off and put on a jumper! David Cameron can't admit to saying that with his millions but I can. I do admit to being a bit of a wimp when it comes to the cold, but I live with a family of hard men (... they wish...:) "What cold, Me? No I'm fine" is the standard response in our family when I am shivering. As a result we don't usually put the heating on until the October half term, but Mr M (now also known as Scrooge) has vetoed it this year due to the weather this half term being so mild. When it comes to the lights on, the whole situation is reversed and I am the one who goes around turning lights off and giving lectures about the environment.

3. Don't waste food! I get really passionate about this one and I constantly try to curb food waste in our family because I hate  throwing away food when so much of the world is starving and food prices are rising across the world. Plan out your food use for the week. Write a menu. Go out with a shopping list and stick to it. Use up the stuff in your cupboards and freezer. Check your fridge for stuff you could use lying unloved at the back. Think about how to use up leftovers creatively. Don't worry too much about best before dates and be aware that some food can be eaten after the "use by" date - use your nose and your common sense and read the advice on Love Food, Hate Waste. Cook more vegetarian meals because this reduces your carbon footprint. Go foraging and make nettle soup (OK, I haven't done this yet, but I will if we fall on hard times...)

4. Keep on giving to charity. Unless you are incredibly short of money/ heavily in debt then always aim to give. See frugality as a means not just to save more but also to give more. If you don't give, or if you begrudge giving, you will become a miser. Then your life will be impoverished. God loves a cheerful giver, and giving should be a source of joy.

5. The same goes for yourself. Don't become so obsessed with saving money that you deprive yourself of the things that you need or truly enjoy. Don't be pressurised into spending money, think about what you spend and whether you really want or need what you buy, but enjoy your possessions and treat yourself and others sometimes! If you have lots of precious things in your life that aren't money,  you enjoy what you do have, you are in the incredibly fortunate position of having enough to live on, and you have enough to be able to give to others, then you are truly rich.


  1. It is a difficult area. I’ve worked in social work – qualified and unqualified - for 30 years now and I am no fan of either benefits, nor the welfare state as it now exists. I think it breeds dependence. And this dependence is not just the preserve of the ‘benefit’ classes (in truth nowadays, the biggest consumers of the welfare state are in fact the over 65s – only a tiny proportion of welfare goes on the unemployed). The main problem is that EVERYONE expects the State to solve social ills and provide for all our needs.

    I was appalled recently when Tony Blair announced that he thought it unfair that people had to sell their homes to pay for their care costs ( – who the fuck is going to pay? At present government debt stands at £1,200,000,000,000 – each year every household in the UK pays almost £2,000 in debt interest alone. What is wrong with people paying for their care? Or to see their GP, or use A&E facilities as a non-emergency patient?

    My hope at the next election is that there is another hung parliament and that this time they have the sense to form a National Government and this should allow a major rethink of the welfare state and our responsibilities as citizens. We need to realise that everything has a cost! Year on year, governments, eager to be re-elected, have made promises with money they haven’t got – expecting our children or (in truth) our children’s children to pick up the tab for our present lifestyles and expectations.

    Should Christians lead on this? Well, there is a huge shift to the Right in much vocal Christianity at present. I was at a Theos event, hosted at Parliament recently and speaker after speaker spent their time pathologising the ‘benefit class’ – not realising that (or perhaps realising all too well?) that the Vicky Pollards of this world are a tiny proportion of the population. In many ways it is the middle-classes that get the most out of the welfare state.

    My four years spent in an Anglican Evangelical church taught me that the use and trappings of wealth were something few of the white-middle-class-professional-types who dominated the church, gave much thought to. They could well afford vicarious charity, supporting this and that good cause - mainly the staples of God-Squad do-gooding – charity as a hook to catch souls for Jesus (or at least a means of making Christians feel useful, relevant and better about themselves). But in the main, wealth lapped around the pews in conspicuous pools. The fact almost the entire congregation commuted into the church from the wealthy suburbs of Leeds said it all really. The actual poor, inner-city parish of the church had very few inhabitants who actually attended the church (save students, but they were only transitory).

    You can see similar examples with many of our reactionary friends. It was curious after the riots of 2011 that many Christian commentators – particularly Evangelical vicars, in their des-res, plump little suburbs and commuter village parishes – droned on about what was needed, yet few, if any of these commentators have chosen since making their pronouncements, to look for parishes in the inner cities and put their money where their mouths are.

    At a political and personal level, much is needed to foster a greater sense of self-reliance and responsibility – to borrow from JFK, to think what I can do for my country, rather than expecting and demanding what my country should be doing for me. From a religious point of view, the gospel of simplicity has been drowned out. A very good indicator of this is to step into your average Protestant bias Christian book shop and have a look for a section entitled ‘Wealth Management’ – here in London several feet (in one shop a whole aisle) are given over to this topic. Twenty years ago, you’d have been lucky to find a book on the subject. Which says it all really!

  2. Nice to see you blogging again. I guess it is you (she says cryptically ;) ) I've been so busy that I've hardly had time recently - but it is half term!

  3. Well said, Sue. I'm appalled at how much people waste - food, energy, clothing, "stuff" (why the need always to have the very latest consumer gadget?) I enjoy new things as much as the next person, but only when I need something and I do try to make things last. Make and mend anyone?

    1. Oops, that should read "Make do and mend" - the wartime slogan my mother was very fond of quoting. :-)

  4. I am all for that attitude, Perpetua. I've noticed that clothes, for example, aren't really made to last any more, the material seems to bobble quickly and seams come unstitched quite soon, colours fade etc. I look after work clothes carefully to try to get maximum wear out of them. Once things get too faded or tatty for work, I downgrade them to evening/ weekend and holiday wear.