The reality of food poverty: A student social worker’s lived experience

This week, MPs voted not to extend the provision of free school meals over holiday periods until next Easter.

23/10/20

The reality of food poverty: A student social worker’s lived experience

The move came after a campaign by Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford to ensure that children are prevented from going hungry during the coronavirus crisis.

The British Association of Social Workers has criticised the government’s decision, urging them to reconsider its position and give low income families the support that they need, saying:

“With foodbank charity Trussell Trust reporting that they are giving out six emergency food parcels a minute this winter – a 61% increase on last year – the importance of free schools meals for disadvantaged children has become a priority for anti-poverty groups and campaigners.

“If the government does not take action to alleviate some of the pressures on the poorest families, already-stretched parents on low incomes and insufficient support will be forced to choose between heating and eating.”

Food insecurity tends to be thought of as a problem faced by the struggling families that social workers help, but Dominic Watters, a student social worker from Kent, shared his own lived experience of the issue:

“I am a single dad living with my daughter on a council block in relative poverty. The area where I live in Kent is characterised by low education levels, gangs, drugs and dilapidating properties.

“As I write, our world has been impacted by Covid-19. Rather than being a great equaliser, the pandemic has shone a spotlight on the inequalities that exist in society.

“Our politicians constantly tell us of the importance of physical social distancing. Much less is said by them about the social distance that exists between groups in society due to class, race, poverty, or other factors.

“It took a highly-paid footballer to highlight this type of social distancing. Through social media and other campaigning, Manchester United and England player Marcus Rashford helped put child poverty and food insecurity at the centre of political discussions.

“Rashford’s message resonated with my own situation, yet despite all the evidence and media coverage, there are some who appear to question the existence of food poverty in wealthy countries.

“Annunziata Rees-Mogg, sister of the Conservative politician and leader of the House of Commons Jacob, recently quoted the price of a bag of potatoes being only 83p to make a point about the availability of healthy eating to all. Perhaps she has never felt that gnawing insecurity I have felt at the checkout due to the uncertainty of whether you will be able to pay for everything in your shopping trolley or basket.

“My journey into social work comes after experiencing this, of living on council estates, of attending family court and being a single parent. It is only now that my daughter is older and attending a secondary grammar school that I have been able to focus on building a career.

“Studying social work required changes to my benefits and moving from Job Seekers Allowance to Universal Credit when I started my course. This resulted in constant threats of court proceedings and a threat to possess our home due to delays in payment. It is another example of the many barriers the system places on people in my position to being socially mobile.

“As a single dad from a council estate I want to speak to the profession’s commitment to create a diverse next generation of social workers. Just how needed the lived experience of poverty and food insecurity will be to the future of social work has yet to be determined.”

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