“We need to stop just pulling people out of the river.” – Jack Monroe in the Houses of Parliament, 3 June 2013

The full text from my speech in the Houses of Parliament, June 3rd 2013.

This morning, small Boy had one of the last weetabix, mashed with a little water, and a glass of tap water to wash it down with.

Where’s Mummy’s breakfast? He asks, all blue eyes and two year old concern.

I tell him I’m not hungry, but the gnawing pains in my stomach call me a liar.

But what else can you do?

What else can you do – when you’ve turned off your heating? That was in November 2011, it went off at the mains and I parked furniture in front of it to forget that it was ever there, to alleviate the temptation to turn it on.

What else can you do, when you’ve turned everything off at the wall sockets, when you become obsessive about unplugging things, down to the green LCD display on the oven, mockingly flashing away.

You learn to go without things, you unscrew the light bulbs. You turn the hot water off and pretend the freezing cold shower is ‘invigorating’, but it shocks you every time.

You sell the meagre DVD collection for an even more meagre sum, your sons toys, everything you own.

But poverty isn’t just having no heating, or not quite enough food, unplugging your fridge and turning your hot water off.

Poverty is the choking, sinking feeling when your small boy finishes his one weetabix, and he says:

More Mummy? Bread and jam please Mummy?

And you’re wondering how to carry the tv and the guitar to the pawn shop, and how to tell him that there is no bread and jam.

I’m Jack Monroe. That was an excerpt from my blog, from July 2012.

I’m a 25 year old single mother to a 3 year old boy, and I was unemployed for 16 months.

I’m one of the lucky ones.

I have no TV, no heating, and no car, and many evenings have gone by with no dinner, but I’m one of the lucky ones. Because around six months ago, I was referred to my local food bank for help.

I had been attending a support group for single mums on a Wednesday, and to be honest I only went for the free lunch. One of the women who ran the group noticed that my son and I always had seconds, and thirds, and quietly asked me if everything was okay.

I lied, and I said that I was fine.

Because that’s the trouble, when you have holes in your socks and holes in your jeans, and your collar bones are jutting out of the two jumpers you wear to keep warm – you tell everyone that everything is okay.

Because you think if you admit to skipping meals, to feeding your child the same cold pasta with tomatoes for four nights in a row, you worry that you might lose him, that he might be taken into care. And in the cold, in the despair and desolation, your son is the only thing that stops you stepping off the flyover you walk over every day. So you say you’re fine.

But she filled out a form for me despite my protestations, and one Tuesday morning, I joined a queue 60 deep, of mothers in push chairs, outside a community centre, and I waited almost an hour for five tins of food and a packet of nappies.

When Oxfam released their report, Walking The Breadline, this Thursday, it stayed that half a million people in the UK are currently dependent on food banks.

But food banks, while meeting a need, are not the solution.

To paraphrase Desmond Tutu, there comes a point where you need to not just pull people out of the river. You need to go upstream and find out who is pushing them in.

So what would I do? Having lived the quality control measures of Government cock-ups for the past year and a half, what would I change?

Well I agree that welfare needs to be reformed, but not like this. Not these damning cuts and sanctions and work capability assessments. Start by making things better for people, not worse.

Start by paying housing benefit monthly, not four weekly, in line with most peoples rent and mortgage payments. To spell it out, in my local area, LHA is £635 a month. But paid four weekly, it’s just £586. The additional £49 needs to be topped up, usually out of income support, which is money that should be used for heating, clothes and food. Paying housing benefit monthly would also be cheaper to administer, as payments would be made twelve, not thirteen times a year.

Secondly, raise the minimum wage to a living wage. Minimum wage for an adult is currently £6.19 an hour. A living wage is estimated at £7.25. By my quick and crude calculations, minimum wage earners working less than 28 hours a week will not be paying tax on their earnings. By raising it to a living wage, people who work over 22 hours a week will be in the threshold for paying tax. Also, slightly higher incomes mean decreased eligibility for benefits. I’m quite a simple person – but more money into the economy in the form of taxes and higher income, added to less money coming out of the welfare pot, can only be a good thing to help restore the health of the economy and incentivise work over benefits.

I’ve actually taken the liberty of writing a 14 point plan, and i’m pleased to see today that Asda have adopted one of the points, although I shan’t take the credit, and will be donating some of their food waste to food banks and other humanitarian incentives.

Again, I don’t believe food banks are the solution. They’re currently a life line for half a million people in this, the seventh richest country in the world.

But isn’t it time that we stopped just pulling people out of the river, and instead, let’s go upstream, and stop pushing them in.

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

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Categories: Blog

50 Comments »

  1. Thank you, Jack, for speaking up for all of us who find ourselves in difficult circumstances through no fault of our own! You manage to say what the rest of us are thinking in such a clear and eloquent way – please keep it up!

  2. Absolutely spot on!
    I somehow missed the bit where you said you were going to parliament, and what you were doing there …

  3. Jack, first of all, I congratulate you on getting the attention of those who govern us, and for a superb presentation.

    as a Libertarian, I have a number of constructive criticisms which I hope you will take in the same spirit that they are meant – as points to consider.

    Firstly, I am recieving Housing Benefit four-weekly, and I get Working Tax Benefit weekly, which I have to live on because I’m self employed, and my business has hit a very bad patch. I pay my top-up rent every week, so I don’t have the Landlord on my case, and I have already explained to him that the 13th cheque isn’t his f***ing Christmas Bonus!

    Minimum wage legislation has never worked as intended, because it deters employers from hiring staff at the lower levels. Instead, it is cheaper to give a low paid worker a pay rise, and add extra duties to his/her routine. Furthermore, someone who is on minimum wage can also claim Working Tax Credit to boost their income.

    I believe that Charities are the way to go, with the State operating a basic Safety Net, rather than a hammock for some. No, you and Small Boy should not have not experienced the hardship that you did, but if the welfare system was run by local charities, you never would have.

    Respect and love,

    Liam

    • Liam, why should charities be the ones to keep people alive, and not the government who exist to coordinate the society we live in? That is the point of the government: they are meant to run the country on our behalf so that we don’t have to spend our entire lives trying desperately to keep our heads, and the heads of the people around us, above water without the proper resources. If you put the survival of people into the hands of a network of local charities, you will get a random lottery of provision without anyone to coordinate and ensure that everyone is getting what they need. It’s inefficient. The way our government is being run at the moment is no more efficient – but that is the point. That is what Jack is trying to make them see. It’s not working. The solution isn’t to throw the baby out with the bathwater and replace the broken system with one that is even less well-equipped to solve the problem.

      I don’t want to go on too long here, but I have read arguments on distributive justice by Libertarians, I have tried hard to comprehend them, I have followed them through and even occasionally agreed with some of the points made, but the only way that those arguments ultimately make sense is if at the bottom you accept that some people just aren’t worth enough to deserve to live. I’m not prepared to accept that.

      • May, I agree with the points you have made! Also charities can often have their own agendas regarding religion, sexual orientation etc. that interfere with who they give to and on what terms. Charity is for discretionary giving and we all pick charities to donate to whose particular area of work is something we want to help with. Someone who qualifies for benefits is not looking for or receiving charity, their circumstances mean they need some support at that time but ultimately they will (in most cases) be in a position to pay back into the system that provided a safety net for them. It is insurance that we all pay into in order to be able to draw out from it should we have the misfortune to need to at some point.

    • If local charities would be better than the government at providing a safety net, why don’t you stop taking housing benefit and working tax benefit, and instead get your “safety net” from local charities? Charities already exist, so either they *don’t* provide a safety net better than the government, or you’re being stupid by not getting your helping hand from charities, I don’t think there’s a third option.

      (Note: I’m not calling you stupid, I’m saying that the other option is the true one, but I’m hopeful that by pointing out this dichotomy in which you are a component you might be more likely to see this truth.)

      I’m assuming here that you’re not suggesting that the charities should just get the money that the government collects and allocates to welfare, because A. they wouldn’t be charities if that’s how they worked, they would be simply part of the bureaucracy, and B. the consequence would either be horrifying biased distribution of aid based on what any given charity likes (not Christian? No help for you!) or they would be required to operate to a set standard and the result would be identical to what we have now but with even more overhead.

      Yet another problem with the idea of local charities to help the poor is that wealth is not evenly distributed by area, and people giving to local charities generally give to the charities that are local *to them*. Consequence: rich areas would have plenty of resources to help the poor, and wouldn’t need much, while slums would have no resources and need a lot!

  4. You have said it plainly and clearly but will those that have the power to change things listen and take action or hide behind bureaucratic excuses like the computer can only make payments every 4 weeks. Food banks are valuable but as you say are not the solution. Luton, one of the most deprived towns in the East of England has only just got one.

  5. We need to look at “education for poverty”. When I was a child I did not have pocket money. I went to school with holes in my shoes. I had to pay for my clothes and other things from money I earnt from a paper round.

    When I became unemployed all the skills I learnt as a child came in very handy. I meet many people who have no idea how to budget or to cook and prepare a cheap meal.

    I live with the effects of an Road traffic accident so I know that it is unlikely that i will ever work again. Living on very low money is quite a fine art and takes time to learn. It would be useful if there were courses provided by the government on how to live on next to nothing. A successfully run course would cut the stress for a lot of people.

    • Well said. Whilst this should not be an aim of society, it is an important support. Unfortunately the government only pays agencies to undertake activities to enable them to leave benefits, not to provide education and support for those who have no option. Not sure how to take this forward but would be happy to help in anyway I can

  6. That is a very powerful speech, Jack. I hope, I really hope that it has sunk in and starts to work in the heart and the collective mind of government.

  7. Hear, hear!! I agree with you totally. One of the problems is the people who make the rules for us to live/struggle by really have no idea of whats going on around them, they need to ask us and to listen better still try it out for a few weeks only then can even begin to come close to understanding. Love your blog, keep up the good work you do and thank you x

  8. Respect, as they say. I am (allegedly) a professional woman who too has ended up in the mess. Your eloquent expressions are one of the few things that keep me going when other well meaning people say “Just get off your backside.” 60 applications in three weeks and nothing positive; over qualified, under qualified, at wrong life stage for the job (eh?!!!). Some of us do need the support and are not Jeremy Kyle applicants, I just wish that so many would not treat us pariahs, leaches or deviants. I write this on my birthday, thanking you for allowing me to feel a normal participant in society rather than a worthless no-body

    • Ellie, I’m sorry you are struggling right now and I’m sorry that you also have to deal with feeling negatively judged by some. Hang in there, don’t give up just keep putting one foot in front of the other and you will get there and please know that many, many of us do not judge and know very well that “there but for the grace” go we.

  9. Kudos to you, Jack from Across the Pond! Who would have thought last year that you would be so outstanding a citizen that you would be speaking in Parliament. Well done!

  10. Jack,

    What a well written thought provoking game changer of a blog.

    I have only read a few posts after seeing a price about cooking on TV – but boy did I get a shock.

    I’ve smiled, cried, and had my misconceptions challenged.

    Thank you for sharing your story & I hope your musings open peoples eye & help make changes

    Xxx

  11. Hi jack I was a single mum of one child and in private rented and it drove me to hell and back. The press only focus on big families in council houses where the economy of scale makes it slightly easier . Programmes like skintight focus on those who bend the system – those who try to live on benefits alone barely make it and your address to parliament said exactly what mum like me went through and still go through

  12. Jack, so proud of you, you made great points and you really humanized the issues. I am living in the US (UK/US dual citizen) and here every community has food banks and they are a lifeline for so many families who would not be able to put food on their table without them. They are often very effective at working with local supermarkets and restaurants to get good food that would otherwise go to the landfill to people who need it. Schools frequently run food drives to help fill the food bank shelves. However, as someone who had never heard of a food bank when I lived in the UK I have mixed feelings about them. Clearly there is a need but what concerns me is that the reason there is a need is because the US does not have a strong and effective welfare system. This wikipedia entry is a good overview http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_bank

  13. Excellent, Jack.
    You speak for so many, you should (maybe will?) ‘represent’ many in the not too distance future.
    Thank you and good luck!

  14. Thank you THANK YOU! I live in an affluent area which means that ‘poverty’ doesn’t exist – but it DOES! I’ve lost my charity job but still volunteer as there is such a huge deficit in this ‘nice’ area – and we’ve just opened a food bank…

    Your recipes are AMAZING and congratulations – so want your book XX

  15. I get the impression that your still using food banks- is this correct? If it is why? You have a job now & you must be receiving an income from all of your tv appearances.

    • Hi Catherine – I haven’t been to my food bank for a few weeks, but to correct something there, I haven’t been paid for a single TV appearance. I get travel paid for to get me from my home to the studio, but that’s it.

  16. Just had a read through your speech, noble is your idea of change but the fact of the matter is that you are or were incapable of providing for the future and wellbeing of your child.
    For whatever reasons you were left by yourself doesn’t matter but the child should have been put into care so it wouldn’t have to live with any form of abuse in its future. Then once you have got yourself back on your feet and not requiring any help from the tax payers of this country, you can seek to regain custody of the child if you are deemed fit.
    Oh and the comment as regards to us being seventh richest country in the world we are indeed. We also live in a capitalist society which means the money in this country is in owned by the people who have earned it in one way or another and shouldn’t have their benefits restricted or taken away to be given to people who have not planned for their future. You can not starve in this kingdom unless you mismanage what you are given.

    • Ian, do you think all people who receive benefits should have their children taken into care then?
      Do you extend that belief to tax credits and things like child benefit?
      Do you realise that the cost of a child in care is around £2,000 per child per week – which far exceeds housing benefit and income support payments for one adult with one child.

      Not to mention the emotional and social difficulties that children face on being separated from their parents.

      I speak as the daughter of a foster carer, with 20 years experience of the care system and social services in this country, and having lived with over seventy children who have been separated from their parents.

      Taking children into care is an absolute last resort when intervention and other measures have failed and only when the child is at risk of serious harm. Mine was always fed – although I wasn’t – always clean – although the water wasn’t as hot as we would have liked – and had a roof over his head. I’d like to see your justification for taking him away from a mother that did her bloody best to make sure that he was ok. I don’t smoke, drink, take drugs or abuse him, his health may not have been fantastic on a diet of cheap carbs and limited fruit and veg for a while, but there are children of bankers who probably don’t eat as well as my son does these days, with regards to nutrition, variety, and fruit and vegetable intake.

      An interesting viewpoint, to say the least.

    • …forgot to add, if you are concerned for the welfare of my son, please feel free to contact social services. They may ask you for evidence – difficult seeing you’ve not met us. They may contact his childcare provider, who has raised no concerns, and his godparents work in child protection, and also have no concerns.

      • I would say that placing a child into care would be emotionally difficult for both sides. My point was a parent may feed the child and not themselves and if the parent was to fall ill and dies. Then the outcome would be the same and the child would be taken into care. As you have said that you do not take a wage for the interviews, I couldn’t help to notice on the link to your Facebook page you have a cat. Priorities when it comes to mouths to feed.

    • Ian, I can’t believe the insensitivity of your comments. I hope that you never lose your job, your health, your home or other essentials that you take for granted. It could happen to any of us tomorrow and we need to help those who need it not condemn them for their misfortune. I got made redundant a few months ago and, although lucky enough to get another job within a few days, my salary is now half of what it was. Redundancy wasn’t my fault it was down to the economic situation that has effected my previous manufacturing employer.

      Grow up and put yourself in the shoes of others rather than looking down your nose at them.

    • Ian, I am staggered by your comments.

      Children in this country are not removed from their parents or guardians unless they are at risk of SIGNIFICANT harm. That is the legal standard enshrined in the Children Acts 1999 and 2004. To suggest that we should remove children because their parents are suffering financial hardship is appalling, and would take us back to the first half of the last century when “well meaning do gooders” removed children from their parents for spurious moral reasons.

      Children who are placed in care generally have poorer outcomes than other children in terms of education and employment, children placed in care are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness or to become homeless when they are older. I worked in children protection for many years, and I removed children who were sexually abused, physically abused, tortured and yes, I even removed children who were starving. In those cases however, the children had been intentionally starved by their carers / parents.

      This may be a capitalist society, but it is also one which does not abuse children by tearing them from their parents simply because the parents have no money, and long may that continue to be the case

    • Are you seriously suggesting that a child with a parent who can and does look after them (very well too, from what I’ve read here) should be taken from that parent simply because they don’t have much money?

      Would it be safe to assume that you would also suggest taking children away from parent who have money but don’t show an interest in their child’s schoolwork? Because that’s hardly “providing for the future an wellbeing of your child”, as you put it, though in a different (and in my opinion potentially MUCH more damaging) way to what you described above.

      Statements like yours are the reason I spend so much time so angry. It’s almost as if people (that’s you) think noone ever ends up in a shitty situation by accident. I can assure you that the majority of people living on the breadline are not there by choice. Do you know why? Because it isn’t pleasant. It’s not all flatscreens from Brighthouse and takeaways every night while the children lie neglected in a corner.

      If you ever bother to pop back and read the replies to your frankly horrifying statement, please let me suggest that you educate yourself and try, just once, to empathise with another human being.

  17. Ian…must chime in here…Although Jack has done an admirable job addressing your points.

    I too, must emphasize, if your concerns are burden to the taxpayer (over a bit of food bank help etc), then please research the cost to the taxpayer of apprehending a child / keeping a child in care/appeals re same
    please research costs for psychiatric care for children ripped fr their parents
    please research costs for juvenile court/juvenile hall/adult same, when such kids rebel

    Ian, I have to genuinely wonder,
    have you ever been without work/grocery/rent money?
    have you ever had a small face look up at you for food, and you had not funds? (child or dog or cat)

    Ian, when you grow up, what would you like to be? Would you like to have a family/home, mabye a spot of help if you have a rough patch? I am thinking, Ian, you still live with your parents, and they are generous about stocking the larder?

    Please consder, Ian, giving this a try….— Spend a week on the “streets”…take no credit / bank cards…only small amount of cash…Get to know folks out there…You might be surprised.

  18. Re For whatever reason you were left on your own – Dosent matter : that’s says it all 🙂 with attitude and thoughts like that no wonder the worlds the way it is

  19. Jack, you amaze me every time with your writing, the way you get your point across.
    Great to hear that Asda are going to be giving to the food banks 🙂
    I work in the NHS & am very aware of how much people are struggling from day to day & so many people living in poverty here in the UK.
    Also within the NHS I have colleagues facing having their wages HALVED almost. The worry they now face for their futures, paying bills, providing for children is written all over their faces.
    I was made redundant within the NHS from Sexual Health Services, I just felt sick daily & had constant pain in my chest. I’m lucky, got another job still within NHS.
    So, I will continue to read your blog with interest. You DO put into words what so many are feeling, Xx

  20. Hi Jack, Seen you on the local news earlier and really impressed with what you are doing, Having been on the breadline and skint many a time I know it is difficult, These recipees of yours are going to make a big difference to people, very well done on becoming succesfull and I wish you all the best in highlighting poverty and educating those who are devoid of ideas on good meals on a harsh budget.

  21. Well hello Jack, as you rightly point out making that simple change from 4 weekly to monthly payments would alleviate one of the biggest headaches many on benefits suffer, cash flow issues. Its also one reason why many have to turn to the insane option of pay day loans just to keep the wolves off their backs until the next cash flow crisis.

    Whilst I have never been on benefits, being ex forces and now a contractor I am entitled to nothing even when I was out of work. I am certainly not living the life of Riley at the moment with cash flow issues created through life style changes and poor self control, its great to hear your story and I look forward to exploring your recipes.

  22. Jack, just wanted to mention…

    wondered if you’ve noticed (and I suspect you have), that your followers seem to come from many walks of life/many circumstances/male and female?

    seems to me the speaks of a well done job on your part (in so many aspects).

  23. Re the ‘taking children into care’ comments, just from a practical point of view- do you realise how much that would cost the taxpayer?!

    I think sometimes people have polarised political ideas without actually knowing basic facts related to them- unfortunate if they happen to be politicians…

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