This past week two pieces in the media caught my eye. Firstly in the Church of England newspaper, the Church Times, there was a report by Churches against Poverty. They did a survey amongst all those who came to them for help for debt crisis. Of those who had taken out pay day loans in desperation, 75% of them did so in order to buy food for their families. Not to buy televisions or white goods or go on holiday. They were taking out pay day loans so that their children could eat.
Hot on the heels came a radio programme with the strapline ‘eating or heating’. Many people were contacting the programme to say that they simply could not afford the basic bills and adequately feed themselves and their families. One woman, who worked in an administrative office in local government, said that her wages had been cut so much in real terms over the past three years, leading to her going to bed as soon as she got home from work each night last winter. It was the only way that she could keep warm as she couldn’t afford either heating or electricity in the evening. Here was an example of the extreme struggle that epitomises many of the ‘working poor’ of our times.
All of this during our season of harvest, when we have been reflecting upon food security under the banner title of ‘give us this day our daily bread’. Bruce Starkey, at Knighton harvest festival, spoke eloquently and directly as to the struggle it can be to provide food, as farmers, with very little margins for personal gain. It was poignant to hear Bruce speak humbly and to great effect of the satisfaction gained in providing for the community at large. The Pensax harvest festival welcomed John Collins, who works for St Paul’s Hostel for the homeless in Worcester. He spoke movingly of how there are 6 applicants for every place in the hostel, and how over the winter months the hostel rents out the YMCA to give floor space to the homeless; floor space which in total approximates the church we were sitting in, and again, it is packed, night after night. Finally, we had a representative, Jane, from Tenbury food bank at Stockton harvest, share how, in the past five years the numbers of families needing basic food help has burgeoned. It was heartening to hear how the food bank, through the Citizens Advice Bureau, helps households that were finding themselves in spiralling debt, but it was hard to hear just how desperate life is for many right on our doorstep.
As a Church, we are incredibly challenged to respond with more than good will and prayer, as important as that is, I feel personally humbled by both those who go more than the extra mile to assist those who are in the depths of despair, like our speakers, and the truth spoken by Jane which also resonated when she said “it takes great skill to survive on benefits or the minimum wage, or sub-minimum wage”.
I hope that we as a Church, as a community, hear their plea each time we say the Lord’s prayer: ‘give us this day our daily bread’, and take it to heart.