Here’s a Christmas message to crack the hardest heart – Stephen Jardine

Food being sorted at a food bank. (Picture: PA)
Food being sorted at a food bank. (Picture: PA)
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You don’t need to cancel Christmas to do the right thing by ‘Breadline Kids’ like Cameron and Caitlin, writes Stephen Jardine

It is all too easy to become thick skinned. We use the term ‘snowflake’ to deride anyone who seems to be sensitive while the rest of us grow less shockable every day.

A decade ago the story of the London Bridge attack would have come from eye-witnesses talking to reporters. Now we are all eye-witnesses thanks to mobile phone footage capturing the event.

Over five million people have viewed the uncensored video of the attacker being shot dead by police. A generation ago, images like that simply weren’t in the public domain. Now a constant flow of smart-phone violence helps desensitise us all. However every so often, something cuts through.

It was the words more than the images that shocked me in this week’s Channel 4 Dispatches documentary. “Growing up Poor: Britain’s Breadline Kids” focussed on some of the four million children in the UK living in poverty.

“We try not to eat a lot in one day, even though most of us are really hungry,” said Cameron, one of the kids featured in the film.

READ MORE: Think food banks are a scandal? Here’s how to #ChallengePoverty – Ewan Aitken

READ MORE: 21,000 children in Edinburgh are now living in poverty as ‘in-school’ food bank set up

Just think about that for a second. At a time when we are being bombarded with commercialism and excess, children like Cameron don’t even have the bare minimum. “We have to be careful with our food,” he said in a matter of fact way that would crack the hardest heart. These are not the kids of the feckless parents some in the media like to blame for all child poverty. And even if the parents are somehow found lacking, why should their kids suffer simply for being born?

In Scotland, one in four children right now are living in poverty. Around 65 per cent of them are in households with working parents. It is a shocking statistic at any time but especially at Christmas when the gap between those who have and those who have not is at its most stark.

With supermarket shelves groaning with food, conspicuous consumption is given full vent in December. Fortnum and Mason are selling a box of crackers this year for £295. That is close to the weekly income figure that defines when a family is living in poverty.

So what do we about that? In one of the richest countries in the world, we just need to care. Politicians can change things but so can the rest of us.

Documentaries like “Growing Up Poor” don’t mean we have to cancel Christmas. They just mean that we need to look beyond the tinsel to where the lights don’t twinkle so brightly and respond the right way. Cameron and his sisters Caitlin and Casey rely on food banks to keep them fed. Across Scotland the biggest food-bank charity, the Trussell Trust, is gearing up for the busiest December ever at its 137 branches. Last Christmas they handed out 25,000 emergency food parcels, a 24 per cent increase on the previous year. Around 10,000 of the parcels went to children.

Last word on this comes from Cameron’s sister Caitlin: “It’s very hard when you don’t have much money. I want people who have more money to understand what it’s like with less money. People with more can help people with less because we’re all equal.”

As we dive headlong into the excess of the next few weeks, that is a thought to linger with us all.