The newspapers variously report today on the debate in the House of Commons about foodbanks.
OK, make allowances for the natural party-political hype and journalistic attribution of motive to anyone with whom they disagree, but this still makes anyone with an eye on our future social stability worry. There might be very good reasons why Iain Duncan-Smith left the debate early and refused to speak in it; and there might be reasons why the government benches laughed while stories of poverty and serious hardship were being related from the benches opposite. I wasn't there, wasn't able to follow the debate (I have a day job), and am not in a position to judge.
However, the existence and proliferation of foodbanks should be a source of shame and shock, not an excuse to score political points. We shouldn't turn our horror at the impact and implications of austerity onto mocking IDS as he leaves the chamber early. This isn't about him; our focus should be on constantly holding before him and those with power the consequences of the value systems driving policy at present.
I wonder if anyone referenced Fr Timothy Radcliffe's recent Romero lecture. If not, they should have done. It should be read in full (despite the alarming number of typos). Poverty, especially as experienced by the young, will infect generations to come, and influence their identity/solidarity with wider society. When George Osborne asserts that “we are in it together,” there will be a generation of cynics who will wonder what the 'it' was.
… “forgive me for being vastly oversimplistic. The poor suffer violence in our society too. Everywhere food banks are opening because ever more people in Britain, the sixth richest country in the world, simply cannot afford to eat. Children arrive hungry at school every morning. Millions of people, especially the young, see no future, no hope. Cathy Corcoran from the Cardinal Hume Centre said to me: ‘If you are a long term street homeless person in the UK your life expectancy is mid- 40s max – if you have an intravenous drug issue on top then it comes down to the mid-30s.’ People disappeared from the streets of San Salvador because they were murdered by death squads. They disappear from our streets because they die. Our country is afflicted by a vast, hidden violence on the poorest. If we do not open our eyes to it and respond, then it will surely erupt and destroy our society before long.
Our blindness to this violence is not just due to ignorance. The way that we see the world filters out the dramas of their lives. The French anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu says that every society has a cognitive map which silences some people. They disappear into what he calls ‘social silences.’
This is for at least two reasons. In our world everything is quantified, measured, administered. David Graeber writes that it is ‘money’s capacity to turn morality into a matter of impersonal arithmetic’ which justifies ‘things that would otherwise seem outrageous or obscene.’ Of course statistics matter. I am a great fan of the admirable Office for National Statistics. It keeps politicians truthful. But if numbers shape our cognitive map, then the poor will disappear and we shall not register the violence that they endure.” (Fr Timothy Ratcliffe)