Don’t laugh, but I’ll admit I had a hard time believing our own story the other day.
The headline certainly grabbed me: “Starving children are eating from bins in Fenton.”
Really? Surely not, I thought. Not in this day and age. And where are their parents anyway?
Can it honestly be the case that in one of the richest countries in the world in 2014 there are hungry children rummaging through bins for other people’s leftovers?
This is the kind of thing you shake your head at when you see it on the TV in some Third World shanty town on the TV.
It’s like something you’d read in a post-apocalyptic novel. Some sort of twisted future where a privileged fview live in safety, comfort and sometimes luxury and the rest eke out a living in medieval-style villages or Dickensian urban squalor.
But, according to eye-witnesses, this is actually happening in certain parts of our city – the Hollings Street and the Brocksford Street areas of Fenton, to be precise.
Concerned residents raised the matter at a recent meeting with police – citing the problems of rubbish-strewn streets and the potential risk to the health of those involved.
One of the people quoted in our story was Glenn Parkes – a volunteer at the local foodbank and someone I know. If Glenn says this is happening, then I believe him.
But why is it happening? Why are children, especially, going hungry and resorting to such sad, desperate and potentially dangerous measures?
The answer may be complex and multi-faceted but it also fairly obvious.
Families who were previously almost entirely or perhaps solely supported by the welfare state have seen their incomes dramatically reduced under coalition gGovernment reforms.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for everyone contributing to society and getting the feckless and the lazy off their backsides.
They do exist and they make my blood boil in the same way useless bankers and untouchable public sector executives do when they’ve done a poor job and then get a ridiculous pay-off.
But the one-size-fits-all approach to welfare reform adopted by the Government assumed that families for whom benefits was a way of life would overnight become hard-working and valuable citizens.
I’m sorry, but in the real world that just doesn’t happen without massive intervention on the part of the state to help turn such lives and aspirations around.
And wWhile Chancellor George Osborne eulogises about the recovery and talks of the need for further reform, the truth is many families who are his ideal ‘hard-working’ stereotype are themselves on the breadline because of redundancy or continuing low wages.
Then there are those parents who simply aren’t very capable – lacking either the knowledge or care to properly look after their children and prioritise their needs.
People of my age will remember there were always one or two children who were seen as poor and unloved in their class or year at school. The ones with the messy hair and shabby clothes, with shirts and blouses un-ironed and ill-fitting, scuffed shoes.
Strangely, it seems to me there are a lot more of those these days than there were 30 years ago.
There are, of course, other factors too – such as a flawed immigration policy.
This certainly plays its part in perpetuating deprivation in areas where local services can’t cope and where integration of various cultures doesn’t fit the grand vision of our multi-cultural utopia.
Whatever the reasons, as a society we surely can’t stand for a situation where children, from whatever background, are rifling through rubbish for food?
There is clearly something very wrong when foodbanks are expanding quicker than multi-nationals and where ordinary families are constantly being asked to set aside tins of beans and packets of pasta and rice for people living down the road in Stoke-on-Trent.
If anyone knows of a family or individuals in such desperate need that they resort to picking through other people’s leftovers then for heaven’s sake do something to help them.
There’s no shame in someone falling on hard times or wanting help and support.
The shame is if we, as a society, turn our backs on them in their hour of need.
Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel