The build up was sombre and laid heavy with gravitas. The poor women couldn’t even bring herself to speak on camera. Her words were spoken for her by an actress. She was angry, stressed out and upset. Why? Because she couldn’t afford to give her children any breakfast, and they were going to school hungry.
That was the main story on the ironically named Breakfast TV this morning, and there then followed a long “we’re-really-concerned-about-this” piece about the number of children going to school hungry and being unable to concentrate as a result. In response, Breakfast Clubs are being set up in schools around the country (Hurrah!) and apparently this is a very good thing.
If I wasn’t so tight I’d have put my boot through the TV. As it was I just switched off and cursed and mumbled to nobody in particular. But then I thought…you’re here, it’s a slow day…I’ll bore you with it instead.
Now I’m one of those extremely rich people (ha!) the left wing media like to talk about every now and again who don’t know the price of a pint of milk. Does anyone know the price of milk? In fact I don’t really know the price of any food, but something about this ‘can’t afford breakfast’ guff just didn’t seem right. So I decided to check things out.
What would be a good nutritious breakfast? There are lots of options to go for, but let’s – purely for illustrative purposes – choose something we all know and could all make…porridge. Eat a bowl of porridge every morning and you would be neither hungry nor malnourished. But how much would it cost?
Well, as I say, the price of food wouldn’t be my Mastermind specialist subject, but I do have the wherewithal to check. A quick google search revealed that Wholefoods have a Kilo of oats for £1.19 and a four pint bottle of milk can be had from various places for £1. I’ve no idea whether these are the cheapest prices, but they’ll do.
Another Google search suggests that a portion of porridge containing more than enough energy to keep a child going through the morning contains 50 grams of oats and 100ml (a sixth of a pint) of milk. So that works out to £1.19 divided by 20 worth of oats and £1 divided by 24 worth of milk. My admittedly appalling maths tells me that a bowl of porridge is coming in at just over 10p!
Now let’s say you can’t get your milk or oats at this price for some reason, or you want a bit of topping on your porridge. Let’s assume you have to pay double…a whopping 20p for a bowl. It still raises a puzzling question…
Are there really people in the UK who can’t afford 20p for a breakfast for their child, and if there are, why is that?
You see, if you can’t afford 20p for breakfast, it presupposes a lot of things. Food, shelter and basic clothing should be the first three needs that anyone gets sorted before spending on anything else. If someone cannot raise 20p for breakfast, then surely they can’t afford a lot of other things as well…so no wide screen TV, no Sky contract, no mobile phone contract, no alcohol, no cigarettes, no holidays, no car, no takeaways, no eating out, no convenience foods, no cakes, biscuits or confectionery for starters. Basic food surely comes before all of this – doesn’t it?
Do you think the people who claim they can’t afford to give their children breakfast are living without all that stuff as well? Or do you think they’re prioritising their, admittedly, limited spending power in completely the wrong way?
As someone from a working class background, I’ve never suffered from the middle class guilt that seems to afflict so many who feel – maybe on a subconscious level – that they’ve had it all a bit too easy. I’ve never experienced real poverty, but I‘ve come closer to it than what passes for it today. As a result, I’ve never felt the need to accept, at face value, pleas of poverty from anyone. And it’s perhaps for that reason – while I’m on the subject – that I have a problem with food banks, and the widely held view that their existence is proof that there is genuine food poverty in our country.
From time to time, I offer one of my books to customers for free. That usually goes down well, but from the resulting avalanche of requests for copies, I have never once drawn the conclusion that people can’t afford to buy books. Rather, I have taken the more realistic view that on balance, people will take something for free if it’s on offer, and spend their money on something else.
I wonder then, why so many people cite the fact that food banks are experiencing brisk trade as evidence that people can’t afford to buy food. If your entire ‘business’ is based around giving stuff away for free, you’re going to be busy. Given the choice, I think most of us would rather get something for free rather than pay for it. Isn’t that obvious? The ‘success’ of food banks proves nothing more than if you offer something for nothing you’ll get plenty of takers.
Just yesterday, Amstrad founder Lord Sugar was heavily criticised by social welfare campaigners for suggesting that genuine poverty doesn’t exist in a country where everyone has a mobile phone and a microwave oven. But I believe he’s right.
And if your only argument to the contrary is that people will grab free food when it’s handed to them on a plate, you really need to go away and have a think about the nature and direction of cause and effect.