Nevertheless, last week's news report that over a quarter of children in Brunswick Ward are living in poverty is a shocking statistic.
Local churches are already working to establish a food bank, and in the meantime the Leamington Christian Mission (Steph & Geoff) and their helpers continue their less formal work of handing out food and other essentials to the needy. That's important - but is it enough?
There are a number of issues to reflect on here. The first is the impact of austerity, which falls disproportionately on those living on low incomes. You've probably noticed the steep increases in the price of basic food, electricity, gas and petrol over the last year or so, and those increases are likely to be followed by further price rises as the pound devalues. For people on low incomes, redundancy or occasional unexpected bills can lead very quickly to cold, hunger, or debt. Such stresses increase the risk of family breakdown, with further serious consequences. Jesus taught clearly that in serving the needs of others, we serve him (Matthew 25), and in failing to serve the needs of others, we fail to serve him. So what is an appropriate response from us to the needs of the poor?
Secondly, politicians and the right-wing media have been working hard to drive a wedge between those who receive benefits and those who pay for them through their taxes. Doubtless there is room for greater self-reliance in some quarters, but that's only a tiny part of a much larger and more complex picture in which the whole of society is implicated. The vast discrepancies between the incomes of the rich and the incomes of those in poorly-paid work undermine social cohesion and contentment. The mechanisation of farming followed by the closure of factories and mines has reduced job opportunities for the educationally less able. We won't enjoy true community or long-term social stability unless we all feel we have a decent share in society and the opportunity to belong fully and to matter. The ministry of Jesus was notable in affirming the marginalised and despised people of his time and including them in his Kingdom: the sick, the poor, the outcast. What does it mean for us to work for a truly inclusive society?
The Living Wage Foundation claims that a realistic wage is at least £7.45 per hour - significantly higher than the minimum wage of £6.19. It has the support of organisations including Save the Children, politicians including Boris Johnson and Ed Miliband, and various forward-thinking businesses. As a society, surely we should pay people sufficient to live on through their work. Put yourself in the place of the recipient in the photo above: what would it do to your self-esteem, confidence and ability to achieve if your low income made you reliant on handouts?
The Trussell Trust currently runs a network of more than 300 food banks nationwide, and estimates that a further 300 are needed. It expects a quarter of a million people to receive food through the food banks this year. The executive chairman said earlier this week 'We would like to see food banks everywhere, but want to see far fewer people needing them far less often.'
Handouts are not enough. They're necessary for many in the short term and for a few over the long term, but they can do no more than ameliorate child poverty. The challenge to the Church is to look more deeply into the underlying social needs. It may be that a mix of responses is needed: family support, mentoring, after-school clubs, childcare, parental training, and so on. How can we discern and address the needs on our own doorstep so that the current generation of children grows up with a better quality of life and a true sense of belonging?