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A documentary that inspired Make Lunch
20th December 2019
Nine years ago, Rachel Warwick was watching a documentary about the plight of hungry children in the UK. She knew she had to do something and, with the help of volunteers, Rachel set up Make Lunch, handing over the reins to TLG last year. With the recent airing of another documentary, 'Growing Up Poor', Rachel reflects on whether things have improved for young people today.
For most of us, winter means turning up the heating and pulling on a jumper. For Courtney it means saving a bit of electricity so there's enough for a hot water bottle, sleeping in her coat and snuggled in the same bed as her mum and younger brother because it's warmer if they share. Their application for an emergency heating top-up was declined - they've already had the maximum allocation and there's only £2.85 left on the meter. Courtney shakes the few pennies from her own money box but she knows there's not enough.
Her story is one of three told by TrueVision TV in their latest documentary, 'Growing Up Poor', which was shown on Channel 4 in December. I watched with two friends, a researcher specialising in issues facing young people today and the founder of a child poverty charity in Luton. Tears rolled down our faces and we sat in silence long after the programme had finished, unable to find the words to express our response.
Documentaries like this one are essential in helping us to understand the reality of life for these families. None of them 'caused' their own poverty. Danielle's parents struggle with low mental health, Rose's family are reeling from the death of a child and Courtney's are fleeing domestic violence. No parent wants to have to tell their child that there's no money left for food. No family intends for their children to be sleeping on the floor because they can't afford furniture.
Through these three stories, 'Growing Up Poor', highlights the impact that poverty is having on the adults and children involved. Poor physical health, stress, anxiety, self-harm, depression and other mental illness, reduced academic performance, social isolation...the list goes on. Only 36% of children on free school meals achieve 5 GCSEs, compared to 63% of their more affluent peers.[i] They are more likely to be excluded from school and more likely to suffer mental health problems.
In 2011, it was a similar documentary that inspired me to start Make Lunch. Hearing children tell their own stories of experienced poverty was hard to ignore and there's so much we as the Church can do to make a difference. The volunteer teams who work to provide meals during school holidays for these families do an incredible job. The stories of impact and transformation still move me to tears 8 years later.
Through Make Lunch I met hundreds of courageous families who are doing everything they can to provide for their children. While some may portray them as lazy, selfish or not very good with money, I saw parents working hard to make life possible, giving up meals so there'd be enough for their children to eat and making £5 stretch further than I ever could. All while the system, which was meant to help them, stacks the odds against them as earnings are deducted from Universal Credit if parents work more hours than allowed by the criteria.
For me, the documentary was hard to watch, not just because of the personal stories, but also because it's undeniable evidence that nothing has changed in the last 8 years.
Today, 4 million children are living in poverty. It was only 3.6 million when we started Make Lunch. Only? Only 3.6 million? As the 6th richest country in the world, I'd hope we might be able to reduce the number of children living in poverty, rather than seeing a 10% increase in less than a decade.
We should feed the children. We should support them in school, provide services for their parents, do everything we can to help meet their immediate needs. But poverty isn't a practical problem that can be solved with money or a food parcel. It's a political issue. The statistics gathered by churches who are faithfully providing meals to these families has incredible power for advocacy when collated and presented to the government as evidence of the situation.
Right from the start, the Make Lunch team always said that we didn't want to be feeding hungry children. We wanted to fight for change so that children didn't have to be hungry any more but until that day, we'll keep feeding them.
I was delighted to hand over the custodianship of Make Lunch to the more than capable hands of TLG last year. I knew right from the start that Make Lunch was always bigger than me and one day I would hand it over to an organisation which could continue to grow the programme and meet the need.
"I tried so hard", weeps 16-year old Danielle as she reads her GCSE results which are disappointingly lower than she was hoping, because living in a bedsit flat with your mum and sister isn't the easiest place to study. If we ask ourselves what we're doing about the situations that caused and kept her family in poverty, can we honestly say the same?
TLG launched its Christmas Holiday Hunger Campaign 'From Hunger to Hope' recently and has just passed the halfway mark towards its target of getting food to 2000 children. The need is still so urgent, could you help us reach more children? For every child we can get food to during the school holidays it costs just £13, for every family £52 and for every TLG Make Lunch club to be set up £520. Click here to donate.
Rachel Warwick founded MakeLunch back in 2011 and is grateful for her friends who were open to trying out her crazy ideas! These days she spends most of her time at Scripture Union where she’s the Director of Mobilisation. She is married to Dan and they live in Luton with far too many musical instruments.