“We have people waiting outside Tesco and Iceland bins waiting for food to be thrown away, standing with bolt cutters cutting locks to see what food they can find.”
These are the words of Brixton Soup Kitchen founder Solomon Smith describing the growing desperation he sees among locals.
Black communities are poised to face the worst of the cost of living emergency in the coming months with many more black families pushed into poverty, cold and hunger.
Alarming government data released last month showed that black communities are four times more likely to suffer from food shortages – or to put it more bluntly – starvation.
Add to that that unemployment in black communities is around 9% – more than double the white average – and the picture becomes even more serious.
It may sound like a horror story straight out of Dickens’ London, but this sobering news comes true and is a scathing indictment of so-called ‘modern Britain’ in the 21st century.
What is frightening is that the actual numbers of those who suffer may well be higher.
In fact, community activists and charities are all sounding the alarm as energy bills soar, so do food prices, and inflation – currently at 7% – far exceeds wages.
According to Smith, the number of people frequenting Brixton’s famous soup kitchen has doubled in the past year. And more and more black people are suffering from mental health problems, experts say.
“Get ready” is their message, because if we thought years of austerity were wrong, things are about to take a nosedive.
The number of food banks has increased massively since the financial crisis more than a decade ago, and the need has continued to grow during the “recovery”. The Trussell Trust alone has as many food banks in the UK (1,200) as there are McDonald’s restaurants.
The Trust predicts that emergency food needs will increase further as the cost of living rises.
POVERTY IS A KILLER
Smith, who founded the much-loved Brixton Soup Kitchen in 2013, knows all about the immense pressures on black families in particular, and they offer African and Caribbean dishes.
He said: ‘We hear a lot of people say that if it wasn’t for the soup kitchen that provided them with groceries, it would be another week without them eating. We get a lot of parents who tell us that they have never had to steal before, but had to go to the market to literally steal vegetables and food.
“I have parents who come to me in tears, telling me that if it hadn’t been for the soup kitchen, their children wouldn’t have had a uniform.”
Poverty kills, and families’ inability to feed themselves properly and heat their homes erodes people’s physical and psychological health. It has cost and will continue to cost lives.
Some London boroughs with the highest black populations, and Birmingham, have some of the worst death rates.
While Britain often prides itself on being a so-called first-class democracy, it is evident that black communities often live like second-class citizens.
If Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic have exposed and further exacerbated racial inequality in Britain, then the impact of the cost of living crisis will be the equivalent of throwing grease on the fire.
Clearly, the impact of the struggle for basic survival during a cost of living crisis, against a national backdrop of undeniable institutional racism, has and will continue to severely affect all areas of Black life.
Abena Oppong-Asare, MP for Erith and Thamesmead, one of London’s poorest areas, said black and Asian communities were already suffering before the pandemic.
She said: “The cost of living crisis is nothing new. We have had this Conservative government for a decade and inequalities have increased. When the pandemic hit, I was contacted by people who were losing their businesses that had been running since the 1980s and collapsed overnight. It’s tragic.
“The government needs to do something like a race equality strategy and a national health inequality strategy. We need an urgent national discussion on this.
Mackayla Forde, academic, activist and artist, recounted The voice that black women will bear the brunt of it. “Black women are at the intersection of racism and sexism.
“Not only do we hold the vast majority of low-wage, service or caregiving jobs, which are often gendered, but we are also more likely than any other ethnicity to be the head of a single-parent family.
But she adds: “Black people have always found a way to survive. Against all odds, we found ways to adapt. Online, black women have come together to create safe spaces where they can offer and get help. Black women continue to weave networks of support together from the fabric of a disintegrating society.
Desperate times have given rise to new initiatives to support families in need, as community groups attempt to fill the gaps the state has overlooked.
Poet and educational consultant, Kat François leads a weekly writing class called “how to write s**t away” using creative writing, journaling and fitness as tools for wellness and creation.
She explained: “I started offering fitness classes as a response to keeping our community which has been disproportionately impacted by Covid as healthy as possible.”
“I mainly work with young people, so the writing workshops gave me a great opportunity to work regularly with adult women. Both efforts had a good response and I had regular attendees.”
Without community-led programs, the experience for many, especially during the pandemic, would have been very different. These are the real heroes, without capes.
Many community workers believe that far from being a source of shame, our communities support each other in times of need should fill us with pride.
Other communities are doing it, and we need to make sure we do the same to survive the coming months and years, they say. We owe it to ourselves, to young people and to future generations.
HOW TO ASK FOR HELP:
Many people are often unaware that they may be eligible for financial support, including debt relief.
ADVICE CITIZENS NATIONAL ASSISTANCE TELEPHONE:
England – 0800 144 8848
Wales – 0800 702 2020
DEBT AND MONEY TIPS:
Debt, housing and credit score support.
GRANTS AND BENEFITS
Having trouble paying your energy bills? You may be eligible for grants.
SUPPORT FOR LIVING COST
If you don’t have enough money to live on, your town hall can help you.
If you’re struggling with basic hygiene essentials, the Hygiene Bank can help
MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT
If you or someone close to you has mental health issues, these organizations may be able to help you
THE BLACK AFRICAN AND ASIAN THERAPY NETWORK
HELP FOR THE HOMELESS
If you are experiencing homelessness or could become homeless