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February 2014: Hard Times

We’ve been hearing a great deal this month about how hard it can be to be living with HIV in 2014. The publication of the HIV & Poverty report in which The Food Chain participated is a shocking illustration of the fact that there is direct link between HIV status and poverty in the UK. A large majority of our service users are living on impossibly low incomes and some are destitute.

I attended a National Aids Trust event this week at which HIV charities from all over the UK told the same story. Everyone is trying to respond to the fact that their service users are not able to afford even basic foodstuffs, let alone an adequate range of food types to support a balanced nutritious diet. At The Food Chain we know that good nutrition is key to helping people with HIV get well and stay well. If people are not able to do that we will see a rise in the levels of acute ill heath amongst people with HIV and increased hospital admissions. That will have an impact on the NHS in rising costs of treatment and care that makes no economic sense whatsoever and that creates an unacceptable human cost. Surely it would be better to invest in a fair benefits assessment process that ensures that people living with HIV receive appropriate welfare support when it is needed. We are seeing far too many people losing their health related benefits and going without for long periods of time only to have the decision of the assessors overturned on appeal. Far better to make the correct assessment in the first place! And in the meantime people go hungry and in some cases homeless. I feel horrified that this is happening to so many people in the UK today. One sector colleague from Manchester said it feels like we are going back to Victorian times when many charities were set up as a response to widespread poverty. She has a point. Charles Dickens would find much that is familiar in London today.

These are also hard times for charities and we must focus our resources and make sure we provide the greatest possible benefit to the people we are here for. For The Food Chain Trustees, the last few months has been a time of serious reflection and debate and they have made the difficult decision to change the way we provide our meal service. This has probably been the most difficult decision the charity has ever had to make. Everyone at The Food Chain loves and respects the tradition of the Sunday meal service. It is hard to let go of something so special but I believe it is the right thing to do and it is a great development that we will instead provide 7 days of home delivered meals to those who most need them. The human impact of this service has been immeasurable and will not be forgotten. It is our duty and privilege as The Food Chain family to continue to bring the same love and commitment to the new services we develop and to make them equally special. I have no doubt whatsoever that together we can do that.

Now on to the cooking. This month’s recipe is one of our winter menu dishes – lamb meatballs and potato bake with vegetables. I happened to cook it on the first day of (meteorological) spring and still appreciated this very warming recipe. It’s lovely to see the sunshine but it’s still a bit chilly!