Voices: While the PM suns himself in Greece, people here can’t afford to eat

·4-min read
Rising inflation on food and rocketing energy prices will mean tighter belts and fewer luxuries for some. For others, it means cutting back on the basics of life (AFP via Getty)
Rising inflation on food and rocketing energy prices will mean tighter belts and fewer luxuries for some. For others, it means cutting back on the basics of life (AFP via Getty)

My mother-in-law died earlier this year. It was sudden, unexpected. She was only 68 and very healthy. She died in A&E in Birmingham, and I can tell you that it’s one thing to hear policymakers talk about the number of excess deaths in our accident and emergency departments. It’s something else when one of them was one of yours.

She and my husband would take it in turns to cook a dinner for our family and some of her older Brummie mates every Wednesday. Since she died, my home has become the permanent venue for these dinners. My husband cooks each week for three pensioners, the kids and himself, and the chat has the kind of intergenerational enrichment that Channel 4 might make a mini-series about.

I am rarely there for the dinner as parliament sits on a Wednesday, but during the recess I have also been fed. This week, the genuine chat amongst the pensioners was about how people like them are going to have to huddle together for warmth like penguins as the winter draws in. Literally! They put a playful spin on it; pensioners today are after all the teenagers of the Sixties and Seventies. They were suggesting that they might throw pensioner parties so that they can take it in turns to have the heating on. They told fun tales about the olden days and laughed at pictures of themselves with long hair and double denim. But no matter how they dressed this up, the reality is that people like them have no idea how they are going to cope.

The story this week of Kelly Thomson is part of the same horrific story. The mother of two was hospitalised with malnutrition, thanks to skipping all but one meal a day in order to feed her kids on the £40 per week she has left after her bills are paid. Rising inflation on food and rocketing energy prices will mean tighter belts and fewer luxuries for some. For others, it means cutting back on the basics of life, like being able to sit in your house without becoming sick, or having enough food to prevent starvation.

My mother-in-law was from my constituency. She was from a big family who lived in a small council house. When out door-knocking with her on the street of her childhood home during the 2015 election, an elderly woman complained to us both that things used to be better “around here”. She spoke of some rose-tinted golden age where you could keep your doors open and kids would play out. My mother-in-law told her that when she was a kid living on this very street, every morning before school she would work a shift making breakfasts at the local hotel, then after school, she would be picked up, put on a wagon, and driven a few miles so she could sell potatoes door to door. She said that despite this, she still had holes in both her knickers and her shoes. I guess Liz Truss would have told her she was “lazy” and just not as productive as the 13-year-olds in London. If only she had just worked harder.

My mother-in-law had to do runners from the catalogue man and her family was often in debt. She did not recognise this amazing bygone era being presented to her. If she had lived long enough she would today be reading about pensioners dying in their homes from cold and mothers malnourished and starving. I guess we got our golden era back.

To keep up to speed with all the latest opinions and comment, sign up to our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter by clicking here

Throughout the growing crisis, the prime minister has been eating dolmades and taramasalata on his Grecian holiday. I don’t begrudge the man a holiday; I do begrudge him taking it while he has the power to recall parliament and work out a way to stop mothers in our country from being hospitalised with starvation. He is, after all, going to have some free time to visit the Parthenon pretty soon. Meanwhile, everyone except the people who run our country, or are vying to, are coming up with possible solutions for the worsening situation. How on earth has parliament not been recalled – as the Labour Party have called for – to pass emergency legislation to try to stop pensioners freezing and parents starving?

I wish I had learned less than I have about excess deaths in A&E throughout the spring and summer of this year. My family wishes we hadn’t been one of the statistics. If my mother-in-law were here, she would be very productively rolling up her sleeves to try and do whatever she could to help. But she’s not, and I am absolutely sure that without action now, the excess deaths throughout the winter will be very painful for thousands more families. A big wedge of that won’t just be a crippled NHS, it will be cold, hunger and neglect.

Poverty kills.