Tuesday, 15 April 2014

End Hunger Fast - Week 6

My last fast proved remarkably easy, in that I didn't feel too hungry most of the day, and the last few hours didn't feel like a countdown for once. There were however, several moments when I felt low and close to tears, as I had done previously, which confirms for me that going without food is not good for anyone.

Friday's fast was in memory of Karen Sherlock, another person who suffered from the horrors of the work capability assessment. I've written about Karen before because although I never met her, we spoke several times on social media, and she was keen to share her story with the Atos Stories project. Like many, I followed her fight to be placed in the support group where she could claim Employment Support Allowance without being put under pressure. And like many I was horrified that any system could be so inhumane to find a person needing regular dialysis with multiple health problems, fit for work. I was further horrified to discover that Karen was also the victim of a particular piece of cruelty of the welfare reform act, losing her ESA because she'd been placed in work related activity for a year. So I was delighted by her announcement that she'd finally won her battle.

Sadly, Karen died less than a fortnight later; another person whose last months had been made more stressful by the Work Capability Assessment process. Another person struggling for the right to have enough money to live not comfortably, but sufficient for her needs. Another person whose complex mix of conditions - diabetes, heart, kidney problems - meant having enough money to buy the right food was so important.

Karen's story is unfortunately not an isolated one; and whilst disabled and sick people are bearing the brunt of the food crisis, so too are families on low incomes and benefits. I took part in End Hunger Fast to help raise awareness of Karen and all the people like her who struggle for the right to have a basic income sufficient for their needs. A struggle that would be unnecessary if politicians had stopped and listened to the many voices raised in protest as the Welfare Reform Act was forced through Parliament two years ago. A struggle that could be over if politicians started listening now. They could start by listening to the voices of disabled people reflected in the new "Beyond the Barriers" report published last week by the Spartacus network, which clearly sets out how providing the right support for people is not only the right thing to do morally, but also economically and brings value to the taxpayer. They could listen to the voices of the Trussell Trust who today published figures demonstrating a 163% rise in the numbers of people using foodbanks this year. They could listen to the End Hunger Fast campaigners who have fasted in so many ways this Lent and who will be vigilling outside Parliament tonight as the fast comes to an end.

Most of all they could take heed of the message behind the "Beyond the Barriers" report - "Work for those who can. Security for those who can’t. Support for all" - because that is what a decent society should look like.

Keith and Simon finished their phenomenal 40 day fast at the weekend, Scott finishes his today. If you're in London today you can join the End Hunger Fast vigil at Old Palace Yard, Westminster, at 6pm.

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