Eating v heating: this is what destitution looks like

For politicians and commentators, “heating versus eating” has come to be an idiom for the austerity era. For Claire Matthews, a car showroom worker and mother of three, sitting in a friend’s cold front room in Christmas 2012 was a spur to do something about it.

“She was complaining about being cold,” Matthews says. “And I said, ‘Turn the heating on.’ She said: ‘Today’s an eating day, not a heating day,” the 43-year-old tells me. “I could see the kids’ breath.”

Matthews wanted to help her friend without embarrassing her, so she gave her a leftover seasonal hamper packed with food. “The family lived on that over Christmas,” she says.

After doing the same for another friend, Matthews was approached by parents from her children’s school in Bournemouth – each of them struggling to afford food, clothes, rent, and heating. “You help one and then others ask, ‘Where’s the help?’”

By the start of 2013, Matthews had set up Hope for Food, a small charity run entirely on donations for anyone in the area in need of “life’s basic essentials”. Three years later, she has a team of 150 volunteers.

For this week’s Hardworking Britain, I look at the new level of class inequality: not simply between the wealthy and the poor, but between people who have enough money to buy toilet rolls and cook a hot meal and people who don’t. Read the full column here.

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