Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Learning our lines

According to the Daily Mail, a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says that "the number of families saying they are going hungry has fallen over the past five years – as the number of food banks has risen."

This is obviously because more people are being fed, so fewer are going hungry, right? But such deductions are not the Daily Mail way. Their take is based on Lord Freud's, (the UK Welfare Minister), statement that "it is very hard to know why people go to food banks". They report, "while he conceded nobody turned to charities for food parcels ‘willingly’, more people were visiting the banks simply because there were more in existence." Personally I find that to be an argument worthy of Comical Ali, Saddam's Information Minister, who said "there is no presence of American infidels in the city of Baghdad," as the world's media recorded the line of tanks rolling across the bridge in shot behind him. And while Freud says (to all intents and purposes) "let them eat cake", that is not really the nature of this post and it's not that kind of line.

The foodbank situation has led to a considerable amount of commentary about people in the UK being "below the breadline" and getting lines crossed is the nature of this post. People can be 'near the breadline' and they can be 'on the breadline' but they cannot be 'below the breadline'.

The term breadline is borrowed from the Americans who use 'line' where we would use the word 'queue'. So a breadline is a queue for bread. It is not some arbitrary measure of relative poverty, some economic Plimsoll line below which one must not be sunk. The breadline is a physical queue for food handouts - the literal end of the line is the foodbank.

It is an absolute disgrace that some commentators (who should know better) should use the term 'breadline', frivolously and relatively to score political points without seeing it for what it is, when it is an absolute that many Britons are on, or near, or approaching.

There is no 'below the breadline'. When you can't afford food there is no going 'below' that.


  1. A good post. I hate it when serious phrases are used wrongly!

  2. Super post, Charlie! It deserves a much wider audience and wouldn't be out of place in a decent national daily.

  3. Bless you Ged! Thanks for the compliment.