It should be our collective mission to put foodbanks out of business. In a civilized society, no one should go hungry for want of sustenance. But should we have the same ambition about babybanks? In a world where some want to portray sustainability as a middle-class indulgence, making it easier (as well as cheaper) to be green must be a key goal. To date efforts have focused on jobs and windfarms – its now time to recognize the role of give and take.
Increasingly, Conservative MPs argue that action on the climate crisis simply isn’t affordable during a cost-of-living crisis. Pointing the cost of induction boilers, they pit one against the other – yet the progressive solution isn’t to trade off ambitions, but to ask how we can bring them together as part of our common crusade for social justice. It’s why we need to get as political about increasing access to repair and reuse services and the circular economy as we do closing foodbanks.
Research from leading baby bank, Little Village, shows that UK baby banks are expecting demand for their services to rise again this year, as they provide help to families with the sheer volume of stuff children require – whether clothes, buggies, cots, or nappies . Child Poverty Action Group research showed it costs around £160,000 to raise a child – for single parents that rises to £190,000. But these vital resources don’t just save people money; they help reduce our carbon footprint as a society.
These networks are already challenging preconceptions second hand means second best. More than 8.5 million new toys are thrown away, headed for landfill or incinerators, in the UK every year. The mountain of clothes, toys, plastic and tat that every family acquires and abandons on an almost weekly basis as children grow doesn’t just need better recycling initiatives. They also represent costs which many parents feel they have no choice but to incur – even if it means falling into debt.
To overcome these challenges, for example, this July in Walthamstow we’re setting up a pop up shop in our local shopping center to help promote this way of working. Local residents are coming together to recycle, repair or reuse clothes – with a world book day costume swap and prom outfit swap sessions alongside school uniform sharing – and to borrow not buy toys. We’re hoping to cut not just the carbon use but the costs of a community which has the ninth highest level of child poverty in the country.
The last Labor government recognized the role government could play in developing this agenda when it subsidized the take up of renewable and low carbon technologies. In the short time this subsidy was up and running it helped ensure nearly 90,000 solar installations and increase the number of people employed in the solar industry from 3,000 to 25,000.
George Osborne pulled the plug on this subsidy, and stunted the growth of the industry itself. Had the scheme continued as it was, it would have fast-tracked greater competition and so cut the costs of panels making them even more accessible.
Whether those helping families with school uniforms, or recycling and repair projects that help spread the skills of sustainability to help users make their money go further there are many models we could learn from in developing this work. Even the EU has got in on the act – recently proposing laws to give consumers greater rights to know just how durable their purchases are, helping people buy things that will last longer. It’s telling how little they care about either agenda that the government has as yet failed to engage in whether they will repeat this legislation here.
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Failing to reduce waste and deal with climate changes often hits the poorest – whether those repeatedly flooded out of their homes or the evidence shows incinerators are three times more likely to be cited in areas of deprivation than influx. Yet asking the public to look ahead to what is possible in a green future cannot mean we ignore the reality that in the current context many cannot look beyond the end of the day and if they can feed their kids that night.
Services to help recycle and repair are still the exception rather than the norm and their role in fighting poverty is too often overlooked – so too, at present our babybanks in the UK are often small and under resourced in comparison to national foodbank structures and rarely seen as part of transition planning.
However many repair, crafting or secret saver programs are on television, supporting these skills and services across the country is an investment we need to make as part of anti-poverty strategies as well as environmentally sound waste management. Putting sustainability at the heart of our response to the cost of living crisis is not just smart thinking – it’s social justice in action.