LIKE many another supermarket shopper, I put a regular contribution into the collection crate for Truro Foodbank. However, I know that, although helpful, it might be termed a 'sticking plaster' activity – treating the symptoms but not the underlying disease.
How sad that in this day and age it is estimated that about 13 million people are living below the UK poverty line. How has it come about that the richest 20 per cent of our population have almost 100 times the wealth of the poorest 20 per cent?
Quakers are concerned about many social problems, but economic inequality is near the top of the agenda. Many Quakers staff food banks, volunteer in advice bureaux and other supportive community projects, but also want to make a difference by investigating the underlying causes of inequality.
This is no new attitude. In 1904 Joseph Rowntree, a Quaker and director of the famous York chocolate firm, wrote: "The soup kitchen in York never has difficulty in obtaining financial aid, but an enquiry into the extent and causes of poverty would enlist little support."
As a result of this realisation, he decided to use his wealth to set up a research foundation to tackle the root causes of social problems, rather than just treating their symptoms.
One of the most recent pieces of research to be funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has been undertaken by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which has looked into living standards, poverty and inequality in the UK.
The resulting report stated that the research gave "further proof that a shortage of affordable homes and the high cost of renting or buying a home is pushing hundreds of thousands more people into absolute poverty.
"We need a comprehensive strategy and sufficient political will to get to grips with poverty. This means addressing low pay, the high cost of essentials, such as housing and childcare, and reform to the tax and benefits system to ensure work is a route out of poverty."
One way of addressing low pay is to campaign for the national introduction of the living wage. This is currently calculated as £7.65 per hour (as opposed to the minimum wage of £6.31 per hour).
Recently the Houses of Parliament have become an accredited living wage employer. This means that they have pledged to ensure that the living wage is paid not just to staff employed by Parliament, but also to staff of contractors providing services to Parliament. Perhaps this commitment might encourage MPs to bring in legislation so that the living wage is adopted on a national basis.
Quakers have a profound sense of the worth of every human being. Compassion and sharing are an intrinsic part of 'loving our neighbour'.