Dignity is not a word that you would normally associate with your weekly supermarket shop, or with planning how you might be going to feed your children each night.
But right now, when families are under intense pressure to find enough money to keep food on the table and ensure their children have access to a healthy and nutritious diet, dignity is something we should all be demanding for those who depend on others for the means to feed their loved ones.
If you have seen any of the images circulating on social media over the past few days showing the contents of meal packages provided to children whose parents are unable to feed them, you cannot but have been struck by the lack of dignity involved in receiving this support.
The sad array of vegetables and processed food being delivered in limited rations to families living on the breadline are an affront to every charitable instinct we hold dearly with regard to helping those who need a hand.
I have seen what a lack of food and nutrition can do in some of the poorest countries of the world and I have also witnessed the impact of programmes that provide cash or vouchers to support communities of hungry families in a dignified and empowering fashion.
The UN World Food Programme provides school meals for around 17 million children a year. It recognises the importance of effective food systems, and is launching a School Health Research Consortium at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to help the UK learn more from international experience and vice versa.
What is so striking now is that the British government has been a global leader in driving change within the international aid sector to deliver food to hungry children and families in a more efficient and dignified way.
As an advocate for more cash payments to hungry families in developing countries, the UK has revolutionised the delivery of food assistance, empowering those who need to provide for their families, supporting local economies and streamlining the aid delivery system to make it more efficient and cost effective.
The World Food Programme (WFP) is just one example of an agency that has moved from delivering almost zero food assistance in cash in the early 2000s to a point where close to 40% of its aid is distributed as cash or vouchers. That’s close to £1.5bn for families to buy their own food, and it’s is being spent in more than 60 countries.
What has this to do with a poor family living under coronavirus lockdown in Bradford? In my mind, quite a lot: if the government understands the value of empowering and giving self-respect to hungry families in Malawi, why is it missing that point in Britain?
Instead of paying companies to provide substandard food for children locked out of school, why can’t we give families the cash or the vouchers to make their own decisions about what to buy and how to stretch their budgets? We know doing so works, is more efficient, and gives those families dignity, rather than stripping them of it.
Sceptics might say that families cannot be trusted to spend money on food, that it might be wasted on alcohol or cigarettes. But from what I have seen in developing countries, the evidence is that families are responsible and make the right choices for their children. No mother wants to see her child go hungry.
The WFP has found that cash or voucher payments only fail to make an important contribution when a country is at war, markets have collapsed and access to food is limited – even for those with money.
Much as we are suffering from the impact of the pandemic and the latest lockdown, shops remain open here and the one big impediment to accessing fresh, nutritious food is a lack of money.
It could not be more simple: increased cash payments will empower families struggling to feed their children, and restore their dignity, something that everyone deserves.
Arthur Potts Dawson is a chef advocate for the World Food Programme