I’ve written before about the increasing gap between rich and poor in the UK and how York is an example of how these two worlds can collide, to the detriment of those on the poorer end of the scale.

However, even I was shocked recently when a senior director of a large cereal company suggested that poorer people should eat cereal for dinner as 'it costs under $1 a bowl'.

They are actually going to base a multi million dollar advertising campaign around this concept.

The disconnect is clearly becoming a global issue and spreading through global advertising.

People in York are having to use foodbanks in increasing numbers and often those doing so are in work but still cannot make ends meet. The director of the cereal company earns £3.2 million per year, so unless he really wants to eat cornflakes he probably has a very wide choice of dinner options.

By any criteria, the United Kingdom faces a serious economic and social crisis.

Yet there is little sense of this crisis among the country’s elite, including big corporations.

How do we make them aware?

Our twin aims in Citizens Advice are both giving advice and support but also campaigning to change social policy.

We regularly speak truth to power and change can happen: benefits did rise in line with inflation and there was a lot of pressure applied to the energy companies to stop forcible disconnection of meters.

But it is hard to make more local changes. Public services are under unprecedented pressure, especially health and social care. Excess deaths have risen while the United Kingdom is the only country in Europe suffering from declining life expectancy.

In the United Kingdom as a whole, more working-age people are self-reporting long-term health conditions, with 36 per cent saying that they had at least one long-term health condition the the period January to March 2023, up from 31 per cent in the same period in 2019 and 29 per cent in 2016. At Citizens Advice York, 47 per cent of the people we help report long term health conditions and eight per cent are disabled.

State interventions in 1906 and extended in 1921 made children's diets significantly healthier.

They made the greatest difference to children in households where the head of household was unemployed.

School food and milk made a significant addition to household calcium, energy and protein levels, especially among the unemployed. It helped the food insecurity and malnutrition the United Kingdom was facing at this time immeasurably.

It’s good to see that City of York Council are following their forebears' lead and increasing the free school meal scheme to more households and are piloting free school lunches to pupils in Key stage 2 at Westfield Primary School this year.

York Press: Free school meals at Westfield Primary School in YorkFree school meals at Westfield Primary School in York (Image: Stephen Lewis)

So how do we change the narrative? How do we get people to understand the scale of the problem?

We can start by talking about the issues openly to de-stigmatise poverty. This is free - and by opening up about the issues we can make sure that they are not glossed over or buried under other news.

We don’t want to live in a world where multi millionaires tell people that if you’re poor a bowl of cold cereal as your main meal will have to do. We want to help people and we can only do that by changing the attitudes of people in power.

York has never needed us at Citizens Advice more. Year on year, we have seen an increase of nearly 1,500 clients and over 4000 more problems they have come to us for help with.

We could not do this without your ongoing support. We thank you; we have served the community since 1967, we have seen economic and cultural shocks from wars to pandemics and have kept going to ensure no one in York is without help, support and understanding when they need it most.

Fiona McCulloch is chief officer of Citizens Advice York

Citizens Advice York

Citizens Advice York is a small independent charity providing support and advice to York residents on all of the topics mentioned above.

While City of York Council remain consistent and generous funders, we still have to raise £30,000 to £40,000 each and every year (and sometimes more) to cover the full cost of this important service.

We could not operate without the generosity of donations to fill this gap. We know that times are hard, but if you are able to help please donate so we can keep on helping others. You can make a one off donation or become a “Friend of Citizens Advice York” and make a monthly subscription. You will receive a quarterly newsletter and an invitation to our AGM and annual fundraising event.

Visit citizensadviceyork.org.uk/donate/ to make a donation or, for details of how to become a Friend of Citizens Advice York, email admin.team@cayork.org or call 01904 623648.