According to the Government, we all have a lot more disposable income now than previously. Oh yeah? What about the cuts you’ve told us are going to come? Don’t you know that you can’t get money out of people who have none? So that’s me off the hook.

So if it’s true…

Any day now they’ll be closing the food banks because everyone will be able to afford to eat well.
Any day now they’ll offer the people sleeping in shop doorways and on benches in the middle of Shrewsbury in January somewhere to stay.
Any day now.

So what’s gone wrong?

I remember a little story I heard once:

A hard-working Chinese farmer called Heng lived with his family on their farm. His father lived with them and helped his son and daughter in law with the work that needed to be done. After some years, Heng’s father became infirm and needed to sit down a good deal of the time in the porch, from where he could watch his son working.

Heng began to think to himself: The old man’s not good for anything now. He can’t work, he can’t even really look after himself. Look at him up there watching me; criticising what I do. Here am I, slaving away for the family and what use is he? Resentment grew.

Heng went to the shed behind the farmhouse and got out some wood. It was expensive, good quality timber. That night he stayed out late, making a large wooden box with the planks, sawing and nailing them until it was just right.

Next morning he took it round to the front porch on the wheelbarrow. Stony-faced, he told the old man: ‘Father, get in.’ The old man was surprised, but with difficulty he managed to climb on to the wheelbarrow and sit inside the long narrow box. Heng balanced the lid across the handles and slowly trundled the barrow, the box and his father, all the way down to the cliff’s edge. And all the while the father never said a thing.

Heng put down the barrow at the cliff’s edge. ‘Lie down,’ he ordered his father, and his father obeyed. Heng put the lid on the box. He took some nails and a hammer from his knapsack and began to hammer the lid on.

Then the old man spoke:

“Heng, ” he said. “My son, I have an idea. You have used your best wood and taken many hours to make this box. Why do you not take me out of this box and throw me over the cliff? Then you can keep your fine box. After all, you will need it for yourself some day.”

The story finishes there, so we don’t know whether Heng went ahead with his plan or not. I like to think he sat there, head in hands, deeply saddened, and that the old man might have comforted him. Maybe that’s wishful thinking. But the old are able to give something to the young – encouragement, sympathy, the long view, acceptance, a listening ear, even advice. It’s got to be worth something.

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