In the Shadow of Affluence | The Rebirth of Victorian Illnesses and the Battle for Social Justice in Britain



The UK, a country known for its economic strength and global influence, is grappling with an insidious health crisis – tens of thousands of individuals, including hundreds of children, have been hospitalised due to malnutrition in the last year alone.

Unmasking the Contradictions of Prosperity

An unsettling paradox is unveiled in England, one of the world’s wealthiest nations. A country known for its economic strength and global influence is grappling with an insidious health crisis – tens of thousands of individuals, including hundreds of children, have been hospitalised due to malnutrition in the last year alone. This disturbing reality, brought to light by The Times, shatters the image of prosperity that England projects onto the global stage.

A closer look at this paradox reveals that it is not merely a medical or public health issue but a reflection of the deep-seated imbalances and inequities within our socioeconomic system. It stands as a powerful testament to what liberation theology and radical orthodoxy identify as ‘structural sin’. In other words, it’s not the isolated acts of individuals that are solely responsible for this crisis, but the unjust structures of our societal system that allow and perpetuate such conditions.

In a country with such wealth and resources, malnutrition should be a relic of the past. However, the stark reality that many face is one of food insecurity, nutritional deficiencies, and poverty. This is symptomatic of a larger problem – an economic system that prioritises wealth accumulation for a select few while neglecting the basic needs of many. The poor and marginalised are left to bear the brunt of these systemic failures, culminating in the hospitalisation of thousands due to malnutrition.

This crisis calls for a critical evaluation of our societal structures that perpetuate poverty and inequality, which are the root causes of malnutrition. It demands a move towards a more equitable system that guarantees every citizen’s right to proper nutrition and, ultimately, a healthy life.

The situation in England serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of neglecting social justice in the pursuit of economic growth. It underscores the urgent need for systemic change and a transformation in our societal priorities to ensure the welfare of every citizen. This calls for a radical commitment to social justice, the promotion of equitable distribution of resources, and an unwavering dedication to uproot the structural sins embedded in our societal fabric. It is only through such structural changes that we can hope to address and prevent the distressing prevalence of malnutrition.

The Stinging Reality of Progress

Progress is often hailed as the shining beacon of modern societies. We celebrate our technological prowess and financial growth, marvelling at our capacity for innovation and the accumulation of wealth. Yet, beneath this triumphant narrative, the steady rise in malnutrition cases in England lays bare a disconcerting contradiction in our supposed advancement.

In a time marked by an unprecedented increase in scientific knowledge and the development of technologies that allow us to connect, communicate, and even cure in ways we never imagined possible, we seem to have overlooked the fundamental needs of our society. The numbers are disconcerting. The rate of malnutrition cases has not merely doubled, but astonishingly quadrupled since 2007/8. This stark fact serves as a sobering reminder that the fruits of our progress are not equitably distributed or utilized to the benefit of all.

Behind the gleaming facades of urban development and beneath the buzzing activity of the digital world, an ancient scourge resurfaces – hunger. This surge in malnutrition is not just about scarcity of food. It is about poverty, inequalities, and an economic system that fails to adequately provide for its most vulnerable. It’s about societal structures that, despite their dynamic evolution, have not successfully addressed the basic human right to nutritious food.

This paradox of progress highlights the disparity between our collective capabilities and the reality we have created. Our world is more connected than ever, yet many of our fellow citizens remain distanced from the basic necessities of life. We possess the scientific knowledge and the resources to combat malnutrition effectively, yet we are witnessing an alarming surge in these cases.

This incongruity is a call for introspection. It raises fundamental questions about the nature of our progress. What does advancement mean if it does not translate into better living conditions for all members of society? Can we claim progress when children, the future of our society, fall prey to malnutrition?

Addressing this stinging reality demands a re-evaluation of our priorities as a society. It urges us to channel our innovative spirit, not just towards creating wealth or achieving technological breakthroughs, but towards building societal structures that ensure equitable distribution of resources and fulfilment of basic human needs.

Our journey of progress must not only be charted by the milestones of wealth and technology. It must also be guided by the moral compass of social justice, ensuring that no member of society is left behind, forgotten, or underserved. The true measure of progress is, after all, the welfare and well-being of all citizens. Only then can we reconcile the contradictions of our advancement and truly move forward as a society.

An Unwanted Ghost from the Past

In the wake of the alarming malnutrition crisis, an unwanted ghost from the past has made a shocking reappearance. Diseases that should have been consigned to the pages of history, like scurvy and rickets, are making a comeback. These are health problems that were widespread during the Victorian era, a time marked by stark societal divisions, rampant poverty, and inadequate public health provision. Yet, here we are in the 21st century, seeing these diseases rise from the annals of the past.

The resurgence of these diseases isn’t just shocking; it’s a grim reminder of the societal inequities that still persist today. Despite our wealth, our advancements, and the passage of time, we’ve failed to escape the shadow of these Victorian-era health issues. They are a haunting echo of our society’s failure to truly progress in ensuring equitable health outcomes for all, a glaring indicator of the socioeconomic disparities that continue to plague us.

Scurvy, caused by severe vitamin C deficiency, and rickets, resulting from prolonged vitamin D deficiency, should have no place in today’s society. Our scientific understanding of nutrition and health, combined with our capacity to produce and distribute nutritious food, should have relegated these diseases to the history books. But the harsh reality is that they’re not just surviving; they’re thriving in a landscape shaped by inequality and neglect.

These ‘ghosts’ from the Victorian era are more than just a public health concern. They are symptomatic of a wider systemic failure – the inability of our societal structures to guarantee basic health and wellbeing for all citizens. Their resurgence is a stark testament to the persistence of deep-rooted social and economic disparities that have endured despite our modern advancements.

It’s as if these diseases are haunting us, reminding us of the collective responsibility we have neglected. They bear witness to the socio-economic divisions, the food poverty, and the unequal access to health services that persist in our society. They underscore the sobering reality that despite all our progress, we have not done enough to bridge the societal divides that allow such conditions to flourish.

As we confront this unwanted ghost from the past, we are challenged to reevaluate our societal structures and our definition of progress. The return of Victorian-era diseases demands more than medical interventions; it calls for a comprehensive response that addresses the root causes of health inequity. Only by doing so can we hope to exorcise these spectres of the past and make strides towards a future where health and wellbeing are realities for all, not just the privileged few.

The Cry of the Marginalised

In the midst of the disturbing health crisis unfolding in England, the voice of Dr. Clare Gerada, the president of the Royal College of General Practitioners, emerges as a clarion call drawing attention to the plight of the marginalized. Her reflections offer a lens into the grim reality brought about by a mounting cost of living crisis and escalating poverty. But more than that, she articulates the painful cry of the marginalized, echoing their struggle in a society where they often remain unheard.

As Dr. Gerada emphasizes, this crisis isn’t merely a reflection of a failing health system. It goes deeper, to the very structures that govern our society and economy. These structures, marked by systemic inequalities and skewed power dynamics, work to marginalize the poorest segments of our society. It is the entrenched biases and unbalanced resource distribution that lead to such dire health outcomes for those living on the fringes.

The narrative of the marginalized is not just one of poverty and deprivation. It is about the lack of access to the opportunities that most of us take for granted. It’s about being overlooked, dismissed, and forgotten by the systems that are supposed to protect and support all citizens. It’s about being on the receiving end of policies that further entrench societal divisions, rather than working towards a more equitable society.

These circumstances are a manifestation of what Liberation Theology refers to as ‘systemic sin’. It’s a form of sin that’s not born out of individual transgressions but is instead embedded in the systems and structures that we are all part of. Systemic sin, in this case, is reflected in the socioeconomic structures that marginalize the poor, leading to health inequities such as the current malnutrition crisis.

When viewed from this perspective, the crisis goes beyond malnutrition or the resurgence of Victorian-era diseases. It becomes a reflection of our collective failing to build a society that respects and upholds the dignity of every individual. It is a profound indictment of societal structures that, wittingly or unwittingly, perpetuate injustice and inequality.

Dr. Gerada’s observations underscore the urgent need for change. The cry of the marginalized should compel us to reexamine our societal structures and confront the systemic sins ingrained within them. Their voices, echoing in the halls of our societal conscience, implore us to work towards a society where every individual, regardless of their economic standing, has an equitable chance at health and wellbeing. Only then can we begin to rectify these injustices and truly live up to the ideals of social equity that we profess to uphold.

 The Obesity Paradox and Malnutrition

In the landscape of health crises, a seemingly counterintuitive connection has come to light – the link between the obesity epidemic and malnutrition. This link paints a picture of a society fraught with injustices and contradictions, where children are simultaneously overfed yet undernourished. It’s a paradox that resonates with a painful echo, mirroring the socio-economic incongruities that are woven into the very fabric of our society.

At first glance, obesity and malnutrition might appear to be polar opposites. One is often associated with an excess of food, the other with a lack thereof. But upon closer inspection, they are two sides of the same coin – both outcomes of a broken food system and wider socio-economic structures that perpetuate inequalities.

Obesity is not just a consequence of overeating but is often indicative of a diet saturated with low-cost, low-nutrient, highly processed foods. Driven by economic constraints and the availability of these types of food, many families, especially those in low-income brackets, are forced to choose quantity over quality. Children may be getting plenty of calories, but they are starved of essential nutrients – creating a reality where they are overfed, yet tragically undernourished.

This paradox is a stark manifestation of the socio-economic contradictions that define our times. Despite living in an era of unprecedented wealth and technological advancement, we’re failing to ensure that everyone has access to nutritious food. The result is a public health crisis where malnutrition and obesity coexist, both symptoms of an unjust and unsustainable food system.

The bitter truth underlying this paradox is that it’s not merely about personal choices. It’s shaped by the socio-economic conditions that limit these choices. The fact that children, the most vulnerable members of our society, are falling prey to this paradox is a testament to the systemic failures we’re collectively responsible for.

The interplay between obesity and malnutrition is a sobering reminder of the stark disparities that exist in our society. It highlights the urgency of reevaluating our food systems, our societal structures, and our socio-economic policies. If we are to break free from this paradox and strive for a healthier and more equitable future, it is imperative that we address these underlying contradictions. This will require the concerted efforts of policymakers, public health experts, and society as a whole, to reorient our systems and structures towards greater justice and equity.

Towards a Prophetic Response

As we grapple with the mounting health crises and the stark disparities they reveal, it becomes clear that we stand at a pivotal juncture in our societal journey. The path we choose to take from here has profound implications for the health and well-being of our communities, especially the most vulnerable among us. We can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to the systemic issues that have brought us to this point. We must radically re-envision our approach, seeking systemic changes prioritising the poor and marginalized, lest we perpetuate these grave injustices.

Dr. Clare Gerada’s call to action transcends the surface-level solution of merely providing vitamin supplements to needy people. While supplements might address the immediate symptoms, they do not touch the root of the problem. Her words carry a deeper, more profound message. They are a prophetic demand for justice, a clarion call challenging the structures of sin that perpetuate poverty and nutritional insecurity.

This prophetic response, steeped in the principles of Liberation Theology, urges us to confront the systemic sin inherent in our societal structures. We must question the status quo that perpetuates wealth and health disparities and work tirelessly to dismantle these oppressive structures. Dr. Gerada’s call implores us not just to treat the symptoms of malnutrition but to address the root causes – poverty, inequality, and social injustice.

The path towards a just society requires more than band-aid solutions. It calls for transformative changes in our economic and social policies, a shift towards a more equitable distribution of resources, and a renewed commitment to ensuring that every individual’s basic needs are met. This includes not only access to healthcare but also to nutritious food, clean water, secure housing, quality education, and fair employment opportunities.

The prophetic response seeks to reframe our understanding of health beyond the mere absence of disease. It highlights the need for holistic well-being, which encompasses physical, mental, and social aspects, and recognizes the intrinsic connection between individual and societal health. It challenges us to build a society where every person, regardless of their socio-economic status, has the right to live a healthy, fulfilling life.

In echoing this prophetic call, we must strive to cultivate a society that values and protects the health and dignity of all its members. Our response to this crisis should not be confined to providing temporary relief. Still, it must aim to effect systemic change, confronting and challenging the structures of sin that breed poverty and nutritional insecurity. Only then can we hope to move beyond witnessing these health crises to actively prevent them, creating a society marked by justice, equity, and holistic well-being for all.

A Call to Socioeconomic Conversion

The resurgence of diseases from the Victorian era, once considered relics of the past, has thrust a disturbing reality into the spotlight: they are not just a pressing health concern, but a moral and spiritual indictment of our societal systems. This revelation calls for more than just superficial measures – it calls for a profound transformation, a conversion not just at the individual level, but on a grander socioeconomic scale.

The socioeconomic conversion that we must strive for goes beyond mere policy changes. It involves a radical reimagining of our societal structures, from our economic systems to our social norms, so that they cease to perpetuate the cycles of poverty and marginalisation. It calls for a fundamental shift in our values and priorities, ensuring that the rights and dignity of the most vulnerable members of our society are not just recognized, but actively protected and prioritized.

This conversion isn’t merely about rectifying economic disparities, though that is a crucial part of it. It involves reassessing our understanding of progress and prosperity, challenging the notion that wealth accumulation at the expense of the most vulnerable constitutes development. It means fostering a society that values every member, not for their economic contribution, but for their inherent worth as a human being.

This call to socioeconomic conversion aligns with the core tenets of Liberation Theology. It urges us to stand in solidarity with the poor and marginalised, not merely as a charitable act, but as a fundamental duty. It involves amplifying the voices of the oppressed, advocating for their rights, and working towards the eradication of the systemic injustices that keep them in the chains of poverty and deprivation.

This conversion also demands a profound reflection on our personal attitudes and behaviours, our consumption habits, and our complicity in systems of inequality. It requires that we view our privileges through the lens of social responsibility, understanding that our actions – or inactions – have implications for the broader societal fabric.

The challenges that lie ahead in this journey towards socioeconomic conversion are formidable, but the cost of inaction is far greater. It’s high time we heed this call for transformation and commit ourselves to building a society that is reflective of our shared moral and spiritual values, a society that champions justice, equity, and the dignity of all its members. It’s time to truly stand in solidarity with the poor and marginalized, encapsulating the essence of Liberation Theology’s call in our collective actions and aspirations.

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About Rev Lloyd Hobbard-Mitchell

Rev. Lloyd Hobbard-Mitchell, an Englishman deeply connected to Thailand, was ordained to the Sacred Priesthood on 28th May 2023.

In addition to his religious journey, he has worked as an online English teacher and pursued a career as an artist. He has also operated a tour desk business with his wife within international brand hotels.

Lloyd has extensive experience in the voluntary sector, specifically in addressing homelessness and social welfare.

He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and embraces opportunities to meet new people, see new places, explore cultural similarities, and celebrate differences.