Tales from the food bank (46)

by Rick Johansen

According to media reports, the Trussell Trust which operates 1300 food banks across the UK expects some 600,000 people to be reliant on them at some point between December and February, with one in seven people facing hunger. The first thing is that I have no reason to believe that figure is inaccurate. I volunteer at one of these food banks and every week I see something I never expected to see in my lifetime, which is people who live in a rich country having no money and no food. And when my mood is a little on the low side, as it has been this week, news like this makes it feel like a small part of me has died.

Still, that’s enough of my self-pitying tosh, so let’s move on to the business of the day; life in a small food bank in Bristol. The good news is that the church-led harvest festival has seen an upturn in donations so our shelves are not as bare as they have been in recent times and the people who came to see us today left with full bags, which was good.

We see a wide variety of people from many parts of society and today was no exception. Everyone has a story to tell and some affect you more than others. I am always affected when people who are in full time work, or in between jobs, come to see us. Today, I saw a married man with a young child who is bouncing from one insecure low paid job to another. He had left one job because his contract was up and he had another one to start, but had no money nor food to see him through until his first pay day. As a last resort, for the first time in his life he had to use a food bank, something that he never thought would happen to him. And he was embarrassed. I told him not to be because, frankly, shit happens in life and it often happens to decent people who are working hard and playing by the rules. We found out what he wanted and were able to provide emergency provisions for him. As he was leaving, he promised that once he was properly on his feet again, he would come back to see us, but with donations for others. That’s something a lot of people say and in my experience they back it up with action, too.

Chancellor Jeremy C…Hunt came up a gem the other day. “Good news that inflation is falling while real wages are growing, so people have more money in their pockets.” Given that inflation is 6.7% and food inflation is 12.1%, it seems we have yet another politician who doesn’t understand how ordinary people live their lives. Or maybe he does understand but wants to gaslight us instead? Either way, these figures are disastrous for the poorest people in society who spend proportionately more on food than the better off. In other words, the very people we see every week – and the demographic is beginning to include a category I would describe as lower middle class – are still getting worse off because their income is not increasing by anything like 6.7%, never mind 12.1% In any event, these figures mean nothing to the people we help, people who are often on the margins of absolute poverty. A few extra pennies won’t make any difference to them at all.

I’m convinced that billionaire Rishi Sunak has literally no idea of life on the frontline of anything. It could be argued that it’s entirely fair enough that he doesn’t given that he was accorded rare privilege by way of having had the best education money can buy and then marrying into the family of a multibillionaire. How could Sunak possibly understand the life of someone who can’t afford to put the electric fire on in the winter and doesn’t always have anything to eat?

It’s going to be a long, dark and possibly very cold winter for many people and there are no signs things are really going to get better. And our little food bank won’t be exempt from this year’s crisis at Christmas.

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