Tales from the food bank (47)

by Rick Johansen

The Guardian (also in other news papers) Tuesday 24th October 2023:

More than 1 million children experienced destitution last year – meaning their families could not afford to adequately feed, clothe or clean them, or keep them warm – according to a major study which reveals an explosion of extreme poverty in the UK.”

Rishi Sunak PMQs Wednesday 25th October 2023:

I’m proud of what this government is doing to support the most vulnerable over the last year.

I wonder what Sunak is more proud of? His so-called efforts to support the most vulnerable or the comment by his by-election candidate at the recent Tamworth by election, Andrew Cooper, who said that people who were unable to feed their children should, and I quote, “Fuck off.” In the eyes of this food bank volunteer, he shouldn’t be proud: he should be ashamed. Deeply ashamed. Every time you think Sunak has reached the bottom of the barrel, there is always something left for him to scrape.

Once more, I saw the victims of Sunak’s broken Britain, queuing long before we were open, desperate for food without which they would have gone without. We were short of volunteers today so those of us in attendance had to work flat out to ensure people were seen promptly and respectfully. No one, except a volunteer or our brilliant (low paid) admin staff, would really want to be there.

There is no specific type of food bank user. Of course, most users depend on low incomes from benefits, pensions and wages and sometimes a combination of those types. It is certainly true that a growing number of callers are in work. Some are in full-time work, which must seem especially galling, and others, with childcare or more general caring commitments work part time. Today, I met a man who was in the process of changing jobs because his contract had expired and – you guessed it – had a ten day wait for his first pay day. So he had no money with which to feed himself and his partner. If that was me, I might just give up altogether. He had serious medical conditions, too, but is desperate to work because “that’s what I do“. Today, the levee broke and he had to come to see us.

I do not, for one second, regard the people on benefits who come to see as somehow a lower class of being. No two people are the same and a simple “Oh, s/he’s on benefits” does not explain the often complex story as to why. Disabled children, long term health conditions, drug addiction, caring for relatives who otherwise would cost the state a fortune to look after in care homes – I’ve scratched the surface. When a populist politician attacks people who are on benefits, you know that either s/he doesn’t really understand what that all encompassing term means or, more often, doesn’t care.

It’s hard to get your head around the fact – and I am sure it is a fact – that one million children experienced destitution last year. When you include adults, 3.8 million experienced it last year. These are not trifling numbers and almost all the people we see come under that category.

If we were paid for what we do, we’d have earned our wages today, but we don’t get paid because a) there isn’t any money and b) that’s obviously why we are volunteers. The clue is in the word volunteer! I’m not quite all there physically or mentally at the moment, so just about everything is an effort, but at the moment, I’m like Grocer Jack who gets off my back, gets into town and doesn’t let them down. (One for the teenagers, there.) And just before you get the feeling that self-pity is getting the better of me, I know how fortunate and privileged I am to go home and eat something for tea.

If I was a politician, getting rid of poverty would be my main priority. I cannot see how anyone, never mind a billionaire politician like Rishi Sunak, a parent himself, can sleep at night knowing that a million children have experienced destitution. And it’s destitution caused by political choices – his political choices – which we should never, ever forget.

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