Tales from the food bank (53)

by Rick Johansen

I have spent some of the last week trying to understand what the hell is going at the heart of government. With everything else that’s going on in the country, I have been amazed to see prime minister Rishi Sunak banging on about the small boats crisis and the Elgin Marbles. Then, it slowly came to dawn on me that this was purely and simply distraction politics, trying to take our minds off the real issues confronting millions of Brits who have more pressing matters to concern them. And how better to distract us than by having a go at Johnny Foreigner who is, of course, responsible for everything that’s wrong in Broken Britain?

Oddly, there were no references to the Elgin Marbles at today’s food bank. It’s almost as if people than Sunak don’t give a toss about them and would sooner concentrate on more trivial matters, like trying to feed themselves and their families.

We were very busy today, busier than we have been for ages and I was so knackered when I got home I had to have a lie down. This probably says as much about my descent into old age than it does about how hard I worked, but today I really felt I earned every penny of my salary which this week came to the grand total the square root of nothing.

I had the feeling of defeat from some of the people I saw today, that they had fought the good fight to avoid having to go to a food bank and that today was the day it could no longer be avoided. Obviously, that’s the case with everyone we see, to an extent, because we are, after all, the point of nowhere else to go. Today, I saw a couple of people who were crushed. Today would help avert today’s crisis but this was sticking plaster.

We do get repeat callers from time to time and we have to explain, sympathetically but honestly, that we exist for emergencies. That’s not to say we will routinely turn starving people away but if being without food every week is the new norm for people, then a food bank is not the place for them. They need long term solutions and we work with organisations like the CAB to try to ensure they find them.

The recent generosity of the Great British Public suggests that we are not operating with food shortages at the moment. And it’s just as well with Christmas on the near horizon. We’re open between Christmas and the New Year, as we should be because food poverty is an all year long crisis, as well as a crisis at Christmas. In millions of households, Christmas will either be grim in the here and now or the future will look grim. Or both.

I haven’t had a late afternoon snooze for a good while, as I’ve gradually shaken off the effects of Covid-19, and it’s possible that it had nothing to do with the food bank experience. But I did feel that, with a shortage of volunteers today, I gave an awful lot of myself, mentally if not physically.

A few weeks ago, chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement had nothing to say about poverty and certainly no plans to deal with it, so it’s likely that 2024 will represent more of the same. I always believed that the prime function of government was to protect the people who elected it. 13 years of the Conservatives have challenged that view to breaking point and now we have politicians who choose to do nothing about poverty in general and food poverty in particular because they simply don’t care. They really are the lowest of the low and as you can see from this graph, food poverty is growing at a faster rate in our country than in any other country in the world. Great Britain, my arse.



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