Tales from the food bank (59)

The change we need

by Rick Johansen

I write the day after my stint at the food bank, following an evening of post volunteering drinking with my fellow food bank volunteers in the Melchester Arms. Several pints of Boston’s Old Thumper rendered me simply too … er … tired to update last night, so here we are, in the below freezing cold light of day, trying to remember how to write properly. Still, it was worth it, privileged as I am to be working with some of the finest people this side of Heaven. (Not there is such a place, but hopefully you get the drift.)

We’re still at full capacity – it could be argued beyond full capacity, given we are offering reduced size emergency food packages in order to ensure more people are able to eat at least something – and we are turning away people who turn up on spec, without having been referred by a partner organisation. The first time I saw someone turned away, I felt pretty dreadful. Someone had come in from the street and a food bank, arguably, maybe not arguably, the last line of defence against food poverty, could not help. But without a referral system, it would be anarchy, possibly a Darwinian free-for-all, and that would be the worse of two terrible evils.

In a way, having turn away hungry people feels like the transferral of guilt by the guilty party, which is to say from the government, to – and I hope this doesn’t seem to grand and pompous – people at the business end, people like me. I certainly get no impression from Rishi Sunak that he and his wretched government give a toss about those at the bottom of the pile. Indeed, today the chancellor Jeremy Hunt has indicated that his preference is to cut taxes rather than helping the poor and indeed anyone who uses public services, you know, minor things like the NHS, schools and social care, the things that rich people like, oh let me think, Sunak and Hunt don’t rely on.

It’s almost as if Sunak and Hunt realise that now Christmas is a thing of the increasingly distant past, there are, obviously, no more food hamper type collections. I can imagine them sitting in their swish, taxpayer funded luxury offices in Downing Street, sniggering to themselves and saying, “We’ve got away with it again.” Real life has now resumed and people have enough to deal with in their own lives without having to think about other people going without food. That, I suggest, is the politician’s take, not ordinary working people’s, many of whom are struggling to keep their heads above water. I think it’s more of a case of out of sight, out of mind.

Certainly there were some very kind people who brought bags of food to us when we were open yesterday afternoon, which is something that always humbles me. I made the point of telling them that they were making a huge difference to people’s lives. I hope they understand that. Most people are good people and in the swivel-eyed world of hate where the Daily Mail and Sun exist, it’s sometimes easy to forget that simple fact (and I think it is a fact).

I’m tired and happy today and I am so proud to be part of a food bank system that in an ideal world should not need to exist, but sadly does, thanks to the quite deliberate actions of politicians. In a wealthy country such as ours, there should be no need for anyone to go without, but that there are people without food is the direct result of 14 years of Conservative government policy. That is a simple truth, today’s reality and every time I see the likes of Sunak, who has more money than he will ever need and could ever spend I am reminded of the change this country needs. And soon.

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