Tales from the food bank (68)

by Rick Johansen

My voluntary work at the food bank is something I really enjoy. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do it. I don’t turn up to impress anyone, I do it because I want to and because I feel passionately about the work we do. But there are two aspects which concern me. Are we providing cover for the government walking away from poverty, making it someone else’s problem? And if we weren’t there, wouldn’t the government feel shamed into confronting food poverty themselves? There are no definitive answers but to the first question I would say, almost certainly yes and to the second, an unqualified no. This government has presided over increasingly levels of poverty for 14 years. They just don’t care.

Today, on Maundy Thursday, while Camilla Parker-Bowles was handing out Maundy money to deserving folks in the forced absence of King Brian, I suspect she wasn’t quite as busy as we were. And once more, representatives from many walks of life were present. Former addicts, people in full time work, the chronically sick and someone from a domestic violence charity on behalf of two starving and desperate women. I would guesstimate that the majority of people I saw came from the group titled (by me) People Who Never Thought They Would Need To Use A Food Bank.

We were open for an extra half hour because of the anticipated higher numbers of callers, due to the long bank holiday weekend and because other food banks in Melchester are closed on Good Friday (personally, I don’t understand how or why that should be, but that’s just me). And we needed to be open longer, too. By the time we closed, we were very low on some items and out of others altogether. Ironically, it was only this week I saw on social media fundraising efforts for Christmas hampers. This is all very worthy and kind of people and I wish them nothing but good luck, but Christmas is nine months away and in Broken Britain, food poverty is in the here and now, especially as donations go off a cliff in the months after Christmas. I hate to appear to appear critical of kindness but seeing what I do from people’s last port of call to avoid food poverty, which used to be the DWP, Christmas can wait.

I’m going to end where I started this blog by addressing the question I asked myself: Are we providing cover for the government walking away from poverty, making it someone else’s problem? I said in the opening paragraph that the answer was almost certainly yes. But having now reached the last paragraph, I’ve firmed up my answer to definitely yes. With public services hollowed out by 14 years of a Conservative government and DWP benefits slashed in real terms, with crisis loans having been scrapped altogether, food banks have filled the gap and are, in many ways, a charity-run public service. Food banks in the long term do not represent a desirable outcome for our country and at some point, given the ongoing growth in food poverty, will they eventually be unsustainable? Something will have to give, eventually, and a government committed to ending poverty will be a start. Let’s make sure we have one and soon.


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