Tales from the food bank (74)

by Rick Johansen

Some interesting blurb from the UNICEF website: ‘UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.’

UNICEF, or Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund as I didn’t know it was called, does the bulk of its work with tinpot countries, banana republics, places where governments are essentially run by crooks who syphon off all the profits to themselves and their mates. But not just some central American dictatorship or vast swaths of Africa. No. Right here, right now. It turns out that UNICEF is doing a lot of work here in Britain. One of the world’s toughest places, indeed. Take a look at this:

It was with that in mind that I went to the Melchester Food Bank today for the 74th time, a pound shop Bob Geldof doing my bit to feed the world.

With the sun shining brightly on what must be the warmest day of the year, a brief burst of optimism soon turned to pessimism as reality arrived. Of the people I saw today, all bar one were homeless. In 2024, in one of the richest countries in the world, we have people who not only don’t have anywhere to live, they have nothing to eat, either. Double whammy.

One couple cannot access local authority accommodation because they’re not currently working, but the guy told me he can’t get a job unless he has somewhere to live. Employers, he said, want proof that someone has lived somewhere for ‘a reasonable amount of time’, whatever that means and private renters want three months of wage slips. Wasn’t there anything he could do to change matters? “If we magic up some children, we could get somewhere.” When he was at the council a few weeks ago, someone seriously suggested they might buy a tent. They used to live in a caravan on Clifton Downs but that was only borrowed. They both looked painfully thin to me. I know that can be down to a number of reasons but I was happy to accept that this time it was down to not having enough food to eat.

Then, a young intelligent and well spoken young man who explained he was very nervous coming to see us. That’s something I always take into account. Who wouldn’t be? What will those staff and volunteers be like? “I never thought I would need a food bank,” is a common thread. I can empathise, having grown up with next to nothing, relying on what scraps that my mum could pick up just before the butcher shop closed and consuming teeth and gut-rotting shite for all of my early life. I guess I was just luckier in later life, which is probably what brings me back to the food bank every week.

When it comes to tinpot and banana states, Britain is well on the way to becoming one or the other, or both. Thankfully, UNICEF is on its way. The way things are going, Bob Geldof might need to do another live aid for us here in Britain.


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