Tales from the foodbank (61)

by Rick Johansen

Despite a completely unexpected dip in my mental health – sympathy not needed, honest: this is the norm, not an exception, but thanks for the thought – I made my way to the Melchester Food Bank today. While it’s hard to drag myself out of my chair, never mind the house, I’m sufficiently compos mentis (I think the Latins have a name for this) to do the things I want and need to do, so long as they are well within my comfort zone and my now twice-weekly food bank sessions are exactly that. The good news is that we were very quiet today.

We had a near full house of volunteers and a near empty house of callers and there is one very obvious reason for this: the final cost-of-living payments have been sent to the less well-off, which means that for this week, crises will have been averted. A quiet afternoon at the food bank sees time slow down for those of us with a deficit in attention spans, but even so I am pleased because it means that more people, for one week only, have enough food to eat.

Of course, you cannot prove anything from a single week, but the fact that cost of living payments have reduced our numbers this week suggests to me that actually food poverty can be if not wholly eliminated, it can be drastically reduced by government action. I am not suggesting that we dole out cost of living payments on a regular basis – although personally I wouldn’t be against doing it – but surely there are ways and means, through the tax and benefits system, that the need to get a voucher and then go to a food bank might not be so necessary.

I do not get the impression that any of the people we see are malingerers, or somehow playing the system. And even if some were, how desperate would someone be if they actually came to pull the wool over our eyes? It’s entirely possible that some people, somewhere, take the goods a food bank provides and trades them in for drugs, but I am not sure those drugs would last particularly long. As someone who spent the last part of my working life investigating benefit fraud, I reckon I have a decent eye for fraudsters. I don’t see them where we are.

Perhaps strangely, I feel slightly uplifted by having done my afternoon shift. I’d like to think our food bank work benefits the people we see and one of the reasons I do it – and I have to be honest – is because it benefits me. I have not walked in the shoes of our callers, but I certainly come from a homelife where food and other provisions were either scarce or non-existent and my empathy comes from personal experience.

I don’t think we will be quite as quiet next week because we’re coming up to half-term and the numbers always go up then. The MP for North East Somerset and all round scumbag Jacob Rees-Mogg says the increased use of food banks is “uplifting”. I find it heartbreaking, which is why I can’t give up, no matter how shit I am feeling. Don’t let the bastards grind you down, is the old saying. Sometimes it’s a close call, but they haven’t ground me down yet.


NB. This was the first time I have ever used the phrase compos mentis.


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