Before I write this I had better tell you that I'm not aligned to any UK political party or movement. If pushed I'd say I'm a dreamer looking for some sort of Marxist utopia, but know it will never happen. Have your fun, I don't care, it's not as if capitalism is working is it? Look around.
I decided to help out at the local foodbank after reading an article (in the Spectator of all places) about a foodbank in Norwich. I was sufficiently converted by this dispatch from the frontline of poverty to volunteer to work for my local team. The article helped overcome my prejudices that nobody could surely be starving in the UK, a G8 nation.
One man who is certainly not convinced is Chris Steward, a conservative councillor from York who looks like he has not so much eaten a food bank as an entire food monetary system. His exact words were:
"There is certainly no need for food banks"
Like most councillors (of all parties), Chris is a man given to share his opinions at the drop of a hat in order to draw attention to himself. This is in the vain hope that one day if he makes enough noise someone from central office might actually notice him. In reality, the best way to notice him, given his size, would probably be to Google Earth him. He went on to say that the poor do not have the self control to manage their budgets correctly - this, coming from a man without the self control to stop eating when he is full.
Enough about Chris. How our foodbank works is this: You only get food if you have been referred by Social Services. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot turn up and say "can I have some food please, I'm poor"? And walk away with piles of it like a free supermarket. If we did that then everyone would come, that is how human nature works, sadly. Then a black market of food would start and it would be a mess. So how it works is that Social Services calls us up and says "we have someone who is a single parent who has lost their job and it is looking like 6 weeks before they will get any benefits".
I lost my job a while back, but I had a support network. I had savings, family and lines of credit. So I built up mountains of debt and through hard work and luck I have paid it all off. I was ashamed to take money from my family, it deeply embarrassed me. Not everyone has the ability to do this - if you have no extended family (or a family as poor as you are), no lines of credit (other than loansharks) and no savings and suddenly lost your job how long do you think you personally could survive? I reckon a month maximum before you had to wonder if you ate or if you heated the house. It can sometimes take longer than this to get benefits (6 weeks). So that is why we need foodbanks. If you don't think we need foodbanks, like Mr Steward, please come along and show us another way, but be warned we are very busy and getting busier.
Let's just say that out of the 50,000 people who lost their jobs in retail in the last few weeks that 99% of them are going to be OK - get some other job somewhere else or have some cushion. It still leaves about 500 who might be up shit creek. Big numbers when it's you.
I started last week and the job is fairly simple. Our boss gets a call from Social Services who say "John" is a single parent, his wife has walked out, she has the benefits, he has had to give up work to look after the 2 children and they are in danger of starving, can you help until they get benefits"? We then put a "hamper" together, which is, in fact, 2 or 3 large carrier bags of food.
So the bloke has to give up the work or the kids will end up in the care-system, but he's run out of cash because, as people like Chris are keen to remind us:
"The fact some give food to food banks, merely enables people who can’t budget ..... or don’t want to, to have more money to spend on alcohol, cigarettes etc.”
So when an entire fucking banking system collapses (presumably because "people can't budget") then it's all OK, sort of acceptable, but when John "can't budget" it's because he's living it up on the Lambert & Butlers.
I visited John's house to deliver his food (or the outside of it, we are not allowed to go in) he does not strike me as a man living it up, having lots of fun. His kids looked fine, I hope they are.
I don't know whose fault this situation really is - it's probably an inevitable consequence of unbridled rampant capitalism. It may well be John is lazy or it may well be there are not enough jobs, or that he has fallen on hard times. I know whose fault it isn't - it's not John's children's fault. So I help out at the foodbank because I wonder why John's children should suffer. You only get one shot at childhood - "how did you spend your childhood in 21st Century Great Britain"? "Cold and Starving". Brilliant. Fucking Brilliant.
Part 2 in a fortnight...