Food­banks are not just help­ing feed city fam­i­lies

Evening Times - - NEWS -

BRI­TAIN is a rich coun­try, there’s no doubt about it. Yet 10 years of Con­ser­va­tive rule and the pri­va­tions of aus­ter­ity have squeezed the wel­fare state, has left peo­ple work­ing on zero hours con­tracts and has left the third sec­tor to pick up the pieces left be­hind by cruel poli­cies.

Uni­ver­sal Credit, ben­e­fit sanc­tions, real time re­duc­tion to in work ben­e­fits... and on and on.

One of the most read sto­ries of my ca­reer at the Glas­gow Times was fol­low­ing a visit to a food­bank where the man­ager told me about a young woman who was so hun­gry, so des­per­ate, by the time she reached the cen­tre to ask for help that she ripped the lid from a tin of baked beans and ate them with her hand.

A few years later the Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake, showed this scene and, when I saw it in the cin­ema, peo­ple gasped.

Peo­ple gasped be­cause the ma­jor­ity of us are good hearted and de­cent and this was a sight that would dis­tress any good-hearted per­son.

And what do you do when you learn that chil­dren are sur­viv­ing on two meals a day?

When fam­i­lies are be­ing given food parcels but can’t then cook the food be­cause they have no money for the elec­tric­ity me­ter.

What do you do when you know peo­ple in your own com­mu­nity are forced to make a choice be­tween heat­ing and eat­ing?

You want to help, don’t you? Food­banks are re­ally at the very heart of that con­flict be­tween a gov­ern­ment that fails to look after its peo­ple and peo­ple who re­ally care about do­ing the best by their neigh­bours.

The re­sult is a sys­tem that leaves peo­ple with­out food and the so­lu­tion is for char­i­ties and vol­un­teers to sup­port those peo­ple.

Food­banks have evolved to be about so much more than food.

They of­fer wel­fare ad­vice and sup­port.

They of­fer fuel vouch­ers, toi­letries, pet food.

Some of­fer men­tal health sup­port and work­ers are trained to spot the signs of de­pres­sion and to deal with clients who might be on the brink of sui­cide.

That’s a tough job for any­one but for a sys­tem largely run by vol­un­teers it’s re­ally some­thing else en­tirely.

So while we praise food­banks for the vi­tal work they do and we praise vol­un­teers for all their ef­forts, ul­ti­mately we want food­banks not to ex­ist.

We can­not nor­malise the ex­is­tence of food­banks be­cause as long as we do, we’re let­ting the state off the hook.

The very last thing Boris John­son’s gov­ern­ment de­serves is to be let off the hook.

Mr John­son is the man who, just yes­ter­day, re­fused to look at a pic­ture of a four-yearold boy ly­ing on the floor of a hospi­tal be­cause, un­der his gov­ern­ment’s run­ning of the NHS, there was not a bed for that child.

Mr John­son could not look at that lit­tle boy.

Nor could he re­spond in a states­man­like man­ner.

Or even in any sort of co­her­ent man­ner. In­stead, he took the phone of the jour­nal­ist show­ing him the pic­ture and he put it in his pocket.

Be­cause the Tory gov­ern­ment does not want to look at what it has done. It can’t.

And it can­not be al­lowed for Bri­tain to re­main a coun­try where there are more than 100 bil­lion­aires liv­ing in lux­ury while chil­dren go to bed hun­gry at night and their moth­ers don’t eat for days to try to make the lit­tle they have stretch that bit fur­ther.

Ac­cord­ing to Trus­sell Trust fig­ures, ar­eas where Uni­ver­sal Credit was rolled out in full have seen food bank us­age jump by an in­crease of 52 per cent.

This is unac­cept­able. It is ap­palling.

And so I un­der­stand some of the crit­i­cisms that have been lev­elled at our new Bank On Us cam­paign.

I have spo­ken to peo­ple who think we are do­ing the wrong thing in pub­li­cis­ing food­banks.

But what can we do in the mean­time?

We need struc­tural change that is go­ing to en­sure the wel­fare state erad­i­cates “want”, one of the prin­ci­ples on which it was founded. Cur­rently, it doesn’t. Fam­i­lies will still need sup­port to eat in the mean­time.

We want to sup­port the char­i­ties that are do­ing this work and, with the might of Glas­gow be­hind us, we can make a real dif­fer­ence.

Food that is raised will go to dozens upon dozens of food­banks across the city, who have said they are pleased to know th­ese do­na­tions are com­ing.

It’s pos­si­ble to call for action at the top while also help­ing at a grass­roots level.

Peo­ple are right to want an end to food­banks.

That peo­ple go hun­gry should shame politi­cians but that peo­ple want to help should make us all proud.

A first step for sus­tain­able change is to get out and vote on Thurs­day for the party you best be­lieve will end the struc­tural prob­lems mak­ing the likes of Bank On Us nec­es­sary.

Bank On Us is the Glas­gow Times’ new cam­paign

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