Foodbanks are not just helping feed city families
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