Food banks – the biggest growing business in Britain after charity shops

No more beans for the foodbanks!

Baked beans are still the main contribution to foodbanks

Foodbanks are becoming a feature of British society as the ‘austerity’ measure bite. The nation should prepare itself for a great deal more hot air as more and more people become dependent upon charity.

Earlier in the year, during and after my trip to Catalonia, I posted a couple of articles about how people in Spain and Catalonia were dealing with the austerity measures that were having such a dramatic impact upon an increasing number of people. What I wanted to stress there was the fact of people taking direct action. People weren’t just sitting back and suffering without a fight.

This included a number of raids on supermarkets (where activists would take basic foodstuffs without paying in order to highlight the desperate situation of many people) and that movement spread, during late August, to cover a number of areas of the country. I must admit that since returning to the UK I haven’t kept up to date with any subsequent developments but, at least, people are still angry as can be seen by the activity on the streets of the likes of Madrid and Barcelona.

At the same time there were statements being made by Spanish judges and rich politicians that what the poor and hungry should do is go, cap in hand, asking ‘Can I have a little more, Sir’, Oliver Twist wise. Just be servile and perhaps a few crumbs will fall from the rich man’s (and woman’s) table and survival might be possible.

This after years of so-called ‘prosperity’ when everything was possible, when deprivation was to be a thing of the past. But these false promises, based upon the spending of money that did not exist, did not take into account the periodic crises of capitalism that occur, have occurred and will occur, at (irregular but normally decade long) intervals for as long as capitalism exists. The ‘Third Way’ promised by Blair was nothing more than new wine in old bottles.

In my post about Reus I wrote about the Cruz Roja (Red Cross) distributing monies to the poor and then went on to discuss the issue of collection of food for distribution to the poor and needy. I was surprised to learn that this was happening in Spain, which is not, on the world scale of things, a poor country but even more surprised to learn that foodbanks were common in the US (and had been since 1967!) and becoming common in the UK.

A few days ago I read that a new foodbank is about to open in Warrington, just a few miles down the road. This prompted me to check if they existed in Liverpool and was ‘shocked’ to discover that they do, and are spreading. I was even more shocked to read the statement from one of the biggest ‘providers’ of these foodbanks:

“The Trussell Trust partners with churches and communities to open new foodbanks nationwide. With over 250 foodbanks currently launched, our goal is for every town to have one.”

‘Our goal’, it seems, is to perpetuate poverty and charity, not do something about it so that people can live in dignity and security.

In the intervening days there have been more references to foodbanks, even being the topic of an edition of the Food Programme on Radio 4. Mostly run by churches, of all denominations, this seems to be a way that religion (‘the opium of the masses’) is trying to inveigle its way back into society after being effectively rejected and marginalised in recent times.

And there doesn’t seem to be an end of the demand for these charity outlets. Each year since the crash occurred in 2008 we have been told that next year will see improvements. Such statements have obviously been lies or (at best) wishful thinking. Now the UK government is saying that austerity is with us for – at least – another 5 years. And what happens on the streets of Britain? Nothing!

That nothing in the past has prompted the present coalition of Tories to attack even more aspects of the welfare state that was sold to the country in the immediate post-WWII period to ward off and potentially revolutionary activity on behalf of the working class. As the descendants of those who fought against fascism are prepared to do nothing then it should be no surprise that the ruling class continues its attacks. When ‘austerity’ eventually ends there will be nothing left but the dog eat dog, care nothing for anyone else, selfish society that was the dream of Thatcher and Blair. If anyone thinks that what we once had would return with the ‘good times’ they are deluding themselves.

What was gained in the past by struggle and which is being taken away due to acquiescence will not reappear without an even greater struggle in the future.

When even the departing Governor of the Bank of England has said, on a number of occasions, that he is surprised that the people of Britain have not taken to the streets in reaction to what has taken place in the last 4 or 5 years; when the trade unions in this country don’t make an effort to show a modicum of support for fellow workers in the rest of Europe when they take to the streets to express their anger at the wholesale robbery of a nation’s resources, through privatisation, and the removal of hard-won terms and conditions of employment; when the people of the UK revert to a situation more akin to that at the end of the 19th century with imperialist pretensions and support for foreign wars (already there is UK army involvement in Syria and it’s only a matter of time before something kicks off in Iran); when billions of pounds are being spent, and many more billions being committed, for more modern and sophisticated weapons to ensure that ‘we’ can kill more of ‘them’ with less and less risk to ‘our boys (and girls)’; when a nation effectively sticks its head in the sand and hopes that all the problems will just go quietly away then the people of this country better get a liking for baked beans.

For that will become their basic diet if they are forced to rely on charity. Despite all the years of campaigning about a balanced diet and the experience from the Miners Strike of 1984-5 it’s tins of baked beans that predominate in donations to foodbanks.

2019 Update

This post was first published in 2012. Then I said food banks were one of the biggest growth areas in the fifth most richest economies in the world. But in place of making efforts to see the elimination of such obscenities the people of Britain have been quite happy to see the need for such locations expand. A recent article about the number of people in Scotland who depend upon these centres (and the disinterest of government ministers) demonstrates that the growth in this area is becoming almost unstoppable. A civilised country would consider the existence of such places a disgrace – but too many of those who are unfortunate enough to live in Britain don’t seem to see that.


Rinas – Nënë (Mother) Tereza – Tirana International Airport

Tirana International Airport - Albania

Tirana International Airport – Albania

Tirana International Airport is officially known as Nënë Tereza but is still referred to locally as Rinas, the name of the nearest village.

The airport is small and not particularly busy making the experience of arriving or departing from there not that unpleasant. Although very close to the city centre as airports go it’s worth bearing in mind that the traffic virtually grinds to a halt at certain times of the day (especially the miss-named morning and evening ‘rush hours’) so take that into consideration if you need to travel at those times.

On the other hand if you travel when it’s quiet you race through. Leaving my hotel, not far from Skënderbeu Square, I got into my taxi at 04.00 on the dot for an early morning flight and was in the departure lounge at 04.21, and that was after checking in luggage, going through security and passport control.

Finding consistency at security controls worldwide is an impossible task. The only requirement that was new to me at Rinas was the fact that my computer notebook not only had to be separate from the rest of my luggage but it had to be open. Why? I haven’t a clue – and that might have changed by the time anyone reading this goes through the process. However, it’s worth saying that Albanian immigration/customs have been some of the easiest and most straightforward I have come across in the last few years, this in all the possible means of entry, by road, sea or air. In comparison, try getting away from or into the UK at Liverpool, that’s something else.

There is no longer any entry tax.

There are a number of ATM’s, after clearing immigration and customs, situated in the Arrivals and Check-in Halls for Albanian currency.

There are no left luggage facilities at the airport.

Rinas is not a busy airport and will close after the last flight has departed/arrived, whichever is the later. If you want to avoid paying taxi prices then think of other ways of getting to or away from the airport in the night-time (or plan for a possible 3-4 hours out in the cold).

Getting to/from the airport and Tirana city centre.

Taxi: 07.00 – 21.00, €18, 2500 leke (€20, 2800 leke, outside these times)

Bus: Operated by LU-NA bus company. Departs on the hour, from both the centre of Tirana and the airport. Leaving Tirana from 07.00 – 23.00 and the airport from 08.00-24.00. In Tirana the bus leaves from behind the National Theatre of Opera and Ballet in Skanderbeu Square. Cost: 300 leke.

For more information, for arrivals/departures, airlines and general information about what’s on offer go to the official airport website (in English).


The English Cemetery in Tirana Park

English Cemetery, Tirana Park

English Cemetery, Tirana Park

On Sunday 11th November 2012 the British Embassy organised a Remembrance service at the English Cemetery in Tirana Park, behind the State University, in the centre of the city. There were few people in attendance, as the English community in Tirana is relatively small, but included the British Ambassador and the Prime Minister of Albania, Sali Berisha.

This is not an uncommon occurrence in countries which fought against Fascism in the 1930s and 40s but in Tirana such an event is loaded with a political significance that goes beyond commemorating the ultimate sacrifice of young men.

Albania was never a significant theatre of war for the British armed forces, although for the intelligence community the country was important from the very beginning of the war and they were always looking for a way to influence the eventual outcome of the conflict. This primarily, until the German Nazis were on the point of being thrown out of the country, meant war supplies being air dropped into the country under the auspices of the SOE (the Special Operations Executive). After the war it was officially dissolved but its operational expertise was absorbed by MI6 in its anti-Communist activity during the Cold War.

A total of 53 British troops lost their lives in Albania and the headstones in this tiny part of Tirana park commemorate 46 of them. (To put matters into perspective an estimated 30,000 Albanians died during the struggle against Fascism, out of a population at that time of little over a million.)

However, this war grave has only existed since 1995. As the Commonwealth War Graves Commission states the ‘political situation’ at the end of hostilities (and continuing until the early 1990s) prevented any representations for such a memorial being received favourably by the Albanian government.

Berisha’s presence at this service was not merely, or even nominally, prompted by respect for those who fell in the fight against Fascism. The country only recently (in 2009) joined NATO and when I was travelling around the country earlier this year I came across more British soldiers than I normally do walking around most towns in the UK. Also Albania has applied for membership of the EU (a vain hope, I would surmise) so it pays to keep in well with his masters. I sometimes think that Berisha is so far up the fundament of the west that you can barely see his shoes. His promotion of the return of the remains of the dictator and collaborator, who made the country no more than a vassal state to Italian Fascism in the 1920s and 30s, Ahmet Muhtar Bej Zogolli (King Zog I) certainly doesn’t mark Berisha down as a staunch anti-Fascist. The ‘celebration’ of this return to the homeland was to take place less than a week later.

But there is one aspect of the this British War Grave that is different, I would suggest, from any other similar place in the world. I alluded to this situation in my earlier post on the present location of Enver Hoxha’s remains.

And this revolves around the red marble memorial stone which is the centrepiece of the cemetery.

Enver Hoxha’s tomb was originally to the left of the huge Mother Albania statue in the Martyrs Cemetery which overlooks Tirana, a short distance from the city centre on the road to Elbasin. His remains were exhumed in 1992 and he was reburied in the city’s main cemetery on the western outskirts of the capital.

Now I’ve read in a couple of places of the ‘grandiose’ nature of his tomb. Now one person’s grandiose is another’s modest. Have a look at this image taken before 1992.

Enver Hoxha's tomb in Tirana Martyrs' Cemetery

Enver Hoxha’s tomb in Tirana Martyrs’ Cemetery

Now have a look at this picture of the British memorial stone.

Main Memorial Stone, English Cemetery

Main Memorial Stone, English Cemetery

Anything look familiar?

What about this close up?

What are those holes in the memorial stone?

What are those holes in the memorial stone?

Notice the little holes above the grey slate with the Albanian writing? (If you are wondering the Albanian translates into: ‘In memory of those in the English military who fell in Albania during the Second World War.’)

This is Enver Hoxha’s original tomb stone, the holes being where his name would have been originally! Now I’m all for recycling but this is the first time I’m aware of such conscientious re-use of a slab of marble. This is even more so the case in a country where the Albanian for recycling is ‘throw any rubbish wherever you like, preferably a water course’.

Why was this piece of stone used in this way? Did, or even does, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission know about this? They don’t say anything on their website. Was it something like the Catholic Church’s use of Christian religious symbols in their destruction of indigenous religions in countries like Peru, the so-called ‘extirpation of idolatry’? Was it to demonstrate to the British Government that after all their attempts to destroy the Socialist society from 1946 onwards that they had finally succeeded? Was it because the country was so strapped for cash that they had to look for a second-hand memorial stone? Is it meant to be a sign of respect towards the British dead? Or not?

This just seems to me to be a little bit bizarre.

The Albanian: ‘Ne kujtim te ushtarakeve Angleze te rene ne Shqiperi gjate luftes se dyte boterore’ translates as: ‘In memory of the British military who fell in Albania during World War II’