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.

 

Charity is the answer!

Charity from the Catholic Church or asking for other hand-outs is the suggested way out of the crisis in Catalonia, according to a judge. In Britain and the US the answer is in the growing number of ‘Food Banks’ to provide emergency food aid.

Whilst in Catalonia I wrote a number of posts of the direct action that different groups (starting in Andalusia) have been taking in opposition to the austerity measures of the government. These measures were having the effect of forcing some people into such dire circumstances that they couldn’t even afford to feed themselves. The last post on this issue was about the spread of this action to Catalonia, to the town of Villafranca de Penedes.

En route out of the country (in fact, in a bar in Reus thinking it was better to spend an hour there than in the airport) I was able to read about the decision of the court in this last case.

Things moved very quickly as the action took place on the Monday and the case went before a judge on the Wednesday. The person charged was accused of knowingly trying to pay for goods with a card that had no credit. Don’t know enough about Spanish law to say whether that was actually a crime of fraud or whether it falls into another category. Whatever the case she was condemned to pay a fine of €90 (which it was said were the court costs of bringing the case before a judge) plus the cost of the goods taken away (€240.45).

I haven’t been able to find out what the group that made the raid on the supermarket are going to do in the face of this court decision. I would assume that after they had made their point they would pay up, martyrdom at this stage is neither a good political tactic nor worth the suffering, the movement is still in its infancy.

What I want to address here is the statement made by the (female) judge when she laid down the penalty. (Don’t know why I make a point of it being a female judge, perhaps it’s just that as Spanish differentiates between male and female in the language I know it was a woman.)

Anyway, what she said was that it was not for people to take the law into their own hands, however serious might be their situation, as they always had recourse to Caritas (the charity organised by the Catholic Archbishop of Barcelona) or other social services organisation who can help people in extremis.

After reading that I turn over the page of the Diari de Tarragona and read an article about how the Catalan Red Cross had distributed 3,000 cheques (totalling €180,000) to families with an income of less that €500 per month so that their children could go to school reasonably clothed and with the books necessary for their courses.

Must be getting naïve. Came across that situation in Peru after the Fujishock of July 1990 but didn’t realise that it was also a problem in Europe.

One of the points that was made in the article was that the Red Cross would give the cheques (not the cash) to the families who could then use them in stores that had already agreed to accept them. This was supposed to make it seem as if they were not actually receiving charity, so that they could be ‘discreet’ in their poverty. The article didn’t make clear, or I missed it, exactly how big an area this covered, whether it was all of Catalonia or just the Tarragona area but I can only assume that there must be many other thousands of families in similar circumstances throughout the rest of the peninsular.

I’m only back in Liverpool for a couple of days before there’s a piece on the late night Radio 4 Ten O’clock news about ‘Food banks’ in the UK.

It seems that one of these institutions, run by a church, in Ebbw Vale is regularly feeding 1,600 people.

An organisation called the Trussel Trust has 250 Food Banks throughout the country, now already feeding 200,000 and with the coming Benefit ‘Reform’ it is anticipated that there will be a surge in demand.

Then this piece on the radio went to compare the situation here with that in the US. It seems (I wasn’t aware of this before) that Emergency Food Aid was begun in the States in 1967. Now there are more than 60 THOUSAND Food Banks throughout the country which are providing supplementary food to MILLIONS of Americans.

What’s going on here?

Update 10th October 2012.

This article appeared on the Independent Online website.

Crisis-stricken Spaniards turn to Red Cross for help