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Feeding The Problem

Mick Hall argues that Food banks are part of the problem and thus cannot be part of a solution to build a better way of living. Mick Hall blogs @ Organized Rage. 

Normalising oppression has always been one of the tools used by reactionary governments and the current Tory Government in the UK is no exception. Using food banks on a regular basis has become the norm for tens of thousands of families who live on a low income.

Yet the UK is, as we are continuously being told, one of the richest nations in the world. If true, the question that needs to be asked over and again is why are food banks needed?

According to the Trussell Trust, the only nationwide food bank network in the UK 1,000,000 people have received at least three days' emergency food from the charity's food banks in the last twelve months.

This basically boils down to the trust's 445 food banks distributing enough emergency food aid to feed about 1.1 million people for three days.

For this number of people to go cap in hand to receive the basic staff of life is shocking, and a horrific indictment of the society we live in.

Yet apart for the occasional critical article and the odd letter in the press, Food banks have become normalised as a part of everyday life in 21st century Britain. Groups as varied as the Women's Institutes to the local pub's open night collect food donations for their local food bank. In local newspapers throughout England and Wales you will find photos of beaming people posing in front of food collected by their group which is destined for their local food bank.

As I said food banks have been normalised. Few now question why some of the population have to rely on charitable donations to feed themselves and their families.

Like much which is rotten in the world today, the first food bank was established in 1967 in the USA. After the great economic crash of 2008 they began to seep out across the Atlantic into the UK. After the Tory led coalition came to power in 2010 and began to implement harsh austerity measures and benefit cuts, food banks grew like Topsy.

As they cut benefits both Lib-Dem and Tory politicians were only to keen to talk up the good works of food banks, as far as they were concerned despite their ever harsher austerity measures there existence ensured no one starved in the UK for lack of food.

Britain's prime Minister David Cameron said in the House of Commons in 2012 that he welcomed the efforts of food banks. Caroline Spelman, his Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, described food banks as an "excellent example of active citizenship."

How food banks have been normalised and encompassed into an extra governmental system of welfare is best demonstrated by how vouchers are handed out to those in need of food by various front line care professionals, such as social workers, health visitors, Citizens Advice Bureau, Job centres and housing officials.

If that is not incorporating food banks into a form of charitable welfare I don't know what is. Just how demeaning and hurtful to the recipients who are forced to rely on food banks is only rarely considered.

If you look at why most folk are forced to use food banks it becomes clear they're not a necessary evil, but part of a well thought out plan to demolish the welfare state.

According to The Trussell Trust the main reasons given for using a food bank are late payment of housing benefit, disability benefit, job seekers allowance, etc, and benefits being wrongly suspended for trivial reasons. Others use them because they are employed in low income jobs, are part-time workers or are on zero-hour contracts.

None of the aforementioned is an insurmountable problem which cannot be put right. The state once chose to pay benefits on an allotted date, claimants were not targeted and sanctioned as they are today for no better reason than to make their lives a misery. Housing benefits were paid promptly to landlords, and zero hours contracts would have been considered an abomination hence they didn't exist.

I have no doubt most of those who contribute to food banks do so because they are genuinely concerned about the thought of people going hungry, I have done it myself on the odd occasion.

If the State financed food banks as a short term measure to stop folk falling through the welfare state's safety net, I wouldn't like them, but I would be less worried about them. But it doesn't and we need to ask why?

Indeed in 2013 the British government blocked a £22 million European Union fund to help finance food banks in the UK.

Why? Because the Tories clearly see 'charity' as an important element in their plan to smash the welfare state. Food banks provide the hungry masses with just enough food to stop them starving or rebelling. They also channel the energies of the caring public into harmless charitable causes which in turn diverts the blame from the Tory government of Mrs May who are responsible for the current situation.

Food banks are part of the problem and thus cannot be part of a solution to build a better way of living.

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Anthony McIntyre

Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher

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