Damian Carrington has joined the ranks of Guardian journalists, which include John Harris and Nick Cohen, who cite the growing number of British food banks as ‘evidence’ that there are people in the UK who cannot afford enough to eat.
I object to this line of reasoning, simply as a matter of logic. If I stand on the street corner handing out free pairs of jeans, that does not prove that people in my community cannot afford to clothe themselves, even if my pile of denims is depleted at the end of the day. The fact that people will accept a free gift, does not mean that they cannot afford to pay.
I don’t know how many people in the UK who cannot afford an adequate diet for themselves and their families. Given the welfare cuts, unemployment levels and food-price inflation, it would not surprise me if there are many who are struggling. On the other hand, I’ve not seen any convincing evidence in the newspapers of how many households are affected. But however many there are, I’m quite certain that food-banks are not the answer.
I am disappointed that journalists like Cohen and Harris don’t look at the burgeoning Food Bank industry more critically, and get to grips with what it means, because food banks have no place in a welfare state where people are entitled to an adequate income that enables them to buy their own food. Far from filling a gap that everyone accepts the state should be filling, food banks enable governments and local authorities to treat food as a matter of charity not entitlement. They are pernicious. They are a stepping stone on the way to the small state, low tax kind of society, dreamed of by George Osborne and other neo-liberal Tories.
Food banks end up using public and charitable funds in an inefficient way, and benefiting big business. When I’m at the till of a supermarket here in Canada, before the assistant takes my credit card, she points to a pile of tins or packets beside her and asks if I’d like to buy a tin of tuna/sweetcorn/ whatever, for $2 for the food bank. It is always elderly, unsold stock that the supermarket would otherwise have to give away, or even pay to dispose of. Supermarkets also sell food directly to food-banks, paid for by public or donated funds. Personally, I’d rather give my $2 direct to a homeless magazine seller, and cut out the middle-man.
While food banks appear to be giving to the poor, and enable the people who work for them, and donate to them, to feel they are doing something charitable, in reality they take resources that could otherwise find its way to the pockets of the poor to provide food for themselves. In the process they deprive the poor of dignity.
In the USA and Canada, applicants for means tested welfare benefits will have their access to food banks taken into account. I wonder how long it will be before that happens in the UK.
If you are concerned that people in your community can’t afford enough food, then set up a food co-op, not a food-bank.