Banking on a free meal?

Last week I went to the food bank in Ipswich which is part of the local charity FIND (Families in Need).  FIND has been around for some years, and the need to support vulnerable families, especially at times of crisis, is not new. But the rise in need for regular foodbanks run by charities like FIND (and in other areas the Trussell Trust) is a more recent development. Demand for food donations is clearly rising, and it is no surprise to most people – other than the most entrenched or blinkered  – that demand has risen since the changes to welfare benefits took effect.

FIND delivers food parcels direct to people’s homes, rather than asking them to come to a central point.  And people can’t just ask for food, they have to be referred by a statutory agency (e.g. a social worker).  But even without the stigma of having to go to a central point to collect the food, would you want to use a food bank? I wouldn’t, and I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who would choose this above being able to put food on their own table. So quite why Lord Freud thinks that the rise in food banks is an example of supply-led demand (as reported in today’s Independent), I have no idea. He came into government when bored of banking, it would appear. To say the rest of us are rather bored with hearing bankers expressing opinions they are unqualified to hold would be an understatement larger than I’d care to measure.

FIND is run by Maureen Reynel – a woman who like other inspiring people I have met in the voluntary sector appears both tough and tireless.  She seemed to me to typify the kind of person David Cameron may have had in mind to deliver his vision of the ‘Big Society’ –  people active in their communities, able to motivate and organise others to give up time, money and resources in the pursuit of a more resilient and contented society. But there is a world of difference between a society in which people willingly volunteer to do things like listening to primary school pupils read, taking elderly people who can no longer drive to appointments, or clearing scrubland, to one in which the welfare system is predicated upon some people giving food to others.  Badging work like that of FIND as creating ‘community resilience’ doesn’t even attempt to disguise the desperation with which ‘resilience’ is used a euphemism for “being less dependent on services”. Time for Lord Freud and his team to wake up and smell the coffee.

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