11/12/16: Work and a few other things have prevented me doing much in the week at the Glasgow North West Food Bank in recent months, so when I got the call from Kyle to help out on Saturday morning my conscience gave me a shove, and I committed myself to a couple of hours.
I know what the system does to our clients, I know the banal unthinking cruelty we apply to our most needy citizens: I’ve been involved with the Blawarthill set-up for years. In the past couple of years though I’ve been working more on the stock-shifting side, so become a bit more distant from all that, my chief complaints being about the soup lake, pasta mountain and bean swamp that takes up so much of our storage (poor people need a bit more than soup, beans and pasta, folks).
On Saturday I was brought face to face with the reality of the clients again, and it brought back the anger I felt when I first helped the food bank.
It turned out we were doing home deliveries of food parcels, which have grown in recent months since the closure of a food bank in another area and some of its clients ending up with our Trussell Trust operation.
We’ve got a van, and I’m insured to drive it, which fulfils a boyhood ambition, and we rattled off around the city.
I don’t know the backgrounds of clients and don’t probe too much but catch snippets and Kyle tells me a bit. Some inevitably are people sanctioned by the DWP; others are refugees caught in our zombifying immigration system.
All are embarrassingly grateful, delighted to be helped, pleasant, decent people, embarrassed at needing such help.
Two visits stuck in my mind, both to families from abroad.
One was a single mum of two children. She was on the ‘no recourse to public funds’ list: no benefits, nada, just the possibility in certain circumstances of help from the local authority, but I have no idea if she could get that.
The other was a delightful, friendly, charming couple, who explained that they needed the delivery because they had two young children and it was just too difficult to get them out to the food bank or even its two new centres which are being set up closer at hand.
I wondered afterwards to Kyle why one couldn’t stay at home while the other picked up the food, but he explained that the mother was working.
I have no idea what other help they have, but it is staggering that with one parent in work this couple can’t afford to feed themselves.
These people’s stories are undoubtedly more complicated, I know; people do stupid things that get them in a financial mess or in trouble with the system, the system can’t be expected to be perfect, and even charities like ours have to have limits to what we can do.
But it’s all a reminder that in our current system there are people in the UK who the Government is prepared to see starve. That’s in a society that’s so wealthy it throws away thousands of tons of food, where we all have indoor lavs and central heating, and nice tellies and new bikes and fridges and the rest of the luxuries we take for granted.