Friday, 18 October 2013

In Praise of our Foodbank

I was delighted to hear the Trussell Trust calling for a public enquiry into the reasons behind the surge in the use of food banks. 

In this report Kelly Taylor talks about the humiliation of visiting a foodbank but then reflect on the reality that prior to the Foodbank existing she stole for food and ended up in prison.  When your life is falling apart, rapidly plugging a gaping hole like being able to feed yourself and your family helps you deal with the many other issues you have to face.  Where people are adjusting to reduced circumstances food parcels which are accompanied by personal advice on how to make that adjustment effectively can stop a crisis escalating.  It is clear that Foodbanks are providing a substantial benefit to both the people affected and to society which was not previously available and that much of the work they do falls into this category.  It is also clear this work will continue to be of great importance to society in the future as global population growth and the consequential competition for resources will prevent the kinds of rising levels of affluence we saw in parts of the 20th century. 

However we need to know whether our systems of ordinary state provision, and in particular our benefits system, is now inadequate (and if so precisely where its inadequacies lie) so that we can address those weak points efficiently and effectively.   At present most feedback comes through individual cases which are reported to MPs and Councillors who then try to analyse the implications of the cases they have heard during policy debates at their political conferences.  This process of feedback is also essential and I would strongly advise anyone who knows of a case which need to be understood for policy reform to support the individual or individuals affected in meeting their MP or councillor and if they would like to they are also warmly invited to contact me.  However a detailed report from the circumstances of the people Foodbanks are supporting would greatly improve the quality of the debate.  This is why I sincerely hope this analysis recommended by the Trussell Trust goes ahead.
In the meantime I would strongly recommend everyone supports the organisation we have.  More food donations are urgently needed and more volunteers are also needed to help the hundred who drive vans and staff the warehouse and the five distributions centres in Cockermouth, Workington, Whitehaven, Maryport and Wigton.  Between April and August this year they gave out food to 1789 people in crisis (about 120/week) and West Cumbria is a much better place because they did that.  The team are an inspirational bunch of volunteers who are very welcoming to people who can only offer a little time or only offer time for a short period.  If you’re in either category I strongly recommend getting involved not only because you’d be able to do a great deal of good but also because it will help you better understand West Cumbria.