Monday, 14 April 2014

Foodbanks: are the poor "less deserving" of treats?

One of  my two local independent Foodbanks were this week delighted that they have been given a donation of Easter Eggs to put in food parcels. They have asked, if possible, for people to consider purchasing a small Easter Egg when shopping, so families where there are children, do not miss out on Easter Day.

Personally, and the same went for Christmas,  I see the Foodbank appeals for Easter Eggs or presents, for those who wish to donate, an essential part of their service. Why? Because seasonal occasions are not the exclusive rights of those who can afford it, the middle classes and our government.

Last year I was quite frankly appalled that as part of  a Foodbank promoting weekend, a local supermarket stacked all its white packeted value products at the front of its store and urged shoppers to purchase goods from the pile. I went round the supermarket and found buy one get one free branded products that were nutritionally superior and worked out at a lower cost than the value products. My whole reasoning then was that I want my donations to be of a similar quality to what I expect to eat. Those who are in need of a Foodbank parcel should be treated as I would wish to be treated, not as needy charity cases where the middle class get to feel good about donating a value tin of baked beans!

Which leads on to the question: Should Foodbanks be providing treats in their parcel? I have highlighted Easter Eggs due to the time of year, but I strongly feel a food parcel, whilst providing emergency food to get by should not be bereft of a few packets of biscuits, a box of chocolates or a bottle of wine if these items have been donated. I can already hear Tories choking over their champagne, but why does society think in general that the poor are somehow less deserving of  being included in mainstream society? At a time of both acute embarassment at having to be referred to a Foodbank in the first place, sitting in a queue to receive your charity handout, is it too much to ask that we treat those who are down on their luck, fighting austerity and losing, or fleeing domestic abuse as human beings?

Society somehow seems to stand in judgement on those who have the misfortune to be referred for a food parcel. Foodbank volunteers are continuously justifying on social media just who can and cannot receive food parcels. The voucher referral system which means those needing aid have to be referred by professionals such as social workers, teachers, support workers is reiterated time and time again as  "outraged"individuals accuse Foodbanks of handing out food to anyone who turns up with a sob story. It simply is not the case and a stringent referral system is applied. However, if I was running a Foodbank would I turn away someone who turned up at the door who was in desperate need? No, never. Rather hand out 1 food parcel than turn someone away in desperate need because they did not have a referral voucher.

By the time people arrive at a Foodbank they have a multitude of  problems. These can be benefit sanctions that are ongoing, rent arrears accruing, debt problems and mental health problems. It is certainly the job of society (now the Government have abdicated all responsibility) to meet the emergency need of food. But I believe we should go further. People in this situation are sitting at the very margins off society. This cuts them adrift from activities many of us take for granted. A trip to Pizza Hut for a child's birthday,  a glass of wine or bottle of beer watching Saturday night TV, a small box of chocolates to cheer yourself up. By relentlessly focussing on value tins of baked beans, tinned pies and tinned veg as being the epitome of what the poor should receive in a food parcel, we are essentially buying into the "less deserving" mantra that has become a cornerstone of Coalition policy.

The sheer despair of having to visit a Foodbank for help, to me warrants the odd treat in a parcel to make that person or family feel part of society and not simply looking into it from the fringes. A mum like myself with a large family to feed ,after opening the Foodbank parcel and feeding the family on the value products is entirely welcome to a box of chocolates to ease her misery and a few packets of Kit Kats for the kids. Because that is what many ordinary families have. When you have nothing at all, you are indeed very grateful for the help the Foodbank volunteers provide. As well as food this often takes the form of counselling or signposting to other support services. But being in this position should not be a reason for the middle classes to think the poor should be doffing their caps at every opportunity. When donating to a Foodbank we shouldn't be thinking we are wonderful people for offering the poor some bland value products from our shopping trip and that they should be grateful we are helping at all. I have come across this attitude on several occasions like the poor should be grateful for whatever they receive; for the crime of being guilty of having to resort to a Foodbank in the first place.

Surely the humanitarian thing to do, is to draw people back from the edges of society and make their lives a little less miserable at a time of huge vulnerability. The branded shampoo and conditioner you donate will make a mum or teenage daughter feel a little more human, a gift card for Pizza Hut could make a child's birthday, as their mum had previously explained birthdays were cancelled due to no money,  books, games,  a cake - all would have the desired effect to lift the mood of those with no other option than to ask society to feed them. The poor have already jumped the hurdle of having to gain a referral by a professional, so the people who donate and the middle classes need not worry their donations are open to misuse. I genuinely cringe when I hear this "holier-than-thou" attitude screaming from those with money that the poor should be thankful for what they receive.

Treat people as you would like to be treated. Who knows, you are one payday, one accident, one misfortune away of being a Foodbank client yourself.