Sunday, 5 October 2014

Food Banks

Yesterday our local food bank had a donations day at a local school.  We took them some tinned foods, jams, biscuits and teabags, and it looked like a large number of people did the same, as it was very successful.  We intend to continue donating as and when we can.

I don't have a problem with helping people who are less fortunate than me.  I have a job I enjoy for which I am very well-paid, to the point where I pay tax at 40%.  I don't have a problem with paying that level of tax - it's only fair that I contribute more to help those who have less.  I do have a problem with food banks though.  They make me angry.

They make me angry because I live in 21st-century Scotland, and there should not be anyone who cannot meet their own basic needs for food and shelter.  Many of the people using food banks are doing so because of benefit sanctions and delays in benefits.  However, there are substantial numbers of people using them who are working, but who cannot earn enough to feed themselves and their families.  How have we got into a situation where having a job does not mean you are earning a living?

We seem to be regressing to Victorian levels of poverty, even to the point where we have a strong implication of 'deserving poor' (those who are working for low wages) and undeserving poor ('benefit scroungers').  We now have the prospect of old-fashioned 'outdoor relief' according to the most recent Tory party conference, where there was a proposal to institute pre-paid electronic cards which would allow recipients only to buy pre-determined basic food items.  Give it a few years with any colour of Tory in power and I'm sure we'll see the return of the workhouse.

The pre-paid electronic card is an idea from America, where it is known as the Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly 'food stamps'.  This is run by private contractors. There is a rumour that Asda will be running the contract for these initially in the UK, a company whose parent is the US company Walmart, who have experience in this area.  Indeed Asda have already been running such a scheme in partnership with Birmingham City Council.  This would be the same Asda who told Scots that independence would result in higher prices for groceries, which I'm sure is coincidental.

The idea behind the card is that people who are in need of it cannot be trusted to spend actual money on the 'right' things.  The card will only be permitted to be used for goods from a pre-determined list.  In America you can buy orange juice, for example, but only certain brands.  This is quite ironic, given that the Tory politicians who are behind it are also behind the idea of getting rid of the Human Rights Act, on the basis that no-one should be allowed to tell them what to do, least of all Europe.

I'd like to think in an independent Scotland we would address the issue of low wages and unemployment in a way that would mean we would not need food banks.  Certainly there were proposals to institute a fair minimum wage.  It's one reason why I will continue to campaign for an independent Scotland.

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