Thursday, February 28, 2013

Foodbank



Patrick Butler reports in the Guardian this week that the government has launched an inquiry into the recent explosion of foodbanks, soup kitchens and school breakfast clubs. The country's finest minds will seek to understand why, with falling wages, cuts in benefits, and rising prices, increasing numbers of people are having problems feeding themselves and their families. It's real puzzle.

Foodbank was the result of my own inquiry, conducted last year. It was prompted by outrage that such widespread charitable giving should be necessary in one of the wealthiest countries in the world – particularly one with a well-established welfare system set up to act as a supposed safety net. The video is a quick snapshot of some of the problems faced by users of three London foodbanks, all run under the franchise of the Christian charity the Trussell Trust, and of the work of the volunteers who run them.

Foodbanks shouldn't be necessary, and many of the volunteers feel the same way. Watching these (mostly church-based) charities giving handouts to the needy seems like a throwback to Dickens, and the horrors of pre-welfare state Britain. It is a glimpse of what the country would look like if the coalition government succeeds in its attempt to dismantle state provision, leaving philanthropists and charities to pick up the pieces. A preview of what they mean by 'The Big Society'.

The very existence of these centres is shocking, and I set out to make a critique. But I found it difficult to say anything other than the totally obvious – much like the inevitable outcome of the forthcoming government inquiry – and cut the project short. For although I have strong reservations about the return to church-based welfare provision, I couldn't fault the generous impulse that lies behind it. The video ended up almost looking like a promo, and has been used as such by those that took part. Make of that what you will.