Foodbank Scotland

_79540702_uk_food_bank_use_624“Will you be needing toiletries with this one dear?” asks a kindly volunteer at a Leith Walk foodbank, as she begins to empty out the contents of a big plastic box into bags.

Embarrassed, I mumble something about not being a client but that I’m interested in volunteering, and then feel ashamed at having been so embarrassed by her question.

I’ve been volunteering with the Citizens Advice Bureau for three years and have assisted scores of people in challenging DWP sanctions. I have issued dozens of food vouchers as a result, but this is the first time I have actually visited a foodbank myself.

In a week where Mhairi Black’s blistering attack on Tory austerity draws 10m views and the only Tory MP in Scotland opens a new foodbank amid protests in Dumfries, foodbanks are once more at the forefront of the public consciousness. I’m here because I want to see what they’re really like, and what I can do to help.

Over a cup of tea, Moira (one of the volunteers) tells me how it all works. Most foodbanks operate as “social franchises” – independent charities supported by the Trussell Trust for their organisation and any logistical support they may need.

The details vary from place to place, but the overall set-up is the same. Doctors, social workers and various charities (like the CAB) give out vouchers allowing the recipient to collect three days’ worth of food.

They were originally designed to be an emergency stopgap, giving people in crisis the chance to feed themselves and their families while they got back on their feet. In reality, they have become completely relied upon by thousands across Scotland, with 117,689 emergency food parcels delivered in the last year alone – a 60% increase on the year before.

People’s reasons for using them are many and varied, but two thirds do so because of benefit sanctions, changes to benefit entitlement or from being in low paid work.

A well-spoken woman across from me (who I assume is a volunteer), tells me that she lost her disability benefit after being declared “fit to work” by an ATOS assessment. She finds it hard to get around and ended up missing a Jobcentre appointment by 15 minutes – her benefits were stopped for four weeks as a result.

Another man tells me that he had just been nominated for employee of the month in the supermarket warehouse where he worked, before he was then told that there were no more hours available for him. He was on a zero hours contract.

Moira shakes her head as she listens – she’s heard many stories like this over years. She tells me that out of all the people she’s helped, only one in a thousand have been “chancers”. I am slightly struck that she volunteers this last piece of information, but not at all surprised.

One of the key reasons behind the Tory’s election victory lay in the fact that they managed so successfully to fashion the “strivers vs. shirkers” narrative, where those at the bottom of society are so debased and dehumanised that we should feel no sympathy for them or their plight.

We are taught to fear and distrust those on benefits, to categorise them into deserving poor and undeserving poor. It was an election strategy that relied on convincing those who don’t have much, to blame those who have less for their problems.

That a foodbank volunteer feels it necessary to stress that the majority of foodbank users really need the food they’ve come to collect, it is clear that this classic divide and rule strategy has achieved its aim.

For those who campaigned for a Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum, this is all too familiar. We look across the border and see a political landscape altogether different from ours, where deeper austerity, rampant neoliberalism, flagrant euroscepticism and never ending attempts to woo the “aspiring classes” seem miles away from the vision of social justice and greater equality that the independence campaign was predicated on.

Labour’s decision not to oppose Tory welfare reform and the fact that leadership candidate Liz Kendall believes that the reason her party lost in May was because they “focussed too much on the poor” betrays a truth long suspected by nationalists – that our society is sick, but ultimately incapable of being cured by an establishment that would rather offer tax breaks to millionaires than ensure that the poor can eat.

Ian Duncan Smith tells us that he “welcomes foodbanks and welcomes the decent people in society trying to help others who have fallen into difficulty”.

I also welcome the thousands of decent people who give their time helping those in need. However, in my naivety, I had always assumed that the reason I pay tax was to ensure that society protected the most vulnerable from hunger, rather than leaving it to the kindness of volunteers.

The afternoon I spent at the foodbank was a busy one, according to Moira. In just two hours on a wet Tuesday, eight people had come for help and left with what they needed to get by for another three days.

Everyone was incredibly friendly and seemed satisfied with their visit, but that was the most distressing thing about my time there.
Persistent and dependable hunger has the most corrosive effect on the body, mind and soul. The ability to satisfy one’s hunger is the most basic human need – seeing people grateful and relieved to pick up a food parcel donated by strangers in one of the richest countries in the world made me feel sickened and ashamed.

Foodbanks have become a lightening rod for independence campaigners, as they are the clearest and most obvious symbol of a British state that is failing in its duty to protect the most vulnerable.

That’s why I applaud Mhairi Black, as well as the protestors in Dumfries, for their efforts in ensuring that a humanitarian crisis witnessed in every town and village in Scotland stays at the top of the political agenda and I encourage others to do the same.

Comments (21)

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  1. Alba Woman says:

    Thank you Lewis for a clearly written and accurate account of the existence of FoodBanks. I volunteer in a FoodBank and am part of a team of people dedicated to ensuring that people get fed.

    Difficult times can come to anyone. State support for those experiencing such times was hard fought. It is a societal disgrace that folk have to resort to FoodBanks to feed their families.

  2. Coral says:

    Eight people in two hours would be a slow day at the foodbank I help to manage in Smethwick. We have a high number of families with young children who rely on us in times of crisis. And yet donations are reducing, people think the ‘crisis’ is over. It is not. Changes from one benefit to another is an issue, as is starting work and a benefit being withdrawn, while payday is a month away.

  3. Lincoln Powell says:

    The reasons for the existence and proliferation of ‘food banks’ are indeed many and varied.

    And not, as Mike Small would have you believe, specifically and singularly the result of changes to benefits and benefit sanctions.

    They are also found in all European countries; and in the Nordic countries held up as Utopias here, including Denmark and Norway.

    Denmark also has levels of poverty not very dissimilar to those found in the UK.

    “We look across the border and see a political landscape altogether different from ours”

    No you don’t. All the social attitudes surveys indicate is a slightly more ‘left’ tendency in Scotland, and greater support for tax and spend (why not, when someone else is paying).

    “rampant neoliberalism”

    What does that MEAN?

    flagrant euroscepticism

    All the social attitudes surveys suggest that people in Scotland are slightly more supportive of the EU. (Someone will now put up the most recent Yougov survey, which is a single instance, and outlier, and a response to the announcement of the EU referendum.). Scotland is not a nation of Europhiles, though you’ve nothing to worry about. The UK will vote to remain in the EU by a significant margin, just like Scotland voted to remain in the UK by a significant margin. Where the outcomes of such major changes are so uncertain, people will only vote for them if this is hugely overbalanced by how ‘bad’ the status quo is. And for most people, the status quo is fine.

    “never ending attempts to woo the “aspiring classes”

    The “aspiring classes” are people who want to get on and are getting on, and aren’;t sat there with their hand out, or are waiting for ‘the state’ and politicians to deliver their future for them. They are creating their own future. and they will always outnumber, both north and south of the border those who claim to hold

    “the vision of social justice and greater equality that the independence campaign was predicated on”.

    And that is why you will lose the next independence referendum, and the next, and the next …

    1. cynicalHighlander says:

      Wow what a sad person you are and when your footie team loses 5 4 they will never ever win and should change to snap as that seems about your level of thought.

    2. bjsalba says:

      Please point me to the information which substantiates your claims about Food banks in Scandinavia?

      The last time I did research on this subject there was a foodbank in Oslo which served primarily the recent immigrant community, and as I understand it the foodbank in Copenhagen was primarily founded to reduce food waste.

      When you can show me the proof of your claims about food banks in Scandinavia, I’ll take an interest in the rest of what you claim.

    3. If the reason for Food Banks are ‘many and varied’, and not as the Joseph Rowntree Trust, Oxfam, CPAG etc – and all the NGOs that work in this area all say (changes to the benefit system) – what are they? Interesting that you don’t say.

    4. Alison Grant says:

      I do find your comments rather patronising, but suspect that your underlying arrogance is mainly aimed at those less fortunate than yourself. I have recently retired on a public sector pension after 40 years of work and despite many myths around , it is indeed a paltry sum. I will not get a state pension for another 6 years . Good , you may say, go out and work and earn like the great and the good (yourself ) However, I have now developed a significant chronic health condition which restricts my mobility . So I am left with few options , and no state assistance. Considering that I have paid full National Insurance contributions and PAYE throughout the last 40 years , I did not expect to be regarded as a benefit case or scrounger case as now I am in constant pain whenever I walk or stand. I was sold a big LIE , that somehow the state would honour its obligations and look after the retired workforce. Sadly , your ideology appears to be rampant in regions of England where the snouts are never far from the trough . I am glad that I do live in a more egalitarian society and rejoice at the young generation of Scots who wish to support more progressive and compassionate policies from our politicians

    5. Jon Buchanan says:

      The Trussel Trust, one of the major providers of food banks in Scotland and the UK in general cites ‘welfare reform’ as one of the single most influential contributors to the rise in use and proliferation of food banks. The ‘alternative’ analysis you offer of the macroeconomic factors leading to the socio-economic plight facing real people as a result of failed and debunked ‘austerity’ and neoliberal ideological policies is facile and virtually redundant. When a government pursues a policy of shrinking the state and leaves charities to take up the slack where once a safety net was provided for all, from the cradle to the grave(not as a lifestyle choice, if you believe that then perhaps you need to change your reading material), in order to transfer capital from the poor to the rich in tax incentives and bail outs for banks ‘too big to fail’, the real scroungers with their hands out are those looking for more tax breaks, more profits for the next quarter, bigger bonuses etc. I think most posters here would listen to the analyses of Stiglitz et al before those of Lincoln Powell!

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m for business; I have a disability but run my own company, which also supports other people with disabilities into employment and does a bit of advocacy on their behalf too. I just don’t think it’s necessary to ignore people in pursuit of profit. When my life was devastated by my condition three and a half years ago I fought back against how difficult things were for me and for others in the same position. They haven’t gotten any easier but people understanding the nature of what’s happening around them and genuinely working to help those most vulnerable or those most in need of help is the true mark of an actual developed society.

      Your kindergarten response to the dog whistle with the politics of sneer and jibe at those ‘with their hands out’ belies a poorly skewed world view which it seems few who are actually interested in the reporting and articles on this site have much time for; your lengthy responses and almost child like, adversarial goading of the movement towards Scottish independence, as well as this sites support of it(note the site still posts your opinions despite your often mildly scurrilous undermining and personalised attacks on its writers and editors, magnaminity is a lesson you could learn from them!) are just tiresome, contribute little yet say so much; I don’t comment here much these days, preferring, I assume like many who contributed to the fundraiser which kept the site going, to enjoy the good work done, but suspect your aim is to undermine it with incessant trolling, to whatever ends you may have; read some articles again, read some of the replies, engage with actual politicised Scots, if you are to achieve much more than annoyance and spoiling of a read of the comments sections with negativity, gen up a bit more, because I fear you might need to up your game!

    6. kenneth mackinnon says:

      You clearly wish Scotland to remain a submerged Nation, an English vassal State. We will continue to fight for our freedom, especially from the criminal London Banking cartels which the English establishment happily bailed out at our expense….hence the food banks

    7. ian says:

      You are a man of many words but no heart or soul.

  4. Lincoln Powell says:

    “One of the key reasons behind the Tory’s election victory lay in the fact that they managed so successfully to fashion the “strivers vs. shirkers” narrative, where those at the bottom of society are so debased and dehumanised that we should feel no sympathy for them or their plight.”

    That was a minor reason that was probably a factor for a significant minority of people.

    One of the more significant reasons the Tories won a majority and Labour lost was that Labour had no offer. Just a list of ‘bad things’ they were going to sort out by punishing the ‘bad people’.

    Another was this:

    Separatists have referendum

    Separatists lose referendum

    Separatist party tacks leftish veneer on (after corporatism hasn’t got them over the line)

    More support coalesces around separatists

    Admittedly strong and canny left veneered separatists start threatening to put weak left wing party and leader into power

    “aspiring classes” as you put it say ‘you had your referendum and you lost. Now you’re threatening to put that weakling plonker into power, with you pulling the strings. I don’t think so.

    Aspiring classes vote Conservative (even the Liberal ones)

    Conservative majority.

    So, the Scottish people got the Government they asked for – a Conservative one.

    1. Robin Stevenson says:

      An interesting take on things Lincoln, [simplistic] but interesting, would you not agree that the main reason that the Tories came to power was the fact that Labour offered no discernible difference between the two main parties? ie: why would people vote for a carbon copy rather than the real thing?…Also I’m really not quite sure how ‘significant’ a minority could be? [seems like a contradiction in terms imo]

      According to polls, the prospect of a Labour government being influenced by the SNP amounted to less than 1% of the English electorate, so I’d regard that as somewhat “insignificant”.

      Considering that a mere 14.9% of Scottish voters, voted tory, [down by 1.8% since 2010] I really don’t get your last sentence?

    2. JBS says:

      I confidently predict that, in the very near future, your name, or rather names, will be enrolled among those who, in whatever way, facilitated an independent Scotland.

      Let me be among the first to honour you: Lincoln Powell, alias One Baw Shaw, alias Glazed Eyed Moonies, alias Corporatist Hell – well done, thou good and faithful servant!

      I would send you a supercharged pink bunny hug but I think that you are too supremely full of yourself to appreciate it.

  5. Natasha says:

    Hi Lincoln, can I ask if you live in Scotland? I was just wondering how well you know it as a country and how much of the Yes campaign you directly experienced, as your description of what happened doesn’t tally in any way with what I lived through. If you don’t live in Scotland and don’t know it well, then you really aren’t qualified to comment on what happened here. I wonder if you would be so quick to pontificate on events in France, or Ukraine, or Syria.

    Also, do you include in your people ‘sat there with their hands out’ my 21 year old son who has Asperger’s Syndrome and having got into university to read maths and physics, then had a nervous breakdown and had to be brought home and has been unemployed for the past three years despite trying very hard to find work? He has never had one single response to any of his applications. Unemployment levels among people on the autistic spectrum are very high. He suffers from depression and social anxiety and cannot claim jobseeker’s allowance for the next THREE YEARS because he missed three appointments due to missing buses (we live in a rural area). If he did not have us to support him he would be starving on the streets. Or how about my 17 year old transgender daughter who is unable to leave the house because she is so disgusted by her own body (she is still awaiting hormone treatment and surgery) and so worried about how people will react to her? She hasn’t been able to attend school since the age of 13 due to persistent widespread bullying and constant headaches and nausea, and therefore has no qualifications. Will she be another one of those ‘sat there with their hands out’? What will happen to our children when we die? Who will look after them then? Obviously not people like you.

    By the way, my husband and I are typically middle class – two highly educated professionals in full-time permanent employment – but we would scorn to be categorised in your ‘aspiring classes’ – what we aspire to is doing the best we possibly can to help others and make a real difference to people’s lives, but you wouldn’t understand that kind of aspiration.

    Your lack of compassion and inability to understand that people face all kinds of difficulties in their lives and need the state as a safety net to help them when they cannot help themselves is incredibly sad, and actually you are more to be pitied than anything else. I would happily bet money that the only people who attend your funeral will be those who absolutely have to be there; no one will remember you as someone who loved and was loved. When my GP brother died of a brain tumour at the age of 42, he left behind him a legacy of love and compassion; his epitaph was ‘Gifted, loving and brave’. I wonder what your legacy will be.

  6. ScottieDog says:

    Lincoln, you are suffering from daily mailopia.

  7. Walter Hamilton says:

    Lets end food banks forever they are becoming an accepted part of society, part of our social services. Simply pay everyone a living wage, no add on supplements, no housing benefits, no means testing or tops ups of any kind so that people can live and work where they wish to live and take a job that is satisfying to them regardless of what they are paid for doing that job, as in caring for someone. Don’t say we can’t afford it, when we gave billions to bankers by way of QE and willing to spend billions on WMD, then there is the cost of the House of Lords, need I go on. Some might say, if you give everyone a living wage to start with, the population will turn into skivers, do you really believe if you were given a wage every week to cover your running expenses you would simply sit back and do nothing with your life, just ask people that have retired they will tell you different. Oh you may get the odd one but the bulk of the population will want to better themselves. We should all have equal rights to the wealth of the country, a situation that will become more acute as manual tasks are taken over by robotic machines.

  8. DR says:

    It’s always (bleakly) amusing to see people from the ignorantly-pampered bubble attempting to lecture about ‘self-sufficiency’ and ‘aspiration’. Here’s a hint: when the result of your ‘bettering yourself’ is the cliched and uncritical regurgitation-on-command of the pap you’ve been back-patted into buying? That’s just lazy: a definition of ‘better’ that proves you incapable of aspiring, not to mention dedicated to continued subsidy of your self-demonstrated inutility. (And no, it isn’t an ideological thing: there *are *arguments to be made about self-sufficiency and aspiration. It’s being too manifestly lazy to understand or engage with even those arguments that renders such comments risible.)

    Charity is freely given, but we all are required to pay (in taxes we all pay, and in the cost of our goods and services) for above-average salaries rewarding self-proven incompetence at make-work jobs. The entirety of government has been for decades devoted to ensuring these ignorance-is-blissers never quite bankrupt themselves with their own self-congratulatory, debt-dependent economic illiteracy, but still they whine about deserving ‘better’. People who trumpet that self-worth is dependent on the size of the bribes one takes (and advocate looking down on those whose handouts are less) are not even worthy of contempt, much less the fiscal transfers from the rest of us they are utterly dependent on.

  9. Kenneth G Coutts says:

    The people who have been to and are returning to food banks should give the names and the benefits departments and those in charge of the departments in each town city who have caused them these hardships .
    They should be outed and a list should be compiled in local newspapers ,Bella the national, wings over Scotland and any where else they can be seen .
    No doubt they are the remaining dregs of the unionist fungus that pervades the Scottish society.
    I hope with the Scottish elections we can wipe away these dregs of the perfidious albion.

  10. Murdo McDougall says:

    ‘Throw a dead cat on the table”

    A tactic used by the tories in the GE when labour we’re gaining some traction with taxing of non doms.

    Fallon stated that milliband stabbed his brother in the back to secure the labour leadership. True or untrue, doesn’t matter, it’s the controversy of the statement and its aim to distract the debate from the point under discussion.

    Result, people were talking about Fallon”s comments and not non dom”s tax.

    This blog should be about discussing the need for food banks in Scotland in 2015, whilst millionaires in London accumulate more and more wealth.

    Never can I remember a uk government that has been so hell bent on pushing people into poverty, the only opposition to this comes from the SNP. labour sat on its hands afraid that in five years time they would be reminded they voted against welfare cuts. How depressing!

    So let’s not be distracted by dead cats!

  11. Emma Fraser says:

    At my local CAB (Sutherland, Highlands) you can only claim 3 food parcels PER YEAR. I do not know if this is the case everywhere. Each parcel covers you for 3 days. It took over 3 months to sort out my benefits problem, which was caused by the DWP, and due to many bounced direct debits, and being unable to pay bills during those 3 months it will be many, many months before I am back on my feet. What on earth are we supposed to do after our 9 days of help a year?

  12. Craig McKechnie says:

    Not at the beginning of our country and the changing and exciting new ways should food banks exist.
    Sturgeon et al have to make this a beginning priority.

    The other stuff regarding the creation of worthwhile future full employment is the real issue not being approached in any real and meaningful way.

    Craig McKechnie

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