Ewan Gurr discusses the necessity of foodbanks in our society today.
When you look into the eyes of a tearful mother of two who has given up breastfeeding her second son due to malnutrition, lost two stone in weight since her husband was sanctioned due to a clerical error, been hit with a 14% deduction to her housing benefit because of a spare bedroom, and lost her quarter-of-a-million pound home after failing to keep up the mortgage repayments, it takes your breath away. Then, when she tells you that, because of her local foodbank, she was able to sit down for the first time in months and have dinner with her family, it does two things; firstly, it breaks you, but secondly, it leaves you in no doubt that setting up a foodbank in her community, or any community, was the right thing to do.
Allowing people to starve, become malnourished or potentially even take their lives before change occurs is not an optionEwan Gurr
The Poverty Alliance produced a thoroughly disheartening critique on foodbanks recently (TFN opinion: Would we have foodbanks in a socially just Scotland, 3 July). They say: “We don’t believe that foodbanks should have a long term future in a socially just Scotland.” To the contrary, I believe it is precisely because the golden embers of social justice are fanned into flame when our people encounter poverty that Trussell Trust foodbanks exist. Whether a practical response to a systemic issue is the antidote is not the question when the person in front of you is hungry. Our people cannot afford to allow charity to freeze in their hearts when their neighbours are unable to put food on the table.
They also drew parallels between UK foodbanks, most of which are part of a non-government subsidised but politically-engaged network, and those in Canada where the opposite is true. The Trussell Trust discourages foodbanks from applying for money where service level agreements are employed or where welfare provision appears to be outsourced from local government to foodbanks. The Trussell Trust believes the resilient administration of a robust social security system is crucial to familial wellbeing during times of hardship. We hope to encourage constructive policy development that eases the pressure on individuals and families and I would argue our voice is one of the reasons this topic is on the political agenda in Scotland and throughout the United Kingdom.
The truth is, when the Poverty Alliance suggest we should not be relaxed about supporting foodbanks “but instead be enthusiastically working to ensure that they… go out of business…” they do not offer any ideas as to how we might do that. To step back, fold our hands and allow people to starve, become malnourished and potentially even take their lives before change occurs is not an option. In my opinion, foodbanks will only be a success when the last one closes its door but, in the meantime, I will continue to work with communities to offer a practical response as well as acting, on behalf of my organisation, to influence the political process. To do one without the other, I feel, is arguably immoral.