When I’m not writing or making music, I work for a national charity that provides welfare assistance to people in difficult situations. I don’t want to name the charity in questions – simply because I write this blog in a personal capacity and, if and when I state opinions people disagree with, I don’t want people to blame the charity for my views. But my job does involve encountering people who are experiencing food poverty and I do work with and issue vouchers for a number of Trussell Trust food banks and – in my personal capacity – I wanted to make some observations on my experiences with them, especially in the light of the story by the Mail on Sunday this week.
In keeping with not wanting to embarrass the charity I work for, I don’t want to get into a political debate on foodbanks. I have my opinions on the reasons for their increasing use but you’re all as capable as I am as looking at the arguments and forming conclusions of your own. However I do want to make the following observations, in the light of the Mail on Sunday’s report.
1) Food banks are an exceptionally useful resource. There’s nothing harder than coming to face to face with someone who has no money for food and having no idea where to send them. I can think of a number of our clients who – were it not for the food banks – would have been in a pretty bad way.
2) The training and level of instruction you get when you register as a food bank voucher holder varies from bank to bank but is generally pretty good. If people are being given vouchers for dubious reasons – and the reason the Mail on Sunday reporter gave struck me as a pretty legitimate reason – then I suspect it’s due to people disregarding the Trussell Trust’s instructions and not a fault with the Trussell Trust itself.
3) The reality with any job dealing with people facing poverty is that it tends to be an immediate crisis and you can’t always get all the evidence that you need to make a rational informed decision. Like most charities we have rules and enforce them pretty well but sometimes you do have to decide on gut instinct whether to trust someone’s story and you really cannot take risks when there’s a possibility of starving children.
4) In contrast to the Mail of Sunday’s report, I actually tend to find it extremely hard to persuade people to accept food bank vouchers, even where there is a clear and definite need. There is a stigma and shame attached to relying on food handouts and the idea that people are abusing the system to get free food, runs in direct contradiction to what I’ve experienced.
5) As someone who is not religious, I’ve been incredibly struck by the compassion and kindness in what the Trussell Trust (essentially a Christian organisation that’s run through churches) is doing. To me it’s perhaps the clearest evidence in the country at the moment to serve as a rebuttal to the idea that organised religion is a wholly negative thing. I think the Trussell Trust is a wonderful example of communities using their faith for a positive purpose and I do find it somewhat surprising that it is currently receiving such a vicious backlash at the present time.