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Food Banks

YESPollok has set up an online shop and it was decided at a recent meeting that YESPollok will donate 25% of any profit from its online shop to a local Food Bank. So what about Food Banks?

“If you’re not feelin’ very brusk you should go to your bed, Dougie,” remarked the Captain sympathetically.

“There’s nothing wrong wi’ me,” the mate assured him, sadly; “we’re weel off, livin’ on the fat o’ the land, and some folk stervin’”.

“We are that!” agreed Para Handy, helping himself to Dougie’s second kipper. “Were you thinkin’ of any wan parteecular?”

“Did you know a quarryman here by the name o’ Col Maclachlan?” asked the mate, and Para Handy, having carefully reflected, confessed he didn’t.

“Neither did I,” said Dougie; “but he died a year ago and left a weedow yonder, and the only thing that’s for her iss the poorshouse at Lochgilphead. They tell me she’s goin’ to start and walk tomorrow mornin’ to Lochgilphead, and she’s an old done woman. She says she would be affronted to go in the Cygnet or the Minard, for everyone on board would ken she was going to the poorshouse.”

“Oh, to the mischief!” said Para Handy. “If the poor old body would come wi’ us, we could give her a lift as far as Ardrishaig.”

Para Handy and other Tales – Christmas on the Vital Spark. Neil Munro (1931) 1996 Lomand Books

And so they did.

Up until the 19th Century the destitute had two options – outdoor relief or indoor relief – both supplied by “The Parish”, from rates raised locally. This was replaced in England in 1834 and in Scotland in 1845 by a new Poor Law Amendment Act which introduced a system of Workhouses in England, and Poorhouses in Scotland. It was intended to reduce the cost of supporting the destitute underpinned by the idea of the ‘deserving’ and the ‘undeserving’ poor. The conditions in these institutions were designed to be so harsh that only the truly destitute with no other options would go into them. By the time Old Age Pensions were introduced in 1908 the majority of people in the Workhouses were the old. The last vestiges of the Poorhouse did not disappear until 1948 when the National Assistance Act was passed. However, the sense of shame generated by ‘the Poorhouse’ lasted for a very long time.

The modern Social Security system was intended to make sure that nobody slipped through the safety net into dire poverty. The system worked for a good number of years until the Financial Crisis of 2008 and the Austerity measures introduced by the Conservative/LibDem Coalition in 2010. The Social Security system was made harder to navigate and increasing numbers of people found they could not cope. And then Universal Credit was introduced. Despite its obvious faults and failures the Conservative Government continued to insist that it was working. Since then Food Banks have flourished in the UK. Now people have Covid-19 and its disastrous effect on jobs to cope with and the demands made on Food Banks continues to rise.

Food Banks have their ‘regulars’ who came to rely on the bags of basic foodstuffs to survive. Each of these individuals has his or her own story – losing a job, the loss of a relative, not able to cope after coming out of the military, plain bad luck, being born into the wrong family, their own bad life choices; mental health problems. The resulting poverty can grind people down until they can only go from crisis to crisis until it becomes a vicious circle. I know a lot of people would disagree with me on that and I can see why they would.

The current controversy over the provision of free school meals in England has loud echoes of the idea of deserving and undeserving poor. In his argument against extending free school meals to children from poor households, Mark Jenkinson MP said, “I know in my constituency that, as tiny as a minority it might be, food parcels are sold or traded for drugs. And that’s parcels, not vouchers, which have greater monetary value.” (Mark Jenkinson, 23rd October, 2020)

The same argument has been used against Food Banks

I don’t care if so-called ‘chancers’ get bags of food. I would rather they got food if they said they needed it than for someone who really needed it to be turned down. They are, as Mark Jenkinson admitted to his everlasting discredit, ‘a tiny minority’.

In my experience the majority of people who use Food Banks are ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary situations: the woman who had worked for the same company for many years until being made redundant; the man who had lost three jobs in two years because of an industry downturn; the young ex-serviceman who found he couldn’t cope after the death of his father; the woman who was too ashamed to walk into the hall by herself and only came in when persuaded to do so by volunteers who found her walking up and down outside; men and women who admitted they had not eaten for days before coming to the Food Bank; men and women who sat in tears waiting for their food bags to come out; men and women who could not look volunteers in the eye because they were ashamed; women who were afraid of how they would be treated in the food bank; and of course, refugees and asylum seekers who are treated so inhumanely by successive Home Secretaries.

None of these people come willingly to a food bank. The are like the old ‘weedow woman’ walking to the Poorhouse. They are driven by necessity and often bring guilt and shame with them as additional burdens especially if they never in their wildest imaginings thought they would ever have to use a Food Bank.

I would argue that the need for us to have Food Banks is a failure of the Social Security system to ensure that every human being has his or her basic needs met by a civilised and enlightened society and at the same time to see that the system is administered in a respectful and humane way. Reliance on Food Banks should not have become a way of life for so many people but while they are an essential life line for so many, we have to support them in any way we can. And so YESPollok will donate 25% of any profits from the online shop to a Food Bank.

What happened to the old ‘weedow woman’ at the end of the story?

The crew of the Vital Spark remembered that her late husband had loaned one of them half a crown which had never been repaid, and after a quick search through their pockets they remembered that it was really 8/6d that was owed. It then emerged that the old woman was 70 and Para Handy was able to tell her to go back home and get her 5/- a week from the government.

“Five shillings a week in Crarae! I hope I’ll be ass weel off ass that when I get to heaven.” she said.

And she went home happy with a contribution from the crew and the expectation of a pension from the government.


By Sandra, Yes Pollok memeber

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