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From The Socialist newspaper, 5 December 2012

Food banks without politics don't help

In a slightly shorter version of an article previously published on the Food Bankers' blog, Nancy Taaffe explains her severe misgivings about food banks.

Nancy Taaffe on Waltham Forest anti-cuts protest, photo Senan

Nancy Taaffe on Waltham Forest anti-cuts protest, photo Senan   (Click to enlarge)

Every Saturday the Anti-Cuts Union has a stall in Walthamstow campaigning against cuts. The Labour council has passed a budget taking 65 million away from local services.

Children and young people's services have been decimated by cuts. I lost my long-time job in a library.

The three main political parties say there's no money but that's a lie. 750 billion is locked away in banks by the rich, who see no immediate way to make a profit so they sit on the money and let it collect interest. 120 billion is squirrelled away through tax evasion. 1,000 of Britain's richest people increased their wealth by 155 billion last year, enough to wipe out the nation's deficit overnight.

My local Food Bank runs a stall every Saturday next to the Anti-Cuts Union and asks the poor of Walthamstow to donate tins and toiletries to the destitute of Walthamstow. But we, the poor, shouldn't pay for a crisis we didn't create.

Food banks are often set up by well-intentioned people who want to help, but does a food bank without politics actually help? Poverty is not like a hurricane or a flood, it's man-made and it can be human-solved.

We regularly had protests outside the town hall, demanding that Labour councillors set a needs budget and reject cuts but they all voted for them.

Fight the cuts! Protesting against cuts in services outside Waltham Forest council, photo Paul Mattsson

Fight the cuts! Protesting against cuts in services outside Waltham Forest council, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

I stopped my local MP Stella Creasy (a big proponent of Food Banks) in the street (as I was losing my job) and asked her to make a public statement condemning cuts to libraries and children's services but she wouldn't.

Why? Because getting behind the consequence of cuts is far easier than fighting a pre-emptive battle.... if you're a career politician.

When three million public sector workers took industrial action in November 2011 for decent pensions to prevent poverty in old age the same MP who stands behind the Food Bank stall wouldn't support them.

It seems to me if you're crushed by poverty then you get patronised and pitied. But if you stand up and assert yourself through your trade union then you get condemned.

It's the hypocrisy I can't stand, the councillors who voted to sack me all support food banks.


My Liverpool grandmother told me of the poverty her family endured in the 1930's, of picking up orange peel in the road to gnaw on to alleviate hunger pains.

She also described the humiliation many mothers endured from "charitable organisations," standing in a cold church hall with children clawing at your skirts putting your case to the parish fathers why you should have money to survive.

Often these "parish fathers" were local businessmen and factory owners who paid poverty wages and were vicious if 'their' workers struck for decent pay and decent working conditions.

The working class rebellion after World War Two was a revolution against the humiliation of poor relief and welfare administration built on 'charity'.

If Food Banks got political and mobilised those they feed to get organised then I could support them.

If, like the unemployed movements of the 30's, they stirred people up to fight for revolutionary change, I would get right behind them.

Oscar Wilde said: "We are often told that the poor are grateful for charity. Some of them are, no doubt, but the best... are never grateful.

"They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so. Charity they feel to be a ridiculously inadequate mode of partial restitution, or a sentimental dole, usually accompanied by some impertinent attempt on the part of the sentimentalist to tyrannise over their private lives....

"Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history", he said, "is man's original virtue." Long live disobedience!

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In The Socialist 5 December 2012:


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