A food bank is a non-profit, charitable organization that distributes food to those who have difficulty purchasing enough to avoid hunger. Surely that’s a good idea?
Prior to 1967 there were no food banks. In the USA there were soup kitchens for the poor, something that shocked the average UK citizen, while, in the UK we had extensive provision of social housing and, following the Beveridge Report of 1942, a level of social security payments that was sufficient to ensure a basic level of subsistence for everyone. These were necessary concessions for a capitalist system facing the return of victorious servicemen and women in 1945 who remembered the hungry thirties and were aware of a viable, actually existing alternative in the form of the USSR. Roll forward to the twenty first century. The USSR no longer exists as an aspiration for workers and a threat to capitalists; organised labour is frustrated by the inadequacies of the party, Labour, that was created to be its champion; the trade union movement is shackled by anti-trade union laws; and popular opinion is left in the dark by a mass media owned and controlled by oligarchs. In this situation, food banks make sense – at least for capitalists.
In the UK, traditionally food hampers have been given out to the elderly and vulnerable members of communities at Harvest festivals and at Christmas but all year-round hunger has only been evident in statistics since 2007 and has dramatically increased since 2011, a notable ‘achievement’ of the Tory governments in this period. Most, but not all, UK food banks are co-ordinated by The Trussell Trust – a ‘Christian’ charity based in Salisbury which serves as the UK’s only food bank network. The Trussell Trust was established in 2000; in 2004 they only ran two food banks. By August 2012 there were 252. Now there are at least 1,200 and they are continuing to grow in numbers and volume as this chart shows:
Source: House of Commons Library Research Briefing April 2021
There is currently one Tressell foodbank in Croydon and eight others. Perhaps as a signal that the Labour Party is no longer concerned with changing society, a Croydon Labour MP gives their addresses and opening hours on her website.
A degree of immiserization of the unemployed has often been used as a spur to employment and to discipline those in work. This was the logic behind the workhouse and is, we argue, the primary motive behind foodbanks today. They have, however, a further attraction for capitalists – they enable big food retailers to benefit from their food surpluses. This motive was apparent in the announcement in 2020 by Michael Gove, Rupert Murdoch’s Representative in Government, of a £15 million fund to support the expansion of charitable surplus-food redistribution, the first round of which was earmarked to enable redistribution organisations to purchase surplus food. The Govester appointed a Food Surplus and Waste Champion to reduce “unnecessary” food surplus in the UK. This means, in effect, that the state is subsidising large food retailers to waste food and then redistribute it in a fashion that boosts both their profits and their phoney reputation as benefactors.
What is to be done? Council housing under secure, affordable tenancy for all who need it and adequate levels of social security payments would be a good start. But we really need to change the system – from capitalism to socialism. The Labour Party may have forgotten this, but the CP has not.