Enjoyed a pint last night with a great friend. We have a rare but fun meeting of minds. We work together, and we’ve shared the difficulties and highs of little ones. We share a healthy scepticism about the great institutions, and we enjoy a cut and thrust. We discuss politics: those warmth-inducing conversations between people whose values are the same, and so whose party allegiance never needs to be part of the conversation. But until last night, I’ve never felt moved to come home and immediately write about it.
We talked about volunteering. My mate’s started putting time in with a food bank. It’s the mark of the chap that he can find time to do this as well as a full time job and a family that needs more than a little extra from both parents, which they give lovingly and constantly. (Yes, I’m a big fan). He told me about the food bank, and as he explained I found the vague, undefined sense of unease I’ve felt for some time becoming crystallised into a rock of hard, cold anger.
It’s not that it came as a surprise. We’re not in a bubble.
I was brought up in a family of non-conformists who thankfully placed a heavier emphasis on the second part of William Booth’s motto “with heart to God and hand to man.” We spent a fair few Christmas Days at the Goodwill Centre in Cardiff with the other volunteers doing the Christmas meal for the gentlemen who came to the Salvation Army’s homeless shelter. Charlotte was a kid in a colliery village during the miners’ strike, and grew up part of the family and community solidarity that looked after its own. Now, Mrs G and I donate, and we manage to do what you’d hope most decent couples would manage in the busy helter-skelter of bringing up a young family, and working full time, and running a house, and dealing with life’s crises.
But I’m offended by the very fact that food banks exist. It’s a stomach-tightening, fist clenching, eye watering fury that a country which can invent the National Health Service and the Salvation Army still has to rely on volunteers and people’s generosity to feed families, a century after the Welfare State started. It’s an indictment of all of us because we, as a country and a society, are now failing to deliver the basic safety net that comes with a civilised government reflecting decent values.
Food banks are not inevitable, and they are not the symptom of a great, impersonal tide that cannot be addressed. Mandela put it so more eloquently than I ever could:
Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.
So why the hell aren’t we all protesting? Not just the trade unions or the Official Opposition, or those great people who are motivated enough to join a political party, but the rest of us too?
How can it not be a matter of deep personal offence to every one of us that our country should need food banks in the year 2013, in a nation that boasts the world’s financial capital, the FTSE, and the ability to declare nuclear war and cure poverty?
The chilling fact is that the food banks are needed, they are expanding, and there is no sign of them becoming redundant.
And this is before the real benefit cuts kick in.
Can I ask you to do one thing? Vote for financial support for the Cardiff Food Bank here. God knows, they deserve our support.