Food banks and the replacement of ‘social security’ with ‘charity’

Alittleecon here compares the charity of the foodbanks with the tickets for food given to starving and unemployed workers by church charities described in The Ragged Trousered Phlanthropists. This is not accidental. Margaret Thatcher made the replacement of state expenditure by charity one of the planks of her reform of the welfare state, on the highly dubious grounds that it would be more effective and also more moral, as it was voluntary rather than achieved through the operation of the impersonal, coercive state. She also believed that this would produce a religious revival, as those unable to obtain state assistance would be forced to turn to the churches and other religious organisations for support. In America the Republicans attempted to mobilise support against ‘Obamacare’ by citing the example of the drastic fall in church attendance after the introduction of their version of the NHS in the 1970s. I am a supporter of religious charity, but this is an abuse of the such charitable impulses for a deeply unpleasant Right-wing ideology that deprives the poor of their basic needs.


Two things over the weekend reminded me of a chapter from Robert Tressell’s “Ragged Trousered Philanthropists” called “Facing the ‘Problem’. Both are related to the increasing proliferation of food banks. Firstly, there was a varying reaction to the news that the Trussell Trust had given an emergency food parcel to almost a million people over the last year. The DWP reacted quite angrily, accusing the Trussell Trust of being “publicity-seeking” and that the increase was purely a result of them “aggressively marketing their services”, but David Cameron actually seems quite pleased with the expansion of food banks, saying he wanted them to expand. Secondly, The Mail on Sunday decided to do a hatchet job on food banks in an article entitled “No ID, no checks… and vouchers for sob stories: The truth behind those shock food bank claims”. The article gives the strong impression that most food bank uses…

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