The Greenwich Foodbank: helping those who the Coalition forgot

Foodbank 4

Just before Christmas a group of eight councillors visited the Greenwich Foodbank‘s headquarters in Eltham. We were all impressed by the hard work and determination of its volunteers, led by Alan Robinson who showed us around.

Although a foodbank had been set up by two churches  in Thamesmead in 2009, demand shot up after the coalition’s welfare cuts started in 2010, with people from all over Greenwich and Bexley boroughs beating a path to its doors. With help from the Trussell Trust, the Christian charity that helps foodbanks across Britain, a new borough-wide foodbank was set up in October 2012 by 45 Greenwich churches (including St John’s in Blackheath, which acts as a collection point for donations).

The Greenwich Foodbank is a very well-organised operation that gives out three-quarters of a ton of food and other goods each week. Increasingly, toiletries are given out as well as food: Office of National Statistics figures show that unemployed people on the breadline  are going without soap and shampoo to afford to feed themselves. People can only receive a week’s food if they have been given a voucher by an authorised person working at the sharp end: in Social Services, the NHS, Police, Probation service, or the voluntary sector (need is the only factor: the Foodbank helps people regardless of their religious faith).Foodbank 2

Normally, no-one is allowed to redeem vouchers more than three times: the Foodbank is determined to help people out of poverty, not make them dependent on handouts. As well as giving out food, the Foodbank has put together a cookbook (many of its clients are used to fast food, and find it hard to make a nutritious meal out of the ingredients the Foodbank provides). Giving out food helps alleviate some of the immediate effects of the cost-of-living crisis, but it is not a long-term cure on its own, which is why the Foodbank acts as a “signpost” to other services so its clients can find a long-term solution to whatever problems they face.

But no-one should be pleased that more and more Foodbanks are starting in Britain in 2014: everyone should afford to feed themselves and their families without the indignity of going to a Foodbank. Dave Wilcox, a veteran labour councillor in Derbyshire who helped his local foodbank get lottery money, recently wrote of his “sadness in success”. Like many, he hopes that one day foodbanks will run out of customers, return their money to the lottery, and that everyone will have enough money to buy their own food rather than need handouts. How right he is. Read more of this post


Why I am a socialist

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks believes God gave us free will and that Judaism is a religion of protest unlike other religions which are of acceptance with the hope of eternal bliss. Religions – which Marx said were ‘the opium of the people’. God’s gift of free will is the only way that the Chief Rabbi and other theologians can explain why there is so much suffering in the world. It is not God’s will but the result of bad choices made by the humans he created in his image.

I am a Socialist because I believe that I can help make the world a better place for everyone based on ideas of co-operation, sharing and allowing everyone to have a fulfilled life. Like the Chief Rabbi I believe in free will but not as a gift from a God but as one of the key attributes that makes us human. It is an attribute that can now be explained by current scientific thinking. Like the Chief Rabbi I want to protest at the injustice and suffering in the world and not to blindly accept mantras like ‘Laissez-faire’, or that ‘market capitalism’ is the only economics that works!

Because of climate change and the scarcity of natural resources I believe that we will have to adopt Socialist ideals such as sharing resources if we are to survive as a species.

55 years ago I read Aneurin Bevan’s book ‘In Place of Fear’ and it inspired me to get involved in politics. The ideas in the book are still relevant today but the language and the narrative is of its time. I find talking about Socialism to younger generations difficult, because after 50 years, the experiences of younger generations are so different to those of mine. There is an urgent need for a latter day Aneurin Bevan to write a book that will be a modern narrative of how Socialist ideas can work in the context of the inevitable consequences of climate change.

Roy Preston
Chair, Blackheath Westcombe Branch