by Nancy Taaffe
“When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist” Helder Camara, Liberation Theologian
Every Saturday the Anti-Cuts Union has a stall in Walthamstow campaigning against cuts. The Labour Council passed a budget that has taken £65 million away from local services. I lost my job in a library, a job which I had for over 10 years. Children and young peoples’ services have been decimated by cuts, with some services, such as careers, being cut by almost a third. The three main political parties say it wasn’t their fault, that there isn’t any money but…
…THAT’S A LIE. A report in The Guardian last year stated that there is currently £750 billion locked away in banks by the rich who see no immediate way to make a profit and so they just sit on the money and let it collect interest, £120 billion is squirrelled away through tax evasion and one thousand of the riches people in this country increased their wealth by £155 billion last year, enough to wipe out the nation’s deficit overnight.
Meanwhile my local foodbank runs a stall in a market on a Saturday next to the Anti-Cuts Union stall where they ask the poor of Walthamstow to donate tins and toiletries to the destitute of Walthamstow.
Food banks need to get political
My annoyance at foodbanks is that we are not in debt, there is money to feed everyone, and we, the poor, shouldn’t pay for a crisis we didn’t create. I understand that foodbanks are often set up by well intentioned people who want to help, but I would question whether a foodbank without politics does actually help. Poverty is not like a hurricane or a flood, it’s man made and it can be man solved.
I stood on the Town Hall steps for over a year asking Labour Councillors to set a needs budget and reject cuts but, to a man and woman they all voted for them. I stopped my local MP Stella Creasy (a big proponent of foodbanks) 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 just wouldn’t. Why? Because getting behind the consequence of cuts is far easier than fighting a preemptive battle….. if you are a career politician.
When 3 million public sector workers took industrial action last November for decent pensions to prevent poverty in old age the same MP who stands behind the foodbank stall and campaigns against poverty wouldn’t support them. Strikes me, if your simpering and crushed by poverty then you get patronised and pitied but if you stand with a straight back and lean look and assert yourself through your trade union then you get condemned. I suppose it’s the hypocrisy I can’t stand, the Councillors who voted to sack me all support foodbanks.
The smell of fresh tar
My Liverpool Grandmother would tell me stories of the poverty her family endured in the 30’s, of picking up orange peel by the side of the road to gnaw on to alleviate hunger pains or sniffing the air when fresh tar was laid on the road because it smelt like food. But she also described the humiliation that many mothers had to endure at the hands of “charitable organisations”, how it was common to have to stand in a cold church hall with children clawing at your skirts and put your case to the parish fathers as to why you should have money to survive. Often these “parish fathers” were local businessmen and factory owners who paid poverty wages to their workers and were vicious if the workers went on strike for decent pay and decent working conditions.
Rebellion against charity
The rebellion that took place in the working class after the Second World War was not just a reaction to the horror of war but was a revolution against the humiliation of poor relief and welfare administration built on “charity”.
I suppose if foodbanks get political and mobilised those they feed to get organised, then I could support them. If, like the unemployed movements of the 30s, they not only fed people but stirred them up to fight for revolutionary change, then I would get right behind them.
If I could sum up my opposition to charity without politics I would have to do it with the help of the inimitable Oscar Wilde who said:
“We are often told that the poor are grateful for charity. Some of them are, no doubt, but the best amongst the poor 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, is man’s original virtue”
…Long live disobedience!