GUEST POST: Nancy Taaffe explains why she’s against foodbanks

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

Nancy Taaffe speaking out

Nancy Taaffe speaking out

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!


10 responses to “GUEST POST: Nancy Taaffe explains why she’s against foodbanks

  1. Hi Interesting point of view, but my only reply is on her comment ‘foodbank without politics does actually help’ There are two levels of help 1) deal with the issue – if we as people don’t do this people will go hungry and petty crime will rise, foodbanks deal with the issue, they feed people in crisis. 2) Solve the long term issue – yes let’s all sit around and look at how we can, as a nation solve this problem, but you must do both.

    In 2007 the Trussell Trust started a campaign to highlight ‘Hidden Hunger’ in the UK. Ask yourself this: Why do you think organisations like Save the Children, Oxfam, FairShare and indeed our politicians and government ministers, MP’s and local counsellors are talking about this topic. It because of a policy decision made by The Trussell Trust . Why do you think organisations like Tesco’s, Waitrose, Asda and some of the UK’s biggest non-food companies are partnering with The Trussell Trust it is because they have policies, it because they are forward thinking and strategic.

    Nancy faced when she lost her job is tragic and I am deeply sorry that this happened to her but it is happening to people all across the UK and I for one am pleased that foodbanks are there to help in a totally non judgemental way. What happened during the war and before is irrelevant it’s what we do now that counts, support you local foodbank and help make a difference in the lives of people in your community.

  2. The great thing about foodbanks is that it increases the supermarket’s sales, and the rich don’t have to pay any extra taxes. Also, it allows those who donate to feel a sense of superiority. Isn’t that right David?

    • Anon hi I am David. To answer you statement I suppose it depend on your viewpoint, I would say it allows neighbours to help neighbours, friends to help friends. I see that people may have an issue with the wealthy tax dodgers and big corporates I have the same concerns but rather than stand on the sideline and remain nameless (Anon) I have decided to help people who find themselves in crises and Try to change government policies and I love what I do. Oh by the way foodbanks have nothing to do with the rich not paying taxes that is poor past and present government policies and it needs to change. But in the meantime I will do my bit to try and help people, if they want me to thanks

  3. I agree with Nancy Taaffe – food banks are like a sticking plaster over a gaping wound. The only real remedy for poverty is a mass political movement to overthrow the rotten system which is the cause of poverty in the first place. Charity makes people feel dependent rather than empowered – of course I agree with helping those in need, but only with the proviso that we also give them a solution – socialist answers and the confidence and energy to fight back, rather than reinforcing a reliance on handouts. Otherwise poverty will always continue to exist.

  4. I agree in general but we can’t leave people to go hungry while politics isn’t doing its job

  5. Of course the poster is correct. The Trussell Trust, like much charity, acts as a release valve to outrage. Let’s not scream that people should not be hungry in a rich country, instead let’s donate a tin of beans and feel good. In this way charity can be viewed as part of the problem.

    David McAuley says ” Why do you think organisations like Save the Children, Oxfam, FairShare and indeed our politicians and government ministers, MP’s and local counsellors are talking about this topic. It because of a policy decision made by The Trussell Trust .”

    David seems to think talk is a solution. But David, talk is easy. In fact the talk is talked about to keep you happy. The Trussell Trust will never discuss the real problems that sustain such inequality and poverty. It will never attempt to hold our enfeebled, self-serving politicians to account for not curtailing the excessive greed of big business. In fact the Trust relies on corporations for it’s own business model. In this way such charity can be viewed as part of the problem.

  6. Quoting Oscar Wilde?!! A well known sex offender aginst young teenage boys! Dear me.

  7. Pingback: GUEST POST: Nancy Taafe explains why food banks should get political | The food bankers·

  8. Whilst i would Agree with much of this, we have to stop expecting the Establishment and i includeLabour party in this, as working in our interest, we can all agree Food Banks should not be part of a rich economy but to take on the state you have to get politically Active. The Lewisham and Greenwich Food banks are run as a Charity and as such you cannot be political. Saying that, most people running the Food Banks in Lewisham and Greenwich are active members of the new Political monement People before Profit, in resent by Election wwere our Food bank is based, Barbra Raymond secured more votes than Lib Dem, Tory and UKIP combined at 24% of the vote but as a Community based movement main stream media refuse to give such groups media coverage for fear of us winning seats. To change the system needs all of us to get back on the street, and fight for what we have fought for for so long. join groups Such as Lewisham People Before Profit, Tusc, Green, Respect NHS party etc. We can bring about change but that comes about by a mass movement, not people sitting at home moaning whilst others March, Cam[paign and put themselfs forward for election. The sooner the public realise that the Goverment represents the interest of Big business and not the people the better, but sadly in the short term we will carry on with our food Banks bring greater awareness to the poor and low paid as we build a new mass movement for the people by the People. Read my blog; Lewishamcampaignerblogspot. Folow me on twitter; @Raywoolford

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