Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Big Society: Foodbank kicks in when welfare system cracks

A charity which I'm keen to promote is the national network of Foodbanks, set up by the Trussell Trust and run by local churches, such as the one here in Truro.

To some the idea of a food crisis in the UK seems inconceivable, but the case of Okehampton demonstrates the reality. The Devon town has been hit by the closure of three major employers, flooding the job market and benefit system with newly unemployed workers. At the same time, demand for the local Foodbank increased tenfold. One family's story illustrates why.

Only very recently did the Department for Work and Pensions authorise Job centres to work with the Foodbanks, the official line prior to that having been that there was no need for them, because the benefits system was sufficient to cope with the needs of claimants. Now the facts on the ground have prevailed. The unwieldy and cash-strapped state cannot respond quickly enough when someone is laid off at a day's notice by an employer that has run out of money.

Politicians and national officials, on salaries that place them comfortably into the highest earnings bracket, may find it hard to understand that most families are spending their entire income on week to week necessities, and when the income stops, there is nothing left in the kitty to tide you over until the first benefit cheque comes. But even if they do, they are probably grateful for organisations like the Foodbank that are stepping in to solve a problem that they cannot.

It looks like this will increasingly be the reality of the "big society" and churches' involvement in it. Big society doesn't mean, as some people hoped, that the Government will provide a pot of money to finance church projects to meet social need. It means that church and charity projects are going to be the only way in which we can plug the gaps in a recession- and cut-shredded economy.

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