Monday, 21 April 2014

Food Banks

It's SUCH A LAUGH having to use a food bank. Here is why:

Your benefits stop for a reason you don't understand. You don't even get a letter about it so you don't find out that this has happened until you realise that you can't get any money out to buy food. So, you decide to go to an advice centre for help.

You walk through the door of the advice centre and wait in the waiting area to talk to the receptionist but the receptionist is really busy trying to help someone in crisis who is screaming so you end up waiting for about an hour. You probably have a little cry.

When it's your turn to talk to the receptionist, you're told that, unfortunately, because the advice centre is so busy, you can't be seen that day and that you should come back the day after tomorrow when there is another drop-in. But, you're also told that, in order to have a good chance of being seen when you next attend, it would be better for you to turn up about an hour before the advice centre opens.

So, the next time you go to the advice centre, you get there at half past eight in the morning and wait outside in the cold and rain feeling a bit  humiliated as people on their way to work stare at you. You have another little cry.

When the advice centre opens at ten o'clock, you get given a slot to see an adviser. But you still have to wait quite a while to be seen because, even though you arrived at the advice centre really early, there were other people who were even earlier than you. Your slot with the adviser is at about half past eleven. You could go and buy yourself a cup of tea while you wait but, actually, you can't do that because you haven't got any money.

The adviser, who's a really nice woman, asks you some questions about your situation. She doesn't ask you for any ID because that's not her job and she's not the police and because why does she need to? You're just a person in a bad situation getting advice from a local advice centre, just like most people who go to advice centres (sometimes people go to advice centres for other reasons, like confusion or just pure loneliness; but people don't really go to advice centres to get free stuff that they're not entitled to, so that's why the people who work in them don't ask for ID. Oh, and because most people tend to just, you know, tell the truth). You answer the woman's questions honestly and thoroughly but some of the things you're asked about are really hard to answer because you feel a bit ashamed. You have another little cry. The nice woman gives you a tissue. 

You tell the woman that your benefits have stopped and she calls the benefits department to try to find out why it's happened. But, when she gets through, she's told that it's all a bit complicated so a manager will call her back within five working days.

The woman tells you that there isn't an answer to your problem right now but that she'll keep in touch with you and let you know as soon as she's heard anything.

You tell the woman that you're worried about how you're going to eat. She says that there's a food bank a few miles down the road. This makes you feel a bit funny because you're not sure that you feel comfortable using one of those. But the woman is really nice to you and tells you that she understands that you might feel a bit weird about it but that you really should use the food bank if you need to because that's what it's there for. And then she gives you a voucher to use when you get there. She also gives you another tissue because you're crying again.

That afternoon, you go to the food bank and get given a few bags of food that should hopefully see you through the week. While you're at the food bank waiting to be seen (it takes a few hours to see someone because it's really busy), you pick up a copy of the Mail on Sunday and read an article about a reporter who went under cover to get food from a food bank. This is what what the article says:

Staff at Nottingham’s Citizens’ Advice Bureau handed out a food bank voucher to an undercover Mail on Sunday reporter entitling him to a generous three days' worth of shopping – without even asking for any identification.
Our reporter Ross Slater ... arrived at the CAB office near the city’s railway station to enquire about food vouchers. After filling out a form giving his name, address, date of birth, phone number and the reason for the visit, the reporter was told to wait for an assessor to interview him.
The woman, called Katherine, who was in her 60s, asked our reporter a series of questions about why the food bank vouchers were needed.
He explained he had been unemployed for a few months and had been caught out by higher than expected winter fuel bills and was strapped for cash and food. He added that his wife had left her job and was not earning and that they had two children to care for. After asking for details of how much Jobseekers’ Allowance was received, the assessor’s questions turned to the dietary requirements of the reporter and his family.
Katherine asked our man  to wait while she found out which food bank would be able to help him and then returned with an official voucher signed by the centre’s manager, Sarah Webber.
From there the reporter  was sent to the Trussell Trust-run food bank at St Philip’s Church in Bulwell, Nottingham, where he presented the voucher to  one of several helpers.
Within minutes he was given four shopping bags bursting with essentials – about £40 worth of groceries.
These included basics such as bread, sugar and pasta, as well as less essential items such chocolate pudding.
After inviting the reporter  to help himself to the soap, toothpaste and hot dog rolls they had spare, the volunteers wished him a Happy Easter and he staggered out of the church with his bags. He later returned the goods.
Last night the Trussell Trust said any distributor found to be providing vouchers to people not in genuine need would receive extra training.

And then, you get quite confused because, apart from the stuff about the wife and kids, the story that the reporter in this article gave about himself is almost exactly the same as yours. And, you don't think you're stupid but you're pretty sure that everything you said about yourself means that you're entitled to a food bank voucher. And you're also pretty sure that the people who work at advice centres are supposed to just believe what their clients tell them because, surely somebody who didn't really need a food bank voucher wouldn't spend three days trying to see an adviser at an advice centre, spend quite a long time filling in forms, walk for five miles to queue up at a food bank and then wait for another two hours to be given a few bags of food that they didn't need? Nobody would do that just for a bit of a jolly, would they?

T H A T     W O U L D     B E     C R A Z Y !

So, you don't really GET what this article is TRYING TO DO.

So, you try to dismiss it. But it's hard to do that because the article has made you feel ashamed, guilty, paranoid, judged and demonised.

But mostly, you just feel hungry, so you put the paper down and pick up your bags of food.

And you thank the people at the food bank very much and start the long walk home.

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