The Nasty Party is back, sneering at food banks and those who use them

First they peddled the Big Society, now the Tories bad-mouth these community projects

Grace Dent
Thursday 17 October 2013 07:51 BST
A volunteer puts together a parcel of food at a Food Bank in Brixton, south London
A volunteer puts together a parcel of food at a Food Bank in Brixton, south London (Getty Images)

The latest figures from the Trussell Trust show that the demand for food banks is rapidly increasing. More than 350,000 people, between April and September this year, received a three-day food package of emergency staple sustenance. This is three times more than during the same period last year. David Cameron should, the Trussell Trust says, urgently look at this.

Another bleak problem I’d advise him to examine and quash is the growing, frankly shameful, vocal hostility within his party and supporters – Michael Gove, Lord Freud, Edwina Currie – to food banks themselves. It’s incredible that a party which peddled notions of a Big Society now sneers when communities work together to be charitable, generous and empathic, to bring light, to stop hunger pains, to shove cheap tinned soup and budget brand cereal into the mouths of those without.

Using food banks is a last resort, they’re the opposite of where one wants to be in life, rock bottom. This humiliating rigmarole of throwing oneself upon the mercy of strangers, signing the forms and queuing in return for a bag of dry pasta and some loo paper is not where those 350,000 people chose to be – as if they were a bit bored with the charcuterie selection down at Lidl.

The Trussell Trust also said some that recipients of emergency food supplies are so poor they’re returning the tinned foods that requires cooking because they can’t afford the power to heat the food up, which reminds me of that Jennifer Aniston line in Friends, “I really thought I had hit rock bottom, but today it's like rock bottom, 50 feet of crap and then me”.

Of course, I’m sure if you called Edwina Currie for a soundbite she’d say she prefers her cheap tinned soup stone cold anyway, in fact cold food is character building, and then if we’re lucky, Katie Hopkins might treat us to a soundbite about stupid starving people too, at £75 a shot – which will pay for her family to eat a hearty dinner.

Meanwhile, more sage sorts like the Trussell Trust are working to keep people fed and alive. Being hungry, I must remind you, isn’t a weakness, it’s not a crime. It’s a bodily function, a symptom of being a human being. And if you are someone who thinks that living throughout winter on basic cheap rations, without any of the little edible treats that make a grey British life liveable – a bottle of wine, a night out eating pizza, a takeaway curry, a nice steak, a fry-up at the weekend – is anything less than grim, perhaps have the common decency to shut up about it as you’re embarrassing both yourself and the Prime Minister, who is still dealing with the image catastrophe from the last time the Conservatives were in power.

How many days in a row, I wonder, has Lord Freud lived on watery canned soup and white bread, with no let up, no sparkle, no moment of delicious cheer on the horizon. Freud declared recently that the demand for food was only increasing because the “free food” was there. I wonder if it has crossed his mind that until the arrival of the “free food” people had spent months or years in daily hunger.

I have never bought the sweeping idea peddled by tub-thumping socialists that all Tories are evil. Politics and people are so much more complex, and I have several cheerful, kind conservative friends (whom I could cheerfully strangle because of their views on abortion laws and relaxing hunting laws). I have many more prolier-than-thou Labour-voting friends who preach tolerance and equality while swilling champagne, hiring cheap home help to wipe their kid’s bottom and playing with their property portfolio. But this growing Tory umbrage over the existence of food banks needs to be put in its place.

We are currently feeding human beings in pretty much the same way as we catered for the local cats’ and dogs’ homes a decade ago, slinging spare cans in a wheelie bin, trying to do our bit. It is like we learned as children at Harvest Festival when the display of sad vegetables and tinned tomatoes was carted off “for the poor” – which we all agreed was for the best.

Conservatives bad-mouthing food banks, for me, is as bleak as the sudden outbursts of sexism and racism that Cameron has worked so hard to move his party away from. Because the real problem with the Let Them Eat Cake brigade is, they’d even resent poor people having only that to eat.

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