The argument against food banks

Poppendiek says she admires food bank volunteers, who tend to be driven by a desire to stamp out poverty and injustice. But in the US she noticed how that radical edge dulled over time, as volunteers\’ efforts were diverted from advocacy and politics to the inordinately time-consuming logistics of running ever-expanding foodbank networks.

The gentle kindness of charity food assistance programmes has allowed public and governments alike to gloss over the underlying causes of poverty, she argues. Food banks are a \”moral safety valve\” that provide \”an illusion of safety\”. In reality, she says, they \”obscure problems of wages, access to work and mounting inequality\”.

The key lesson for the UK, she says, is simply not to go down the route of food bank welfare: \”Beware. Once you let the [foodbank] genie out of the bottle you cannot get it back in there.\”

In short, alleviation of the immiseration of the poor delays the revolution.

18 thoughts on “The argument against food banks”

  1. “ever-expanding foodbank networks… Once you let the [foodbank] genie out of the bottle you cannot get it back in there.”

    I read that as, if you subsidise the poor you will get more of them.

  2. Isn’t this also the argument used to justify not providing food aid to starving Sudanese – that it undermines their ability to provide for themselves?

    We have a local foodbank which my church supports. It provides very short-term (a few days at most) support to families which have literally run out of money. The only alternative they have is loan sharks. I don’t see how either loan sharks or hunger help them to address their financial problems.

  3. Why are they in the position of requiring food banks in the first place though would be my question? 7th (or is it 8th now?) wealthiest nation on the planet, pretty disgraceful really.

    *Slow handclap* for our wondrous government.

  4. “The gentle kindness of charity food assistance programmes has allowed public and governments alike to gloss over the underlying causes of poverty, she argues. ”
    Sounds like an argument for abolishing the welfare state.

  5. Dennis The Peasant

    “In short, alleviation of the immiseration of the poor delays the revolution.”

    Priorities are, after all, priorities.

  6. KJ- our local foobank has been running about 6 years now – and some have been going over a decade. Like many, it deals with a short term solution to a problem without dealing with the base problem.

    Bills go up – while benefits or wages do not go up by as much. Benefits can take a few days or weeks to kick in after being applied for. Crisis loans may not last long enough. Plenty of reasons why a little help is needed. Not much any government can do directly – unless they keep inflation right down, prevent any bills from rising and keep food and essentials costs from increasing. Not really something we expect the UK government to do.

    It would be lovely if we didn’t need food banks in this country. Very glad we do have them when families literally have no money for food.

  7. It would be nice to have food banks, so longs as the recipients don’t have 40″ LCD TVs, Xboxes, etc.

    And yes, it is not fair that they have to sell them off to get food. Priorities.

    If it really was for crisis times when the benefits haven’t arrived then there is Wonga.

  8. KJ

    I agree that the situation is arguably unacceptable in the current day and age, but we then need to perhaps examine an immigration system that encourages over 100,000 people to come in to the country per year, 75% of whom settle in the already overcrowded South East.

    We need to look at a taxation system whereby Property is not subject to any form of Capital Gains Tax when sold, at a pensions system comprehensively destroyed over the past 15 years for the Productive Sector of the economy, at a system whereby Lower income people dare not take any form of paid employment because they will either lose their benefit entitlement immediately or the system is designed in such a way they are better off NOT working.

    I see precious little evidence of any such policies from HM opposition.

  9. We need to look at a taxation system whereby Property is not subject to any form of Capital Gains Tax when sold,

    This is, of course, bollocks. It only applies to one (main) dwelling and only to the extent that that dwelling is not used for other purposes.

    If it really was for crisis times when the benefits haven’t arrived then there is Wonga.

    Hmm. There are reasons for family poverty that have little to do with the family’s previous standard of living. Also, neither Wonga nor selling off high depreciation goods are necessarily medium-term (3 to 6 month) sensible tactics. Meh. I’m more than a bit more liberal (JSM) than I am minarchist.

  10. “And as food banks have grown, so the obligation of the state to feed its hungry citizens had been eroded, she says.”

    Yes, quite so. People voluntarily doing good things is bad and wrong. People must only do good things when forced to by law.. and, ideally, with a giant beaurocracy between said people and said good things.

  11. In reality some people see a need and take steps to meet that need. Groups that can help with some of the underlying problems already exist (citizens advice, consumer credit counselling service, specialist help charities etc) – but only some of the problems. Issues about lack of income or high unavoidable expenses are much harder to deal with. Not really much government can do about such matters either – of any party.

  12. SE

    How many people own multiple houses, and arguably one of the biggest sources of genuinely ‘unearned’ income comes from property owners who have seen the price of their asset artificially boosted by NIMBYs not allowing houses to be built, and a policy of unlimited immigration. Money tied up in housing does no one any good other than the homeowner. If that money were in shares, the benefits would be myriad.

  13. Dennis The Peasant

    James James: “’ever-expanding foodbank networks… Once you let the [foodbank] genie out of the bottle you cannot get it back in there.’

    I read that as, if you subsidise the poor you will get more of them.”

    I read it thusly: If you subsidise the poor (or any other group), other groups will want subsidies as well.

  14. Van Patten, not sure I follow you there. In both property and shares, the buyer buys from a seller so money changes hands and in both cases the buyer expects a return on investment from regular payments, increase in value or a mix of the two. I don’t see how shares are somehow better than property in terms of benefits.

  15. “one of the biggest sources of genuinely ‘unearned’ income comes from property owners who have seen the price of their asset artificially boosted by NIMBYs not allowing houses to be built, and a policy of unlimited immigration. Money tied up in housing does no one any good other than the homeowner.”
    What money? The ‘money’ tied up in housing artificially boosted in price would only become ‘available’ if the property was sold. The money used to buy it, then becoming ‘unavailable’ in the same manner.

  16. Van_Patten, when A buys a house from B, that means B gets the money that A had (apart from what goes on stamp duty, the real estate agent’s commission, solicitor fees, etc). If house prices double, then B (+ stamp duty + real estate agent + solicitor + etc) gets double the money.

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