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Food Banks Are A Great Conservative Success Story – Why Wouldn’t They Celebrate Them?

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, the darling young thing that she is, seems to believe that State incompetence is a new thing. That it’s only in these past few years that people have been made to wait for the crusts – stale obviously – and rancid lard that the welfare state throws their way. The past, when the Post Office used to make you wait 3 months for a telephone – I’ve actually waited 6 months for telephone lines in fact – seems not to have registered at all. Sure, phone lines aren’t benefits payments but incompetence at the one is likely to imply that at the other. And I’ve definitely helped out, in the early 80s, with a bloke waiting 8 weeks for his first dole payment. He was scouring the streets for dropped coins for a pint of milk before the friends’ whip round.

What Ms Cosslett really doesn’t understand is that the demand for food banks has always been there. Simply because government bureaucracy isn’t all that good at giving out free money. The rise of food banks is because we’ve all discovered a new technology – those food banks – to deal with this previously unmet need. This is therefore all entirely the wrong way around:

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]How dare these Conservative MPs make festive visits to food banks?
Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett[/perfectpullquote]


[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I’ve always found the Conservative facility for audaciously brazening out acts of sheer human callousness to be verging on the sociopathic. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they are like the serial killers who taunt the families of their victims, but there is something bloodcurdling about such politicians’ willingness to visit, say, a homeless shelter, when they are responsible for cutting housing benefit. But this past weekend’s seemingly coordinated series of visits by Tory MPs to food bank drop-off points has reached new heights of cold-bloodedness. Could there be a better example of their villainous brand of cognitive dissonance than this?[/perfectpullquote]

Centralised state control of the handing out of a meagre dole has always been inefficient. From the Poor Laws, through India’s ludicrous ration system to the UK’s delivery of dole, housing benefit and other bits of social security. The only bit that really works is the pension system and that’s because the amount doesn’t change often nor, before the Grim Reaper’s appearance, the people it’s paid to. And there’s usually some 65 years to prepare for who to pay it to too.

Do note the most common, modal, reason for a food bank referral is a failure of the benefits system to disgorge the cash. And no, we’ve no evidence at all that this has become more common. I for one would welcome a proper study into whether it has become more, or less, common over time for I, like everyone else here, am only able to rely on anecdata. I know, absolutely, that it used to happen but more or less, dunno.

Still, so, we’ve a known problem, some level of State incompetence. We’d like a solution, no one wants hungry children mugging dogs in the street for their milk bones. What to do, what to do?

The conservative – and to the extent that Conservatives are conservatives these days ie not much – solution is to look to Edmund Burke. Let’s see what the Little Platoons, those undirected by any central commissar, can come up with. The answer is those food banks. No state direction thus none of the problems which led to our initial problem of feral brats robbing pets. But a decent, humane, charitable, solution to hunger among those failed by the centralised state. Take food not being and not going to be used elsewhere and give it to people who have no food. Excellent, job done.

According to Ms. Cosslett this is a scandal. According to any conservative it’s a triumph of societal organisation. One that should indeed be celebrated by conservatives even if not quite Conservatives.

Your view? Well, you choose. But note a basic point here. To believe that food banks are an outgrowth of the Tories, or austerity, is to believe that the benefits system used to pay out more regularly, with less error and interruption, than it does now. And if that is your claim then we’d like to see your workings please. Who knows, actual evidence might trump either set of anecdata.

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5 years ago

Hmm. In what sense are Food Banks new technology? Just asking. “Take food not being and not going to be used elsewhere and give it to people who have no food” doesn’t sound like something that has only recently become possible. So I’m fine with you suggesting we get data, and definitely fine with the point that the government has always been crap at providing services to the very poor, but I’m with her at least in that the new solution suggests a new problem, unless there’s another explanation.

David Taylor
5 years ago

I think, and I may of course be wrong, that Tim is simply suggesting that we have found a way to mobilise/organise local philanthropy to ameliorate a problem. I also think Tim is wrong to congratulate the Conservatives (i.e. the government) but would be right to congratulate the ‘people’ both organised in Churches, and local councils and commercial as in supermarkets as well as many volunteers for finding a solution to the problem of governemnt incompetence. Note the colour of the government makes little difference since in most cases (anecdote) its not the lack of money that is the problem… Read more »

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
5 years ago

Devil’s advocacy: it’s possible that the new universal benefits system makes this worse. Not just because of the bugs and glitches to be expected with any new system, but because the old system where you got three or four smaller benefits meant that a single screw up left you with less money to live on, not no money at all.

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