Paul, 33, hasn't had a job since a car accident three years ago damaged his knee and made it hard for him to stand for long stretches; he has now mostly recovered and is looking to return to warehouse work, although he hasn't managed to find any, partly, he thinks, because of the recession and partly because his experience is now a bit out of date. Late last year, he was put on the government's new Work Programme, allocated a slot with the provider Sencia. "They are supposed to be helping me find work; all they are doing is having me come in and look for jobs on the internet. I could be doing that at home myself. They weren't sending me on any courses," he says.So...you've got Internet access at home? But you're struggling to feed your family?
Sorry, your growing family:
...they have nothing to feed their twin six-year-old sons and their eight-year-old daughter. Sarah is five months pregnant./facepalm
Paul doesn't say much, but comments as they wait for the food bank officials to decide whether they are eligible for a fourth, discretionary package that the sanctions system has been very hard for the family. "It cripples you. If it wasn't for the food banks, I don't know how I'd get it, other than steal it. They don't understand what it's going to be like when they take your money away from you, when you've got kids. It's impossible."It's not your money, is it, Paul?
Further on, there's a telling remark from the foodbank staff about their attitude to this 'life-saving service':
There's an eclectic mix of food, some of it of fairly low quality and cheap. Today among the array of goods on offer there is Asda Smart Price chicken-flavour noodles; Tesco Everyday Value chilli con carne; green mung beans in a bag; Sainsbury's Basics chocolate desert mix; a butterscotch supreme desert powder, packed with diglycerides of fatty acids and tetrasodium diphosphate. Staff have a rule that they won't distribute food they wouldn't eat themselves. "It is a bit annoying when people are clearing out the cupboards and we get rusty tins, something that went out of date in 2011." Bunting says. "We try to be sensitive. We get donations of Weetabix, but the problem with that is that it soaks up a lot of milk. If people give us cream crackers, we wouldn't give them out, because it's insulting if [the recipients] can't afford to buy cheese to eat with it."I... What?
I thought this was meant to be keeping body & soul together? What next, a refusal to give them anything because there are no after-dinner mints?
They aren't entirely naive, though, clearly:
Volunteers say they try not to be critical of the people who come in, but incidental comments show they clearly struggle not to categorise recipients into deserving and undeserving; there is a hint of moralising that might be less pronounced in a state service. There's some uncharitable speculation about why the food bank is less busy in the morning, which goes along the lines of "these people don't get up early". At the Hope Centre there is discussion about how deserving the Romanian families are. "We try not to be judgmental but if you can't stand close because of the alcohol fumes, you think if you had a couple of bottles less of whisky then maybe you'd be able to buy some food," one of the volunteers says, before catching himself, and adding: "But alcoholism is an addiction. Some people are very grateful and others think it is their right to get food."Yes. So we can see.
Oh, how the Guardianistas must be gnashing their teeth at this service being provided not by the impersonal arm of the state, but by people with eyes and ears and noses who are drawing unwelcome (to Guardianstas, anyway) conclusions....
Joseph Anderson, 44, is phlegmatic about the whole process. "The reason I am here? The dole decided I missed an appointment so they suspended my money." He missed the appointment because he didn't have the £3.60 for the bus fare and didn't feel up to the nine-mile walk to the Jobcentre. He hasn't worked since 2010 when he lost his job with ParcelForce, and is anxious to advertise his willingness to do so through the Guardian, hoping there may be readers ready to employ him.Heh! Good luck with that. In my experience, these articles are meant yo do one thing, and one thing only; justify the Guardianistas' attempts to put their hands deeper in everyone else's pocket, not their own...