Ten, twenty years ago there was no such thing as Foodanks by and large. That’s not to deny the existence of soup- kitchens and very small projects supporting those on the absolute fringes of society. In Newcastle, the People’s Kitchen has a long and storied history of providing support for those in dire need. But overall, there was a social security system, although far from generous, which provided a safety net for most people who find themselves for want of a better description, with no means to support themselves.
The last decade has seen a radical re-shaping of what we might term the Welfare State and as a consequence, the existence of Foodbanks have expanded in size and number in almost every community across the UK. The Newcastle West Foodbank is the largest in the UK – a fact which we can simultaneously find shameful and a source of pride, not because of the poverty it responds to but in the good-will it demonstrates remains out there in a consumerist society centered on self-gratification, narcissism and the cult of the individual.
I watched local news last night and was reminded just how precarious Foodbanks are as a means of providing support to some of the most vulnerable in society. The West End Foodbank has formed a worthy alliance with the Newcastle United Fans Foodbank, supported amongst others by this fanzine, NUFC.COM and of course the Newcastle United Supporters Trust amongst many others.
Again, the NUFC Fans Foodbank has been a source of some pride in terms of the resources it has generated but within that expression of community action should be the acknowledgement that it is a wholly unsatisfactory method of providing the basics of life to the most vulnerable. We should also note that the vast majority of supporters going to St James’ Park have never and will never give the Foodbank a penny. Those involved in looking for donations for Foodbanks will confirm the occasional abuse and hostility they receive from some in supermarkets when they do their various collections. I just thought I’d flag that in case anyone was running away with the idea of the canny Geordies looking after each other narrative. There are as many nasty, selfish, mean bastards living in the NE as anywhere else in the country and let’s not kid ourselves we’re anything special in that regard. We may once have been but now? I’m not so sure beyond moisty-eyed sentimental wishful thinking.
The news snippet I saw featured several volunteers at the Foodbank making doughty and admirable statements of determination to keep going amidst the reality of the NUFC Fans Foodbank’s whole model of operation – calling for donations of money and food outside the match – falling to pieces as a result of PL games being called off as a result of the COVID-19 national crisis.
With good sense the volunteers are now calling for financial donations to keep the Foodbank going amidst worries about super-market shelves being stripped by those who never really bought into the fad for Keep Calm And Carry On merchandise from a few years ago. The Dunkirk spirit seems to have passed them by and its every man for himself in their world.
But I rather think the Foodbanks have missed the point. They shouldn’t exist. That they do is a stain on a modern, prosperous society. Foodbanks will largely be unable to cope with the shock of what to all intents and purposes is a (inter)national emergency. They exist only because the reforms to the social security system have been so severe and self-defeating as to render the safety net that should act to prevent those at risk of destitution and hunger being ripped from its moorings.
By all means the Foodbank should flag up the need for donations to continue in order to mitigate against a potential human catastrophe but their focus should now be political.Their central mission should be to work to their own obsolescence through political lobbying and campaigning no matter whose noses they put out of joint.
In the short term, resources should be provided from central government via councils to ensure Foodbank operations are not left to the whim and fancy of football fans donating outside turnstiles (when matches are on) to both sustain and more than likely expand their operations in coming months.
And you also have to look at Newcastle United too. I noted the good PR the club got for itself by donating Saturday’s match-day food to the Foodbank. I guess it would have all largely ended up in a land-fill had they not made the call to the Foodbank. United has achieved some notable and desperately needed PR for its links with the Foodbank but the reality is it has done very, very little. It could do better now than to simply prevent pies from going mouldy by covering the average donations made at matches until Premier League football gets back to whatever constitutes as normal. In terms of the money involved we’re looking at considerably less than an hour’s worth of losses at the casino for Mike Ashley.
But in the longer term, a lobby led by the Foodbanks needs to gather pace to demonstrate that their work – as well-intentioned as it so obviously is, is wholly inadequate and should be working for its own non-existence – as should be all of the forms of minimal subsistence provided by various charities because the social security system has been torn to shreds.
You can donate to the NUFC Fans Foodbank here but remember it is a woefully inadequate response made necessary by the political choices of the last decade when we were all half-asleep and thinking it was all about somebody else.
TONY GREEN FAN CLUB