Foodbanks are a sign of a healthy society

Wednesday, October 17, 2012
6.00 AM

Social security is fast being replaced with social insecurity. The government’s war on the “handouts culture” is designed to appeal to a particular audience - those who believe that the words “benefits” and “scroungers” go together like fish and chips.

But, for every person who needs to get off the sofa and find a job, there are plenty who cannot. And slashed benefits and the “fit for work” tests are making their lives a misery, and arguably making their mental and physical states more serious.

The safety net for people who fall on hard times has a wider mesh, and more people are falling through the holes.

And that is where something wonderful is coming in - foodbanks. All across the UK, including in Norfolk, good people are giving up their time to collect food to distribute to people in crisis. And many others are sparing a packet or a can to stock the storehouses.

Some would say foodbanks are a sign of a broken society: one where taxpayers are having to do the work that governments should be doing. I’ll let the politicians argue about that.

For my part, I think the forward march of the foodbanks is evidence of a society that is getting stronger. Great Britain has a great heritage of reaching out to those who have fallen on hard times. The likes of William Booth and Dr Barnardo saw a need and understood that it was not simply the government’s job to meet it.

Sadly, in recent decades there has been too much emphasis on self: on creating wealth, acquiring belongings and looking after number one.

The foodbanks - and other charitable initiatives - show that there are still people who understand that the strength of a society is measured by how we treat those at the bottom. They realise that we are not “number one” - that we should be putting others in that place.

The next test will be how many of us have the same revelation. How many will stop assuming that it is “society’s job” to care for their frail elderly parents? Actually, except in the most trying circumstances, it is my job to care for my mum and dad. Which is why I am putting carpet down in the shed.

And how many people will understand that when a near neighbour has suffered a fall or is starving because they cannot get to the shop, it is not good enough to blame the “authorities”? No, much of the guilt hangs over us, the people in their community who failed them.

If being a good Samaritan doesn’t appeal, look at it pragmatically. One day, you and I might be the ones in desperate need.

If we haven’t modelled to our children and grandchildren a caring community, we will reap the loneliness that we sow.