Food has been increasingly politicized over recent times – and no more so than by food banks.
The country’s most prominent provider, The Trussell Trust, announced that well over 600,000 adults and children required handouts in the first 9 months of 2013/14 – the biggest-ever rise in usage, up 170 per cent. It’s a startling statistic.
But while vulnerable people and a growing reliance on charity is a worrying development, more politicians appear to be wading in to comment; championing beliefs as a result of the initiatives, or combating opponents with differing figures.
On Tuesday, a cross-party inquiry into food poverty was launched to examine the country’s ‘underlying issues’. The prospectively pragmatic approach cannot come soon enough. Jon Glenn, Conservative MP for Salisbury, said at the time: ‘Partisan politics needs to be taken out of the debate.’
But while the need for food banks stems from economic policy founded on political ideals – undeniably fuelling debate and dispute – the physical act of donation and provision has largely been left to kindly members of communities. Churches, resident-led teams and larger organizations have all stepped up.
The British National Party (BNP), however, has ignored this basic premise. This week The Independent reported that the far-right group has begun a nationwide door-to-door service, expanding a localized scheme in East London which was condemned by some observers as ‘manipulative’.
Unite Against Fascism’s Weyman Bennett says the move is not dissimilar to Adolf Hitler’s soup kitchens, or the work of Greece’s fascist party Golden Dawn.
He told The Independent: ‘I think [the BNP] are repeating those methods with this period of austerity. There is a danger with austerity that people get exploited and used.’ He added that the work would encourage ‘the homeless and the desperate to support a rotten organization’.
Indeed, ‘giving’ has often been a telling sign of propaganda – to appeal to potential voters; to nurture some semblance of positivity in times of hardship.
But BNP spokesperson Simon Darby responded by talking about people ‘struggling’. He played down the speculation, while mentioning the scheme as an expression of ‘sympathy’. Puzzling, then, that he went on to say that the project was a way of gaining ‘trust’ and ‘bringing meaning to politics’.
As many question the motives behind he scheme, BNP leader Nick Griffin went as far as to proclaim that his party’s mobile food banks were for ‘indigenous’ people only.
Over the last few years, the BNP has used the country’s concerns for welfare and widening inequality to step into the spotlight. Communities driven to the fringes by austerity are Nick Griffin’s target.
Yet dishing out tinned goods in exchange for a tick on a voting slip is more than politically questionable; it also undermines those who are working to tackle food poverty without hoping to gain an advantage from such altruism. The Sufra food bank, for example, is a Muslim collective run from a small community centre on a northwest London housing state. It has doubled in size since forming late last year and, although founded on a religious backbone, has been ‘offering support to anyone in need’.