We are appalled by the profit-driven approach from our government. Yet again the pressure is on the community to make up for the governments lack of empathy and understanding. Our weekly food parcel service has increased substantially over the past few weeks.
Whilst our schools have closed once again for another national lockdown, food parcels have been distributed across families who are eligible for free school meals. According to the Department for Education, the guidance on food parcels suggests families should receive:
- food items rather than pre prepared meals
- minimise fridge and freezer space
- contain items which parents can use to prepare healthy lunches
- not rely on parents having extra ingredients at home to prepare meals
- not contain items restricted under school food standards
- cater for special diets where necessary including allergies, vegetarians or religious diets.
Schools who cannot offer food parcels can give out vouchers for shops and supermarkets.
Despite this, last week there was a national out-roar across social media as parents posted pictures of food parcels they had received, suggesting that some recipients where given parcels worth £5 to feed families for up to 10 days. One commentator estimated the overall calories of food parcels received for a week was just over the amount a growing child should eat per day.
Marketisation of Welfare
This food parcel service becomes even more horrific when considering that schools can claim back up to £15 per pupil per week for these vouchers, on top of their usual free school meals funding. Throughout welfare state debates in the UK, one conclusion continues to resurface: the marketisation of welfare is not only ineffective, but damaging and downright immoral.
Since Thatcherism there has been an increase in neoliberal, market-driven approaches across British government and other major institutions such as our health care and education system. This profit-focused outlook encourages corner cutting and risks service users wellbeing for the sake of capitalism. The government replaces public service with private companies, putting our future in the hands of businesses whose main goal is to save and accumulate money. What do they know about our communities needs? What do they care? Food Compass Group Chartwells is the company responsible for these inadequate food parcels and have since made an apology. But we have seen this before, and until we make real institutional changes, we will continue to suffer. The overall responsibility is in the hands of the government.
Intwined in our welfare state policies is the longstanding concept of deserving and undeserving poor. The government avoiding giving families cash directly instead of vouchers or food parcels suggests a lack of trust in parents to make the right decisions for their children. Although in some cases this may be true, this is a broad and ineffective approach that insinuates those from poorer economic backgrounds do not know how to look after their children adequately. However, giving parents cash could help ensure they receive the full value of their entitlement, and can cater directly to their children’s specific needs. Not all families are the same, we all have different cultural beliefs, religious beliefs and dietary requirements that impact what we eat.
Here at Mojatu Foundation and Fearless Youth Association, we have been providing food parcels to a diverse range of individuals and families across Nottingham since March 2020. In this time, our service has increased from 30 parcels weekly, to over 100 parcels weekly. Many of the families we support have specific cultural and religious dietary requirements:
“We listen to communities and respond to what they need. For example, most of our families require halal food and we make sure we provide this. We actively encourage communication so they can tell us about their situation, and we can find long term solutions. We know we can’t provide food forever so we try and look at what training or other opportunities can allow families to receive relevant support. In the meantime, we hope the food provides a little variety and removes some stress from hard working families”– Laura McCartan, Mojatu Foundation
We are dedicated in ensuring our service users are at the heart of what we do, making sure we listen to their specific needs so that what we do in the community is effective. Alongside our food parcel service we support people in developing their skills, building confidence and overcoming issues, with an emphasis on compassion and togetherness. Some of the main services we offer at the moment include free online training programmes in creative pathways such as photography and graphic design and free online Mental Health training.
Building trust and understanding
For a stronger, more trustworthy welfare state, we need to decrease marketisation and increase understanding. We need to listen to what the people who need help need, and not assume that we know better. It is ironic that a welfare state built on decreasing ‘the nanny state’ very approach reinforces the idea of control over its service users through lack of choice when it comes to services provided. The more effective a welfare state, the less pressure on community organisations to make up for what the government half-heartedly enforces. The less pressure on community organisations to ‘fill the gaps’, the more beneficial work they can do within the community to directly tackle social issues and enhance social capital and mobility within impoverished communities.