Last week I Tweeted, “Join me on April 1st for ‘What’s The Story Chorley?’ literary festival to hear why the government plans to make foodbanks illegal.”
Within minutes I had a BBC TV producer and a bunch of journalists asking to talk. There was also, understandably, a great deal of outrage from Foodbank workers.
I direct messaged everyone to tell them it was a story I had written on 13 May 2015 after the Tories got in again; a little bit of fake news which I would be reading at the April Fools Day festival.
One lady who worked in a Foodbank was particularly upset by my click bait Tweet. She said I would upset and scare too many people and I should take it down. She went on to say that she would be surprised if anyone turned up to hear me speak if I was only telling lies.
This lady wanted to protect the hungry but I wanted to tell her that people should be more upset and angry about the very existence of foodbanks than the threat of them disappearing.
Here’s a little background to my story. These are real comments made by members of the government and House of Lords.
Lord Tebbit –
“I call on my peers to initiate some research into sales of junk food in the areas where people are relying for their basic foods on foodbanks”.
Baroness Jenkins –
“Poor people don’t know how to cook”.
Michael Gove –
“I appreciate that there are families who do face considerable pressures. It’s often as a result of some decisions that have been taken by these families which mean they are not best able to manage their finances”.
Iain Duncan Smith –
“I welcome decent people in society helping others who may, for various reasons, have fallen into difficulty”.
DWP Spokesperson –
“The Trussell Trust itself says it is opening three new foodbanks every week, so it’s not surprising that more people are using them. They also agree that awareness has helped to explain the recent growth”.
My Fake News PM –
“It has been evident for some time that it is the supply of free food by the foodbanks that is creating the demand and dragging our country down into an abyss of self pity. We all need to tighten our belts but remain dignified”.
I think my fake news sits easily with the above comments.
In 2015, a democratic election produced a result that surely meant the majority of the poplulation believed everything that the likes of Iain Duncan Smith and his mates were saying.
Or maybe the election was rigged.
More likely, according to my Facebook friends, the result was because the little people didn’t vote.
At the time I felt sure that if we had convinced the downtrodden to vote then the result would have been different. Now I’m not so sure.
Let me tell you about the time I was trolled by Tesco workers.
It was late 2015 and a Facebook friend had shared a link to my timeline from Tesco’s Facebook page. It showed a basket of fruit in one of their stores with a sign inviting children to help themselves.
There were thousands of congratulatory comments for this supermarket . The same supermarket that I had unsuccessfully battled with for years to give me permission to take the waste fruit and veg from their bins to feed to the hungry. I took the waste from Lidl supermarkets so there was no reason why I couldn’t do the same from Tesco.
I left a comment saying it would be nice if Tesco, as the country’s largest private sector employer, paid their staff a living wage so they could afford to buy their own children fruit.
Within minutes I received hundreds of replies to my comment from outraged Tesco employees. They told me how brilliant Tesco’s was to work for and how awful it was that I should post such a negative comment on such a positive post.
Let me just re-iterate here that this was a basket containing a dozen or so apples and pears to keep children quiet while their parents concentrated on filling their trollies with Tesco profit.
I pointed out to these happy workers that Tesco said they couldn’t pay them the living wage because it would cost them millions of pounds per year which they could not afford.
Which Tesco could not afford.
Not one employee felt aggrieved by this. They thought it was okay for Tesco to pay them a wage that had to be topped up by tax credits to the tune of over £100,000 per store, per year.
Would these people have voted for a change in government?
My fake news story told of a nurse on a ‘flexible’ contract whose working hours were dropped to just ten hours a week for two weeks. At the end of the month she couldn’t pay the rent as well as feed the kids. She couldn’t get a bank loan because she didn’t have a contract of guaranteed hours so had to get a Wonga. You know the rest.
So how fake was my story? Central government has drastically cut funding so councils have virtually nothing left to spend on the vulnerable. Here in Lancashire the Care and Urgent Needs System will now give a referral for only two food parcels a year. What use is that to a family who will never recover from debt because they’ve got £300 worth of bailiff debt from £70 worth of council tax owing?
I wanted to ask some of the people who were outraged at the thought of foodbanks being made illegal what they had thought about the homeless being arrested and fined for taking food out of bins in their town centres? Had they even noticed that overnight it had become a criminal act to take a chip from a bin in many of their towns?
No one profits from the homeless so they don’t have a big voice to shout for their rights, unlike the food bank users who have the Trussell Trust. Was this the reason there was little outrage?
On Sunday night I walked through Camden Town where I used to live but now just visit from the North. Camden has never scared me. I lived, worked and partied there for years. It was my town. But on Sunday night it felt liked I’d stepped into a post apocalyptic film set. I guiltily took my phone from my handbag and slipped it inside my jacket pocket because I had never felt so certain of having my bag snatched.
This is me, who refused to listen to people who told me to take off my rings when I was out on the streets feeding people from the back of my car. I wasn’t going to insult the poor by expecting them to rob me. Then.
But now I was.
On Sunday I expected to be robbed. Walking those Camden streets with a Gucci handbag (£2.99 from my local charity shop) I felt I deserved to be robbed. I looked through the great big windows of Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant and wondered why no one had put a brick through them.
As I caught the eye of a twenty-something girl queuing for a loaf of bread hand out at the tube she broke away to ask me for money for a night at the hostel in Victoria. I said ‘Sorry darling. Not tonight” and walked away.
I walked past the old lady who was still camped near Sainsbury’s two years since I’d used the Streetwise app on my phone to alert the authorities that there was an elderly and vulnerable lady sleeping on the street in the freezing rain.
She was still there but this time I didn’t stop to even give her the time of day. I walked away.
I wanted to put my blinkers on and have a night off. I wanted to say to the next person who stopped me for money, “Please leave me alone. I’ve done my bit and I need a break.”
My friend and I went for dinner and we walked home and I didn’t have my bag snatched. Then the next day I questioned how long it would be before I stopped being someone who called the police offering to pay the fines of people arrested for stealing food and became someone who was quietly pleased when the homeless were given exclusion zone orders from entering my town. After all, there are property prices to think about.
How long would it be before I stopped automatically binning those begging letters from Oxfam and other charities and finally filled in a direct debit form so that I could hold my head high and turn away from what’s happening on our streets? Because I was doing my bit for Africa.
Believe me, it’s tempting but becoming one step removed is to become one step closer to becoming any one of those out of touch Lords and Baronesses and MP’s who could make the kind of comments I’ve listed here.
Take care of your neighbour and if your neighbour is ok, keep moving down the road until you find someone who isn’t. You won’t need to go far because even the official, most desirable town in this once great country has three foodbanks.
Catch your neighbours before they become homeless or end up using the Foodbank . Talk to everyone, hear their stories and if their story is that they’re happy to work for less than the living wage on a contract with no security then remind them that it’s not right and it’s not fair and they need to start shouting about it.
They, the unskilled workers of this country need to start shouting about it because the government is laughing at all those white middle class lefties marching on Downing Street every week.
If the foodbanks were made illegal and every food aid place (like my hut) closed down overnight then maybe people would be outraged enough to started expecting more and accepting less.
Today Jeremy Corbyn has said he’s sick of foodbank Britain. Now we just need the rest of the country to wake up, take back their dignity and stop thinking that the Foodbank industry is a good thing.
You can read my fake news story here