‘Cash-first’. It won’t stop hunger, but may be about the survival of food aid charity.

There is a good article produced in Liverpool recently under the title/quote – ‘This is why people kill themselves, because they can’t provide for their children.’ Written about a woman doing all she can to hold on. Holding on, due to a benefits system that penalises rather than cares, linked to unscrupulous employers who look to exploit hardship, the fact that there are simply not enough jobs to go around, and of course, a food aid system that is failing the majority of good people who are in crisis. Have a read of the article, not a food bank mention anywhere; a woman desperately trying to cook decent food. The place where food aid should be to support her, but as we know, the place where it is choosing not to go.

As we have written about many times before, but when nothing changes, it is important to refresh. Almost all of the UK food aid industry ignores good food, ignores good health and referring back to the Bennett quote, is strategically easy and populist.

Led by the big charities…Trussell Trust and FareShare and surrounded by others such as Sustain, IFAN, Food Ethics Council, academics of all kinds and consultants like the Food Foundation – Food aid has become, as it did in North America, and as it was all ways going to be here, an industry, a monolith of terrible food, ignoring people’s dignity and choices.

Once upon a time, but not so long ago, when Trussell and FareShare were small charities, tackling hunger was their supposed say-so, now its nothing more than a biproduct, readied to satisfy their campaign stories and ensure that their charitable/money empire remains constant, with no interruption to their supply of terrible food.

This matters because, sometime in 2022, the UK will see the biggest annual decrease in living standards since modern records began. A place where dire circumstances, become that much more dire and a place, where hunger will severely threaten many millions of good people. Alongside, diabetes is now a bigger cost to the NHS than treating cancer, and poor/terrible/processed food is the main driver – the same food by the way, offered by the food aid sector. It all adds up of a full-blown social welfare crisis, bigger than austerity, and so big, the responses require a re-think beyond the failed charity effort, we have seen for the past 12 years or so.

Any re-think requires solutions over charity. Solutions that must move beyond the emotional begging bowl manufactured by the charity effort and all of the drama surrounding it. Solutions that must be about equality and wellbeing. Solutions that must offer much more than hope.

Interestingly, these solutions already exist. And rather than 2022 being remembered for dragging people deeper into the food poverty mire, people like Caroline in the article, could be offered better food options, starting tomorrow, ready to take them in a new direction, and away from struggling or worse, begging.

So why, if the solutions exist are these charities choosing to maintain the poverty mire and further impoverish good people? Well, the answer is simple; Food aid, the type directed/run/studied by charities, consultants and academics (most of whom, know nothing about food or diet) want only grants to fund them, want only free and terrible food to dispense and always to retain their over-reliance on volunteers. They have created a ‘free-industry’ predicated on the goodwill of others and the pretence they are about solving hunger. It is an industry, that is uneconomic, unfair, wasteful of people and resources and has minimal social impact – but of course, the industry claims the opposite on all counts.

This charitable/industry, with its growing number of managers and fundraisers, who only know free and poor services, and who are wedded to the emotional story, rather than real social impact; creating a place where those who are vulnerable, are always under-sold. These managers only know charity and therefore can only offer charity, and what better example do we now have than the charity of food aid.

Unheard of 15 years ago, now being fettered by thousands of charities nationwide, 90% of which pass out food, no one with any choice, would ever choose. It is a food aid approach that has presided over the problem of food poverty since it started, pretending to help, but all of the time, watching the problem get much worse, with much much more to come.

Remember, 8 out of 10 hungry people ignore food aid, because it’s inadequate and over 60% of surplus/recycled food returns to landfill. Using any measurement, this makes food aid a failed model. A model where the big food aid charities are known to lie about their impact, by inflating the numbers of meals they give out. It is a lie, a so-called impact model, copied by most other food aid charities, and as they copy, the lie spreads, infecting the majority of the sector, leaving thousands of workers/volunteers complicit in a lie, that ultimately keeps hungry people hungry.

We thought 2022 may offer up change, after all, lots of organisations/chefs popped up during Covid talking a good food game and many funders looked like they were becoming tired of the food bank model. We thought this may be the time, the food aid sector actually stood up for what is right for those who are hungry – but how wrong we were. Instead, the food aid sector, doubled-down and pushed out with even more with their charity at all costs approach, adding a further lever of complexity = ‘cash-first’ – this un-costed, poorly defined, nonsense place, that serves only to keep food aid and all the consultant/academic hangers on, firmly strapped into the charity gravy train and a public confused.

The questions are…why would the charitable gang choose cash-first (tomorrow) over good food (today) and why would they choose to maintain charity over solutions to hunger? You see, cash-first keeps the sector in the game and good food doesn’t. Cash-first is long term, unachievable and will never be a solution to hunger (see below). But good food is achievable in the short term and threatens the now lucrative livelihoods of many, most of whom have made their careers out of poor-food-aid.

The cash-first ruse:

Dreamt up by individuals/organisations that have a vested interest in seeing poor-food-aid continues. Cash-first is actively promoted by organisations like Trussell Trust, Sustain, IFAN, a whole list of academics and dressed up to look like hungry people where actually asking for it. Cash-first is a campaign, anyone with a poverty insight knows, will never show any benefit for hungry people. But, it is sold with such conviction and with such voice, it seems to the uninformed, something close to plausible – it’s not and here is why.

The cash-first tribe want us all to believe that a few extra pounds in people’s pockets/purses will stop hunger – so you decide:

– The pandemic has moved on and we have a Government committed to ‘work-pays’, to below average increases to benefits and an opposition party jockeying with a similar position.

– In cold stark figures, £10 a week extra for everyone on benefits would cost the Government circa £200m per week and up to a 10% increase to the average benefit payment, but £10 a week is nowhere enough, so let’s say £30, (circa 30% increase) = cost £600m per week. Do you think a Tory Govt would concede to this? Yet, you would think from all the cash-first noise, victory was just around the corner.

– Oh, and we have the recent memory of a £20 increase to Universal Credit making no difference whatsoever to food poverty.

Of course, under pressure, the Govt could likely accept a-short-term-something, a bit more money into benefits, but anything offered will be swallowed up by the crisis that is already here and biting. So, what would be next for the cash-first ask, a £100 per week? – you do the maths.

For the record, the food aid sector will not declare how much ‘cash’ they think people should be entitled to. And why? Because they know it can’t/won’t be afforded, and to publicly quote a figure, would ‘out’ their ruse for what it is…a ruse.

Instead, the sector produce report after report, declaring that hungry people, when asked, say they want money over food (of course they do, everyone would) Yet, there is so much wrong with asking such a loaded question and if we unpick it, offering people cash, does not in anyway solve food poverty? In fact, it could make it worse.

Let’s use £10 a week or a 10% increase to the average benefit, as an example:

– Will it be enough to prioritise buying good food over bad – of course not, so what is the point?

– Will in provide for better/healthier shopping options in areas where good food is not a shopping option – of course not, so what is the point?

– Will it lower food prices to affordable rates, of course not, so what is the point? And;

– Will it magically provide people with the cookery skills to help them cook all the food this windfall will provide for – of course not, so what is the point?

Which brings us back to good food and the food aid sector’s fight against it.

We have fought for 15 years for a good food movement to take over the current/failed food aid model. Whereas the same food aid sector has fought for the same period against good food, claiming terrible-food was their only option, claiming also terrible food is, because they offer it, nutritional (another lie). A lie that so determines their method of delivery that any change now, would be to surrender to their believers that they were in fact, wrong all along and yes, there was/is a way to feed people well, and yes, we don’t need food banks as they are now. It’s so big a U-turn, it’s never going to happen, because where would this charitable industry go?

Remember, the food aid sector was supposed to be about social justice, about feeding people well, yet they have steadfastly stuck to feeding people the worst food a modern society can offer up, telling lies to keep the public sweet, cosying with corporate donor/food companies to help with them out with their food rubbish and cajoling funders to keep themselves in careers – some may call this ‘poverty porn’ – in reality, its much worse than that. It is a pernicious cycle of self-determination producing only the worst health outcomes for good people in crisis.

It is also an industry that does not like challenge and is scared of debate. They only operate with their like-minded walled garden. Look and see how many of the most influential food aid charities share board members and/or spurious membership arrangements = subjectivity, poor debate, poor governance? You decide!

And never forget, whilst all this contrived-cash-first-naval-gazing-distraction is going on, hungry people like the woman in article from Liverpool, are crying out for good food solutions, equal to those available to the well-paid executors of the food-aid charities who have made good fortune out of others misfortune.

And never forget, the same executors, have done and are doing, all they can, to deny any good food progress – And all in the name of charity.

And never forget, food aid and its methods come from a right-wing playbook, no less damaging to people’s quality of life than the benefits system they so rail against.

And never ever forget, good food solutions are available to all, right now in every town and every city.

And never ever, ever, forget, everyone counts or no one counts.