• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Tales from the Food Bank: Crime and punishment

"Come on in," says the parcel recipient, inviting me into his clean but tatty and sparsely furnished flat.

He has told Kyle he can't get to the foodbank, so rather than let him go hungry I've come several miles by car with a box of food for him.

He seems like a nice guy bewildered by a system that has left him next to nothing to live on, but the benefit he receives has been cut because fines he owes to the courts are being deducted at source. This gives me to pause for thought, but then I think whatever he has done, and of course I don't inquire, no-one should be punished by starvation.

Loading article content

Payment cuts - sanctions - by the DWP for benefits misdemeanours have left me furious in the past, and having sat through court hearings for years I was always amazed the powers that be think fines paid out of benefit are a good response to minor criminality.

But - and again I don't make an issue of it - I am a bit baffled as to why he needs a delivery. Yes, he can't afford the bus, but the distance to the foodbank would take an hour to walk, and we always help people with strong bags if they have a distance to get home. Clients in the past have walked four or five miles for a parcel. He's in his 40s maybe, slim and freckled with thick ginger hair, and the walk would appear perfectly possible.

I feel I'm maybe being harsh, but as colleagues at the foodbank have pointed out before, clients can be presumptuous, and have a sense of entitlement. They can be worse too: when I first started volunteering we had a client stealing from another's food parcel. One of my colleagues wanted to chuck the thief out and tell him to never come back, but I said everyone, however dire their behaviour, deserves our help. The thief got his parcel.

There have been needles found in the church toilets, we have been aware of cases of food-bank 'hopping' where clients go to several outlets to get cans to sell, and there is a sign up at the food bank saying abuse and violence will not be tolerated. But rather than get angry with misbehaviour I remind myself we are dealing with people often who have been at the bottom of a very deep hole for a long time. People do make choices, sure, but put anyone under enough pressure for long enough and it's more likely their behaviour will be unpredictable, selfish, self-destructive and anti-social.

My delivery client, I suspect, isn't in that category: he just hasn't had the habit of walking any distance, so it has not occurred to him to try, and - with a baby daughter who he takes turns to care for, those fines, and having lost his job - he has resigned himself to helplessness. We'll ask him to walk if he gets in touch again, but the food will be there for him and everyone else, regardless of their past.

Contextual targeting label: 
Food and drink

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

245091