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Tales from the Food Bank: 1930 all over again?

The paper in front of me is The People from Sunday March 23, 1930.

Above the Home Secretary's warning about illegal sweepstakes, the girl saved from death in a snowdrift, the kicking woman who beat 13 men, blackmailed stage stars, and the reason why Capt FE Guest has switched his political allegiance to the Conservatives (there were bloody fools even then), the big headline tells a story that feels a little bit familiar.

UNDERFED WORKERS DRIVEN TO DRUGS, it screams ... Growing Illness Due To Lack of Proper Food.

Gill, the food bank manager, found this old paper when she was clearing out her grandfather's garage, and she hands it to me for my entertainment.

It's a cracking read, as The People always was for those not snobbish about some good old-fashioned nosy entertainment.

Those blackmailed stage-stars in Chicago were being pushed around by none other than Al Capone, there's a ghost on an assault charge in the West of Ireland, a millionaire's daughter who lost £2000 in silk stockings, a great picture of a woman promoting pipe smoking, and a bloke who takes his donkey to the pub.

But they got it right to splash on the hungry. My eye is drawn back to it: "A new and tragic sidelight on the effects of trade depression in Britain is contained in the latest records of the joint committee which controls National Health Insurance in Northern England.

"The bill for drugs in this area has gone up by £16,000 in the past 12 months, and in Sunderland prescriptions have been increased by more than 18%. Over the whole area more than half a million prescriptions have been dispensed.

"Not only is enforced idleness undermining the moral fibre of the workless; it is draining away their health. Both they and many of those in work are not getting enough food, and drugs and medicines are being used in increasing quantities to alleviate hunger and check the ravages of disease and general ill health."

The parallels are too obvious to need pointing out. Of course there are a few differences too: the medication used these days by people who are desperate is often of the illegal variety, but enforced idleness undermines the moral fibre and drains away the health all right, and 84 years later there are still no answers from the powers that be.

Of course having a good pool of unemployed people is the key to driving down wages and powering up our economy, without much thought to the poor bastards whose moral fibre is being given a good kicking, and who, if they really have the stuffing knocked out of them, end up at Blawarthill Parish Church in Glasgow on a Tuesday or Friday for some badly-needed food to alleviate hunger and fend off the ravages of disease.

I think the desperation is better hidden now, with the poverty concealed by better housing and schooling, and people are not literally tramping the streets in search of work, but the fact that it's concealed should not blind us to the damage it does to society when there are immensely rich people, making more and more money, and yet people are so desperate they have to come and get free tins to survive.

I think of other parallels with the 1930s: how - elsewhere in Europe at least - the Depression helped dubious politicians of all colours to surf to power on a wave of dissatisfaction with the economy, poverty and a lack of social justice.

Of course the system needs to change, of course it is blindingly stupid that we have a UK cabinet of millionaires who have not the slightest idea that sanctioning a benefit claimant can mean they have so little money they will starve.

But the parallel raises fears about the motives of those who want to radically change the way we are governed and relate to other nations.

Am I right to be worried?

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