Monday, November 1, 2010

Food Banks and Halloween

Halloween is one of the delights of living in Canada. Canadian kids are very well behaved; there is no risk of getting broken eggs all over your parked car as there can be in the UK. They only call if you have your lights on, and most will only call if they see you have a pumpkin or other Halloween decorations. We were visited by about 20 trick or treaters this year. Their costumes were mostly home-made. One child was a "transformer" made from cardboard and papier mâché, with flashing head-lights -- amazing!

There was one embarrassing moment when a dad carrying his tiny tot did not want candy, but asked for food for the food bank. We don't give to the food bank.

Food banks are a difficult issue for me. I feel very strongly that rich countries like the UK and Canada can afford for all their citizens to be adequately housed with enough income to feed themselves and provide a basic standard of living. I think that if people have to accept charity, particularly if it is in the form of goods rather than money, that is demeaning for the giver and the receiver alike. It is precisely what the welfare state was created to avoid.

I've stated several times on this blog -- and I can't state it often enough -- that Canada did not cut its deficit in the 90's without social cost. It did so by creating a permanent underclass of many thousands of homeless people in every city, dependent on charity to survive. It is not acceptable for that to happen in the UK.

Food banks fill some of the gap left by the welfare cuts, but they are not a good solution. The American experience shows that donations to food banks go down during a recession when the donors are themselves feeling the pinch, but when the banks are needed most. Much of the food donated by food producers is of poor quality or inappropriate to needs. One might hope that the existence of food banks would shame governments into increasing welfare payments, but in the USA and Canada, the opposite seems to be the case: food banks have become an accepted alternative to welfare payments, and in the USA they are funded by taxpayers' dollars as well as charitable donations.

A friend who works at a food bank in Toronto has argued with me that I should donate to food banks, whatever my reservations, because I can't deny people need the food. But I feel that if I do, I am implicitly accepting an ideology that prefers discretionary charity to welfare payments as of right, and what is more I am encouraging the decay of the welfare state by assisting in the growth of the alternative.

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