I visited two Foodbanks recently and spoke to the fantastic volunteers who are now virtually pseudo social workers, in the absence of the safety net that was once the proviso of local authority social services.
Row upon row of tinned food and pasta, long life milk and even donated tins of pet food (contrary to popular belief, those who have been sanctioned or are poor do have pets!) were stacked neatly. Volunteers informed me they also try and ask for toothpaste, shampoo, sanitary towels and soap to be donated as those on the breadline still need these vital products the rest of us take for granted. Being clean and being able to brush your teeth is not the sole preserve of the rich! But I stopped when I came to one shelf in particular which contained large tins of baby milk formula, and also jars of baby food. Before I had time to ask, one of the volunteers told me-
"Recently we have seen parents sanctioned due to various minor reasons at job centres.. Not being on time or phoning up because their child is ill and asking to sign on at another time, even going for a job interview that coincides with signing on time. Once a parent gets sanctioned, so do their baby milk tokens. This means that while parents need to turn to us for food parcels during the time they are sanctioned they also arrive here in a dreadful state as they have no baby milk formula to provide for their babies. Now we are asking for baby milk tins as well as all the usual food items. This part of Foodbank work is not being highlighted enough. Babies are being punished for being poor."
To be frank I was numb for a minute trying to take this in. Here is a coalition government led by Tories where sanctioning people for being unemployed is routine and so this forces them to seek food aid to get them by as without food parcels they cannot survive. On top of that if they have a baby, the baby is at the mercy of the Foodbank and its generous donors to survive too! In 21st century Britain! The sixth richest country on earth!
This is not just a national disgrace, it is downright evil political idealogy! Many of us remember Thatcher coming along as the then Education Secretary and taking the free school milk away from our schools. She earned the title of "Thatcher, the Milk Snatcher" among many other names at the time, but her Tory spawn of Cameron and Duncan-Smith have sent our society to a place where babies are denied milk because their parent(s) are poor! Of course these right wing posh boys will deny this practice goes on in Job Centres, just as they deny that there are no sanction targets, just as how they deny the poor are getting poorer. But it is up to us to fight back and get these pernicious and politically motivated attacks out into the wider psyche of society.
On Thursday 19 March Unite Community will be demonstrating all over the UK at Job Centres to call for a complete end to sanctions. I don't want to live in a UK which takes the food out of innocent babies mouths. I am disgusted and ferociously angry that I live under a Coalition government that thinks this is acceptable.
Punishing the most vulnerable, punishing the poor and punishing babies must stop. Full stop.