Victoria B on 07 April 2021

To understand the rant here's a little back story, for context, our local community centre, through the youth club that my kids attend outside covid, sends weekly food bags to families who's kids who go to the youth club. They also have a little food bank set up at the community centre for anyone in the community to go and use. They normally deliver to youth club families each week and anyone else visits the centre. Last week they contacted me and asked me collect from the centre as lasts week was an Easter bundle, multiple bags, they still ended up needing to help me carry the bags back home as they're often quite heavy (which is why they normal deliver, plus social distancing needs). They also delivered an extra bag for everyone a couple days later (normally two bags on different days during school holidays, one bag term time). Monday was the special Easter bag and Wednesday is the usual bag/centre food bank day. Last Monday they asked us to collect and last Wednesday they delivered. Today being Wednesday. No delivery. By 1pm my neighbour text to ask if I'd heard from the centre about if we were meant to collect today, I replied that no one had contacted me and normally the lady in charge contacts me as I often take in bags for people on my street who are out when deliveries occur. I told my neighbour that they normally let us know before two. But to be safe I sent a message to the lady from the centre who normally contacts me asking if we're meant to collect or await delivery cos we'd not heard anything. I checked the centre's Facebook page, as they normally out updates in there, nothing. Neighbour and I both have anxiety issues and even in the message I sent to the centre lady I was full of apologises for bothering her, for asking, for texting. We're anxious asking for help, we're anxious of being seen as greedy, ungrateful, selfish, etc. So I didn't want to text, I felt shame and guilt doing so. I assume my neighbour felt shame and guilt asking me if I knew anything, but as we're friends she likely felt safer asking me than asking the centre itself. 2:30pm I get a reply from the centre lady I usually talk too. She told me she's off this week, responsibility for contacting families was with another member of her team, this other person was supposed to contact us about today's arrangements, the centre is closed now until next week and she's "really sorry about it". Of course I politely replied with the usual "oh, no big, thanks for letting me know", a big rock in my stomach as I now needed to convey this news to my neighbour. My neighbour who has even less money than me and needs these bags more than I do. I apologised to her, feeling bad for the situation she was in, wishing I'd inquired earlier so we could've avoided this outcome. Blaming myself for someone else's mistake. And of course my neighbour said to me "no worries, it's not your fault". And she's probably feeling just as shitty about the situation as I was feeling, she probably felt bad for my feeling bad, she's probably blaming herself for asking me instead of checking directly with the community centre herself, probably blaming herself for putting me in this middle man position. Probably blaming herself for being poor, the same as I've been conditioned to blame myself for being poor, the same as many others are thusly conditioned. Then I started thinking about the faceless person who was actually the person responsible, in the absence of the usual lady on the centre team, to contact us and let us know that's attachments had changed again this week. How might she be feeling. I wanted to say, she probably feels bad about it, and that's probably true. I know all the people on that team, I made a point of getting to know them all when my kids went there for youth club so I could feel safe leaving my kids in their care. I know them on a professional/service user type relationship level, and they are a lovely well-meaning and kind-hearted people. They're humans, empathetic and caring and genuinely seem to have a grasp what life is like on an estate like ours is like for us. So if I was in this team, the advice I'd give this faceless lady who made this mistake today would be to say to herself something along the lines of "oh no, I made a mistake, I will learn from this and put steps in place to prevent this mistake in the future, it was a one off, accidents happen. I missed two out of 30-50 houses (I'm not sure how many houses are in their books of course for data reasons), it's a shame, you feel bad and that's okay, but I still did a good job today. I can learn from this and not beat myself up. Better to focus on the good you did than the mistakes I made." If I was her team member, that is how I would encourage her to thing about the situation, because beating herself up doesn't help anyone anyway, accidents do happen, it's not fine but it is done now and can't be undone. Move on. That is a healthy way to think through the situation, from a professional provider point if view. She probably does really really bad, she probably does empathise and regret the mistake, and I don't want her to feel bad longer than she needs too. But I wonder, empathy aside, does she really realise what a difference these seeming small bags of seemingly cheap food does make to households like mine and my neighbours? From a service user point of view it's much more complex. There's the "oh dear, now we've less food until next week" conundrum. There's the shame and guilt side of if things. There's the sheer guy wrenching panic of "how will I make things stretch" side of things. In this situation, my neighbour and I are pretty close, we'll share and help each other and we'll have enough food to get us through, our kids won't go hungry. But we're lucky, what if we didn't have each other, what if that food bag was the difference between us going hungry to feed our kids, or them having a day or two with no meals. What if we weren't as lucky as we are. See the bit that upsets me, that I want to rant about in this whole situation, isn't that a person made a mistake and I wanna out or feel entitled to a bag of food that I didn't pay for, etc. The problem is the principle of the matter. It's not just about the food, it's about the relationships between all of these issues. It's about the welfare system. The ladies at the youth club are lovely ladies, as individual people, and they're doing good work and try are trying to help. I can't fault them. They're doing the best they can within their powers and abilities. But the principle of the issue is that the system is rigged, on a national level, against low income households. Here we have a welfare system that is so pathetic that families are scared and hungry. Where we are forced, by circumstance of being on benefits or not earning enough in work, to turn to and rely on food banks and charitable food aid, which is known to be prone to human error and be unreliable long term. When the first system fails us, the welfare system which is meant to be the ultimate failsafe but so isn't, we turn to charitable systems that will one day run out, or change or make mistakes. Only as it's a charity, when mistakes happen, there is nothing we can do about it. Take today's example, my neighbour and I, we can't complain about not getting a bag today because well it's a charity, accidents happen, they help more than they hurt. On a national level, it's no big deal. Not even factoring in the emotional, social shame aspect of the dynamic. Nothing we can do about it. We're powerless and unimportant. When we do factor in the emotional, social shame aspects, say if I were to post this rant on social media for instance, we'd be shamed publicly, with probable comments being along the lines of "it's your own fault your on benefits, work harder, do better, it's your fault you're in this situation, beggars can't be choosers, be grateful for what help you are lucky to get, no one owes you charity," you dare complain and you're demonised for daring to ask for more. We didn't learn this lesson when Dickens wrote about it and we've still not learnt this lesson now.

Contributors featured in
More media logos