Malvern has a food bank. Words I never thought I would utter. While it is a phrase that should gladden us – after all “You can judge a society by how they treat their weakest members” – we must ask why it is that Malvern needs a food bank.
This week we have learnt that more than 1,400 people (over 600 of whom were children) received emergency aid from our local food bank. Even our relatively prosperous town is being hit by two pernicious philosophies that are leading to the devastation of public services – and to the concept of ‘public service’.
First, we have “trickle-down” economics – if we allow the richest in our society to become even wealthier (the household wealth of the top 10% is 100 times the wealth of the poorest 10%), some of that wealth will, eventually, “trickle down” to the least well-off. Feeding from the crumbs of the table of the rich is no basis for a caring and just society. The rich rarely know when they have enough and need to share. Successive governments of whatever persuasion have not been inclined to encourage them to do so.
At the same time there is the belief that the marketplace delivers more cost-effective and better-quality services. Whether it is the NHS, higher education, public utilities, transport – now the Royal Mail – history has taught us that a marketplace of privatised monopolies, where the short-term interests of shareholders are prioritised ahead of the needs of citizens, is no guarantee of the quality or cost-effectiveness of essential services.
Further we have the myth of ‘localism’ – government dressing up its disinclination to deliver essential public services as an exercise in giving communities the ‘opportunity’ to take on that burden – but without the resources and support to do so. Ever more services once delivered by qualified professionals are now run by well-meaning, but essentially amateur, volunteers, doing their best in the face of government indifference.
I urge you not to give in to politicians of every hue seeking to turn us against the weakest in society, but to support the likes of the Food Bank. Let’s be thankful that we have those willing to step in when government abrogates its responsibilities. But it is no cause for celebration.