Thursday, 19 February 2015

Stealing Food

You steal food when you are desperate. This is not the action of a professional criminal. He or she goes after much bigger fish, if you will excuse the pun.

I stole food once, years ago in Tarbert, Loch Fyne. I had arrived there late ready to start a new job the following day across the loch in Portavadie. I had missed the last ferry. It was a new job, so I would be waiting till Friday for the pay packet. I had next to nothing, and I slept that night in the heather above the wee town. That afternoon I stole a pasty from a corner shop.

And that is the nearest I ever got to stealing for food - for I am one of the lucky ones from a comfortable, well-fed background in middle class Scotland.

Yesterday's The National reports that Glasgow police and Maryhill Foodbank are working together to develop a scheme so that people accused of stealing food can be fed. That's good news.

But it's shocking.

We are a nation that produces oil, for goodness' sake! Why do we have people on our streets who are so desperate that they must steal food? What is going on? Don't we have a benefits system that is meant to ensure that no one starves?

Well yes, but of course real life is not how the Westminster politicians would paint it. Because we do have a benefits system but it includes a draconian and unaccountable punishments regime that means that people, already with nothing, can have their benefits stopped for a variety of petty reasons. Or they have signed on but have to wait a fortnight for the money. Or they've had to pay a bill, and it's a dreich Thursday night and there is nothing, not a penny, in the wee jar in the kitchen. Or they are one of the 4,750 young people aged 16-24 who were homeless in Scotland during 2012-3.

So they nip round to the corner store (the owner is little better off than they are) and steal a loaf of bread.

With luck they get caught in Maryhill. There they might get some sort of humanity shown to them, someone who listens to their story and who provides what they need; a food parcel, and a friendly ear. Place the same story somewhere else and the treatment might be rougher, more legal than social.

None of this should be happening. If Scotland held the economic reins - income and spend - then it could share its wealth much more fairly across its population than do the neoliberals in Westminster.

To understand how far the neoliberals have fallen consider an announcement also from yesterday: Mr Cameron proposes to introduce a scheme for unemployed young people under which they would be paid £1.91 per hour for a 30 hour week, working for 'voluntary' organisations. I hope that the charity sector, en masse, rejects this criminal abuse of the poor.

On £1.91 per hour, our young people would be justified in stealing all the food from chubby Cameron's table.

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