While the politicians got another fat salary increase this week, more and more New Zealanders are queuing up at the food banks. And for added convenience, the Salvation Army has launched an internet food bank so people can donate food on line. ..
ONE OF THE MORE DEPRESSING STORIES that I ran across this week was the announcement by the Salvation Army that it has teamed up with a Nelson web developer and the Countdown supermarket chain to create 'the country’s first virtual food bank.'
The Foodbank Project, after a trail run in Auckland, is being rolled out nationally. It provides people with the convenience of donating basic food items on line.
While helping out people in times of need is, of course, laudable we need to remind ourselves that this used to be a country without food banks. What we did have were small scale operations, like soup kitchens, that catered for immediate emergencies.
In 1989 there were sixteen food banks in Auckland. By 1994 that had increased to over 130. There were some 370 food banks nationally.
The root cause for the massive increase in food banks was the implementation of the neoliberal policies that have blighted this country for the past three decades. For example there was a steep increase in the number of food banks following the 1991 benefit cuts and the passing of the Employment Contracts Act.
In 2015 food banks are now commonplace, the last port of call by people who have been failed by the neoliberal economic policies and an increasingly punitive welfare system overseen by both National and Labour governments alike.
It is worth noting that the process of impoverishment began long before the John Key-led National government came to power. It didn't suddenly begin seven years ago as Labour cheerleader Martyn Bradbury has suggested.
The introduction of an internet-based food bank is hailed as 'progress' when it is little more than the further institutionalisation of food banks. This should be a source of shame and embarrassment, not a vehicle for a Australian-owned supermarket chain to boast what a good corporate citizen it is.
The food banks will again be busy over the holiday period. The Christchurch Press reports that 'the City Mission usually hands out 20 to 25 food parcels a day to clients, but that amount has increased to 90 to 100.'
The Salvation Army says that 319 new families a week seek food parcels from them. You read right. 319 families a week. And you thought we were all living in a 'rock star economy'?
Maybe one percent of us are. The Child Poverty Monitor group's new report meanwhile concludes that some 29 percent of all New Zealand families are now living in poverty. Many of these families are on benefits but a growing number rely on jobs that simply don't pay enough.
Food banks will, of course, not solve poverty. Not even one based in cyberspace. Food banks are the product of a failed economic system and they just help to keep the existing structure of inequality in place. They are the creation of the political parties sitting in parliament today who even now, still have nothing to offer but more of the same failed neoliberal orthodoxy that is responsible for the widening inequality and deepening poverty.