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Where the Big Society meets Oliver Twist

Have things become so bad in the UK that food vouchers areto be distributed to the poor?

According to a report in The Guardian, work and pensionssecretary Iain Duncan Smith is keen on a scheme whereby Jobcentre Plus staffwould hand food vouchers to unemployed people.

They can take then exchange them for food parcels at acharity, the preferred one being the Trussell Trust, a Christian organisation.

It is easy to see how the Big Society is creeping in,dispensing alms to the deserving poor who queue for their food parcels in themanner that Oliver Twist lined up for his gruel.

It also helpfully allows the government to sidestepresponsibility – we can blame the Big Society if there are not enough foodparcels to go round or if there is no food bank nearby.

Josh Fenton-Glynn, writing on the Labour List blog, makesthe valid point that the Trussell Trust has 65 centres in Britain, whereas theJobcentre network has 750.

He goes on to estimate that Iain Duncan Smith’s scheme wouldmake a substantive difference to just 10% of Jobcentre users.

Of course, what would genuinely make a difference is a raisein benefits, but the coalition is more intent on reducing them in the vain hopethat the Big Society will dip into its rapidly emptying pockets.

As someone whose paunch betrays his love of food, I aminterested in what would be contained in the parcels. Would they form theso-called five-a-day fruit and veg diet? Or would the parcels contain cheapjunk to “tide you over”, the false friends of food production?

Moreover, would the temptation be to sell on some of thefood parcels, or even the vouchers themselves, ushering in a black market similarto the one that took hold during post-war rationing?

Too many questions, too many doubts.

One more question, though: what would Charles Dickens have made of this?

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2 Responses to Where the Big Society meets Oliver Twist

  1. Keir Hardie 12 April , 2013 at 12:42 am #

    I thought I was the only one who thought like this about the Big Society idea. It is refereshing to see that I’m not – thanks for blogging such a piece.

    The fundamental principles of the idea are just so wrong in so many ways. The idea that ‘the poor,’ as they seem to be affectionately known as by this government, should be reliant on charity handouts for food just seems to me to be such a huge step back in time that it’s not even funny anymore.

    The principle of keeping the wealthy wealthy and the poor poor has always been well established in this country for many, many years, but to be so overt in reinforcing this is just sickening.

    There couldn’t possibly be any thought about just how degrading this idea could be to many people who, through no fault of their own, cannot afford to buy food for themselves by this goverment could there? Please?

  2. Peter Baxter 12 April , 2013 at 12:42 am #

    We have seen the Big Society at work through the many books of Charles Dickens. The route cause of our problems is social inequality. A simple way to correct all our ills is to give a fixed ammount to every child in the UK at birth with no other inheritance so we all start equal.
    Until we do something like this The Big Society will always what it says on the tin: Bull Shit.
    Until we have social equality we can never have any sort of equal society. Charity to the poor is an offensive word to the rich a way of giving some meaning to pointless lives. See Charles Dickens.