Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Stop giving free food - a response

May 22 2009
Alastair Murray disagrees strongly with the opinions put forward in last month‘s letter Dear Sir, The writer of the ‚Äö?Ñ??Stop giving free food‚Äö?Ñ?¥ letter argues (Letters, Issue 34), perhaps with some moral justification, against the culture of supporting unhealthy dependency. This might be quite a persuasive line of reasoning, but if we applied it across society, it would require a major reform of much more than the free food services they criticise. Let‚Äö?Ñ?¥s take current mainstream drug and alcohol strategy, known as harm minimisation. This enables people to maintain an addiction, even to the extent of supplying the wherewithal to keep injecting heroin. The rationale is that services engage with the user, building trust and working with them step-by-step to use more healthily and safely. The aim is first to reduce personal and public health risks, by helping people manage their addiction; then, when they are ready to make the decision to stop using, they are already in touch with the assistance they need to detoxify or dry out. Many would argue that this is a compassionate and dignified way of working with people suffering with addiction, but others argue ‚Äö?Ñ?¨ the anonymous letter writer would surely be one of them ‚Äö?Ñ?¨ that this enables or even encourages dependency. Our welfare benefit system itself has the unintended consequence of trapping some people in dependency. Improvements, including better in-work benefits, were introduced to address this issue, but there is still a widespread perception amongst people, including paid staff in hostels and other services, that once you are on benefits and in a hostel, it is best not to rock the boat by seeking paid work. I hope the letter writer would not argue that we should get rid of the benefit system, one of the foundations of our caring modern society. Just to open the question up a bit wider: aren‚Äö?Ñ?¥t we all dependent ‚Äö?Ñ?¨ on each other and on others we do not know and seldom meet, who grow our food, make our clothes, build our homes and so on? The modern notion that we must all strive to be independent individuals is largely an unhelpful and illusory position, especially today. There are several other points I could make about the direction of travel of wider society which are beyond the scope of this brief letter. However I will finish with this point about the free food services, or soup runs, as they are often called. By whatever measure anyone would care to use, the people who attend these services are poor and marginalised. They are as much about social and emotional needs as they are about nourishment for the body. I think it is distasteful that so many people who have comfortable lives feel justified in making attacks upon these services. On the scale of issues and injustices facing humanity in 2008 ‚Äö?Ñ?¨ social, political, economic and environmental ‚Äö?Ñ?¨ free food being given to poor people is not highest on my list. Alastair Murray Housing Justice