This week, as predicted, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in effect a windfall tax. He didn’t use the actual term but I suspect his efforts to get a different term used will be as successful as Margaret Thatcher’s attempts to get people talking about The Community Charge instead of The Poll Tax.
I’ve written here about why I’m not convinced by the idea – not least because of the timing which seems to be a reaction to the #Partygate report. I began to suggest some alternative options designed around the Biblical principle of gleaning and in this article I want to lean into them a bit more, particularly focusing on food poverty.
My proposal is based on the gleaning laws in Leviticus 19:9-10:
9 “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10 And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God
The idea was that farmers were not to seek 100% efficiency when harvesting but rather, they were to seek to leave some of the harvest for the poor to come and gather. My proposal is for something based on that principle but fitting with the 21st Century.
Over the past 10-20 years we’ve seen the growth of foodbanks, manned by volunteers, often, though not exclusively, from local churches. This has been a great act of generosity. However, I think it is a flawed approach. Foodbanks were originally designed as a crisis response for when people got into difficulties for a couple of days. However, they don’t deal with longer term challenges. Foodbanks also segregate out those doing okay from those in need. I remember someone once saying that the difference between being rich and poor is that if you are poor, you have to queue publicly to get help. Most of us go to the supermarket to get food. We are able to choose from a wide variety, taking home what we want. We are able to buy fresh produce.
If you use a foodbank, then you go to one venue to receive a voucher. You then take the voucher to the foodbank where you receive a bag of food to cover a few days. Because of the nature of these foodbanks, most of the food donated is long life, it tends to come in tins and packages. The options are less likely to be fresh and less likely to be healthy. Foodbanks mean that we get to feel good about ourselves through a charitable donation of our cast offs.
Supermarkets have started to support foodbanks. Some give left over produce at the end of the day. Many provide collection points where people can leave donations of food out of their weekly shop. I believe there is a willingness to help. So, I’m proposing something that will take away the segregation, create a better sense of a community who are all in this together and in fact deliver a more efficient and effective process.
My proposal is that Supermarkets like Sainsburys, Tesco, Asda and Morrisons set up a “Gleaning Project” based around their reward schemes. So, first of all, they would need to set up a community reward points bank. In effect a pool of points that can be drawn upon. The Supermarket themselves would contribute into this using a percentage of their profits to build up the points bank (ideally this should count as a charitable donation for their tax purposes to encourage this). Customers would be able to donate their own reward points or purchase additional points for the community rewards banks.
When a customer gets into a situation where they are struggling financially, they should be able to register to benefit from the scheme. Then whenever they arrive at the checkout, they can swipe their card and this will trigger the system to allocate reward points to them. These points can then be used to provide a discount between 20% and 100% of the food cost up to a specific limit.
This would mean that people in need are helped without being segregated out from their community. Now, part of the Biblical principle seems to be that those in need can still be part of society and contribute to it. So, the expectation should be that those who receive help, in effect pay it forward. So, whenever a person finds that they are in a better position financially, they should be encourage to donate points into the scheme. Alternatively, if they don’t find themselves in a position to pay in like this, they could contribute by offering their time to community projects which the supermarket could also keep a database of helping people to link up with good causes.
What would I like you to do about this? Well, if you think the idea has legs, would you be willing to contact one of the large Supermarket chains to get this proposal in front of them? It would be good to see at least one of the big 4 or 5 committing to this.
It may also be that some people would be interested in setting up their own community based businesses that function on a similar basis. Some of these things are beginning to evolve out of foodbank projects as community pantries where people join as members and then are able to use the community pantry in a manner similar to normal shopping. Are there a few people around with time and/or money to set up more community food shops that function more on a pay what you can basis?
I’d love to hear from you if this is something you’d like to be involved in making happen.