I recently hypothesised about what life would be like without charities, given that they plug the gaps in many frontline public services where government funding has been cut.
The cost-of-living crisis and the financial pressures many people are having to endure are also having an effect.
The Trussell Trust has said that, in the last five years, the number of people approaching their food banks has risen by 81%. These aren’t necessarily just people on benefits, but also families in which both parents are working full-time and who still struggle to make ends meet.
I had a chat with the manager of a local clothing bank recently. The facility is well-known in its locality and, as a result, it welcomes plenty of donations—even during difficult times. Most of the clothes brought in by the public have plenty of wear left in them, and they help people start again if they’ve fled a domestic abuse situation, as well as families counting every penny who can’t keep up with their children’s growth spurts (and many, many more scenarios).
From time to time, they receive donations containing branded clothing—commonly, sportswear. And, whilst my connection tries her best to redistribute such items according to beneficiaries’ needs, she has become aware that the organisation’s good intentions have arguably been taken advantage of. Some of the clothes donated—specifically, branded sportswear and designer items—were spotted on Facebook marketplace. Someone even saw a young beneficiary (who had spun the clothes bank manager a wonderful tale of woe) at the corner of the market, directly peddling the items the charity had given them hours before.
Like most organisations, the manager of this charity has learned not to judge what others do. Though they distribute clothes in the hope they will keep those in need warm and dry when they don’t have any disposable income left to buy such items themselves, they have no control over what a beneficiary does with them once items are in their possession.
It could be true that the income from the sale of these donated items goes towards feeding an addiction a beneficiary may have. Again, whether the organisation approves of such action or not, there’s no practical way of preventing this that wouldn’t impact ‘genuine’ beneficiaries too. I’ve emphasised the word ‘genuine’, because we’re all just trying to get through the day the best we can, aren’t we? And, for someone in the grip of an addiction, it’s difficult to focus on anything but upholding it. Who on Earth has the right to judge others, anyway? Aren’t we all flawed? Aren’t we all simply human?
As I mentioned in the article I linked to above, public funding for drug clinics is one of the many things we’ve lost under the current government. If there isn’t support available, of course people will be forced to find other ways to cope with their issues. I can fully imagine that someone who is addicted to drugs isn’t really thinking of the charity they may be exploiting, nor its beneficiaries. In such a scenario, it’s difficult for the addict to think of anyone else—which is one of the downsides of an addiction. If they were able to do this, they would probably have the strength and tools to get off the drugs, too, but an addiction is self-perpetuating. Unless you’ve been an addict or been around one, it may be difficult for you to understand just how much it takes over every aspect of your being.
Of course, this scenario does have an impact on beneficiaries that aren’t feeding an addiction, which is the regrettable element. When donations are being taken by those who have no intention of using them, there won’t be as much to go around. And in the current climate, the number of people in need of support from clothing banks is rising, not decreasing. Even those who can afford to get rid of clothes they no longer need or want are diminishing—people with decent incomes are also feeling the pinch after energy, food and petrol prices have all escalated. With less disposable income, they’re probably not buying as many new clothes as they used to and are instead making do with what they already have, which means fewer items donated to the clothing bank.
Some experts believe we haven’t even got near the worst of things yet. Given how desperate some situations are already becoming, God only knows what the future holds for the third sector.