So here's a phrase you'll be familiar with. We all are . It's a phrase which has been kicking around forever and a day and it is used to describe someone who's having a rough old time of it.
'Treated like a dog, so he was.....'
Real bad, right? As bad as it gets. And our minds form images of wretched puppies all beaten up and miserable.
Well, yesterday morning I got to wondering whether these well worn words have any truth about them. As in now? As in Britain 2019?
It was nine in the morning and I was parking my van up at Morrisons. The mission at hand was to clear the shelves of packets of 'Market Value' instant custard. This is one of our food parcel staples. Add boiling water and you have something sweet and filling without the need for any cooking skills whatsoever. Less than thirty pence a pack.
But I digress. As I climbed out of my van, my eyes were drawn to small convoy headed my way. Two vehicles, both brand new and gleaming a vivid yellow in the morning sunshine. Even the tyres looked like they had been polished. The sides were branded to the standard demanded by a high flying marketing guy from the shores of Lake Michigan.
The largest, boldest letters demanded the attention of any watching pedestrian.
Boomf! No messing. Black on gold and bold as brass.
Next up, some context. 'A dog is for life'. No capitals for this old favourite, but pretty bold all the same.
Then to complete the picture, there was a picture of a lovable looking pooch nestled into a blanket.
Hard on the heels of this twenty grand's worth of double wheelbase came a car bearing the same livery. Shiny clean and fresh off the assembly line.
Well, I couldn't help turning around and giving my own van a quick once over. It looked pretty sorry in comparison with the golden convoy which had swept by with such a swagger.
Eighty thousand on the clock and in dire need of a wash. It isn't a First Base Foodbank van. It is my van. Fair enough, I get reimbursed for the mileage which runs to a thousand miles a month. Our foodbank has about as much chance of shelling out for £20,000's worth of fully branded double wheelbase as Cowdenbeath have of buying Lionel Messi from Barcelona.
I guess I afforded myself a small smile. Only the night before, the Channel 4 news had run a piece about the impact of us all feeding our garden birds. Many species are thriving like they have never thrived before. Not bloody surprising. We're spending £200 million a year on bird feed for the feathered treasures. I did some maths as the reporter wrapped his piece to camera. How many food banks are there in the UK right now? About a thousand or so I guess. There or thereabouts.
£200 million divided by 1000.......
Can you do it in your head? I couldn't. But my calculator could....
£200,000 each. Yup. I'll say it again. Two hundred bloody grand each! At First Base we run on £75,000 a year plus £45,000 worth of donated food. £120,000 a year all in to dish out 5000 emergency food parcels.
So were we to receive the bird feed windfall, we would have £80,000 change having settled every last one of our bills.
The small print on the shiny vans was made up of two short words. 'Dogs Trust'.
So. Google time. And five minutes worth of Google was more than enough . I'll just do the highlights.
Reserves - £168 million.
Annual income - £111 million.
No wonder they can run a fleet of gleaming vans. Christ, they could run a small army if they chose to.
A couple of minutes on Google images took be to a construction company's website where they showcased some work they had done for the Dogs Trust. A rescue centre in Basildon. This is the kind of bang you can get from eight million quid's worth of buck.
Check it out.
A very far fry from the leaking ceilings and peeling walls of our nerve centre in Dumfries!
A scan of the Dog's Trust accounts threw up some detail. They spend twenty million a year on marketing themselves to people approaching the gates of death. Lots of subtle messaging no doubt. Do you really like your relatives? Face it, the bastards have ignored you for years and only now are they turning up. Why is that? Maybe they have set their hearts on building a new conservatory like the one their next door neighbours put up last year.... think about it .... do the greedy bastards really deserve it... or maybe you can take the opportunity to stick two fingers up at them and leave it all to the dogs. Our lovely, cuddly, loyal furry friends..... go on....
It seems most of the Dogs Trust £111 million a year comes from wills. So it seems the £22 million they spend on marketing themselves is money well spent.
First Base has been around for 16 years now and we have only once received anything from a will. Obviously we're not spending enough on pushing ourselves forward. But would it make any difference if we did? I doubt it. Poor people or dogs? Not exactly a fair contest, right? Our furry friends will win the day every time.
Last year about a million emergency food parcels were handed out in the UK. If foodbanks like First Base enjoyed the a Dogs Trust level of income, then we could all have dished out Fortnum and Mason hampers and still had plenty of cash left over to award ourselves state of the art offices, gilded pensions and fat salaries.
And brand, spanking new double wheel base vans.
Dream on Frankland.
So I bought my packs of instant custard and went back to First Base. The phone rang. A support worker with the day's first tale of woe.
A man. 57 years old. From Latvia. Been in Scotland for twenty years and working every step of the way. Until now. Until his doctor diagnosed the pain as liver cancer.
A rejected claim for Universal Credit. An appeal in place. Probably nine months until any kind of decision. Income right now? Zero. Savings? Zero. Family to offer support? Zero.
Lots of zeros. Our man is in a small town and the landlord is running out of patience. Are they going to wait nine months for his appeal? Of course they're not. He'll be evicted long before, cancer or no cancer.
So I explained he could call into the local library to pick up one of our food parcels whenerver he needed one. And I said the worker could call in for £50 to keep the lights on for a while.
What about getting in touch with his MP?........ Ah. Right. His local MP is none other than Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Scotland, the Right Honourable David Mundell. Lots of e mails had been sent and and not a single one had been honoured with any kind of reponse. Business as usual in our wonderful United Kingdom.
On a particularly rock bottom day, our man made his way to the local police station and begged the duty officer to arrange for him to be deported. The duty officer had explained he couldn't manage this. Not his department. Prison maybe, but deportation... sorry pal. No can do.
If only our guy wasn't a human being. If he was a lost dog with liver cancer, things would be so very different. A shiny yellow dog ambulance would come racing to the rescue and he would be whisked away to a state of the art centre where no expense would be spared.
How my man would just love to be treated like a dog. But he won't be. Not right here, right now. In Britain 2019. In the parliamentary constituency of the Right Honourable David Mundell MP, Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Scotland.
Not in a month of Sundays.
And I don't suppose our name is going to feature in any wills either.
Helping out poor people isn't the way to get yourself a shiny new van and a roof which doesn't leak.
Maybe it's time for the merest touch of emotional blackmail? What the hell, why not …….
If by any chance these words have made you feel sorry for us, then the link below will take you to our online fundraising page!
THE FIRST BASE FUNDRAISING PAGE