I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Thursday, January 21, 2021


When we get a referral to deliver a food parcel it tends to be a bare bones kind of affair. 

A name. An address. A phone number. How many people live in the house. Mouths to feed. Bellies to fill.

Sometimes there are a couple of sentences sketching out a back story. Tales of woe written in haste. Mere glimpses of some hard realities.

So I write out my lists and shuffle the names and addresses into a geographic order. As the crow flies, right?

Villages and towns. Sometimes the middle of Scottish nowhere. Schemes and leafy crescents. High rise and low rise. Ivy clad and pebble dash. Manicured and litter strewn. Cars in the driveways and old rotting sofas in the yard.

Google maps and not much by the way of traffic.

An it is amazing how many houses don't have numbers on the door.

Sometimes I find myself getting wound up and I have to give myself a wake up call. Grow up Frankland and count your lucky stars. An Amazon driver is expected to manage 10 deliveries an hour.

Which basically puts me squarely on easy street.

When I load up a hefty bag's worth of food for a family of six or seven or eight, I cross my fingers and hope to hell they're not up on the third floor.

But they usually are.

And nothing is designed to make a chain smoking sixty year old food bank guy feel old than a family of eight on the third floor.

So, anyway, I knock the door and sometimes it opens and sometimes it doesn't. When doors open, nine out of ten are in dressing gowns. More often than not they are wrapped up in a blanket or a duvet because when you can't afford to eat, you can't afford to heat either.

We exchange brief words.

They say thanks. I say say nae bother.


Other times the door is unanswered. So it's back to the van to make a call. But hardly anyone ever answers the phone to a stranger number. Not when they can't afford to buy food. Because stranger numbers mean people chasing cash. Let it ring out. Shove it under the carpet. Kick the can down the road.

So it is time to send a text.

Hi there. Mark from the food bank here. Your food parcel is at the front door.

And this time the reply is back in seconds.


And sometimes my number is discreetly saved for a coming rainy day. And a week or so later it reappears in my inbox. You brought me a food parcel last week. Is there any chance I could get another please? Because life is still hard to deal with. Because.

And one delivery is followed by another. A pandemic measured first in weeks and then months and now years.

So many pinched faces peering from half open doors.

First hundreds. Then thousands. Now tens of thousands.

And every now and then, one will stand out.

Like yesterday.

I'm going to call my man Joe because yesterday was very much Joe's day. As I drew up outside my Joe's block, another Joe on the other side of the Atlantic was being anointed as the most powerful man on the planet.

You'll have guessed my man isn't really called Joe. He is called something else.

A parcel for a single person.

I gained access to the block via the trade button. 

Like an Amazon guy. Like the white van man I very much am these days.


Ground floor.

Knock, knock. Who's there?


Echoes in an empty flat. Fair enough.

Van. Phone. Ring.

And to my surprise my call is met by an actual voice on the other end of the line.

A little confused. A little flustered. A jumble of words which take me a while to unpick.

Joe had been worrying. The social had moved him you see. To another place. Another address. On the other side of town. And he knew there is a food parcel coming. But he didn't know what to do. He wanted to ring the social but he had no credit. And with no credit, he didn't know what to do. Which had been worrying him.

And there was plenty in the voice at the other end of the line to tell me he really HAD been worrying about it. Worrying more that he he really should have been worrying.

We get there in the end.

I tap in his new address and Google maps tells me it is 4 miles across town.

Nae bother.

A few minutes later I chap the door and Joe appears in seconds.

No dressing gown.

Jeans and a T shirt.

And nervous darting eyes. Look left, look right, look down.

More jumbled words jostle with each other. And again it takes a while but we get there in the end.

He has no money.

And he won't have any money for a while.

About another month in fact.

And what does he have to do to get another parcel? And another parcel after that. Enough to eat for a month until he gets some money.

Is it even possible? Is it actually allowed?

And inside every word I can hear the rising panic in his voice.

Look right, look left, look down.

Joe. It's fine. It's absolutely nae bother. I will bring you two parcels a week until you get your money.

I know where you are, right? I've got your number. We can do this because it's what we do. Seriously.

But can you do me one favour please, Joe?

Aye. Go on.

Can you text me to make sure I don't forget? Is that OK? Just to make sure.

And all of a sudden the panic in his eyes dials up to full volume.

Look right, look left, look down

Foot tapping now. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

Fast. Urgent. Frantic.

And he's clutching for some words. The right words. The words he needs.

Look right, look left, look down.

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

And now the words are here. There right words. The words he's looking for.

"Can't. Can't read. Can't write. Can't text."

Done. Said. Out on the table.

Joe, it's fine. I'll use the calendar on my phone. An alarm, right? For Friday afternoon. My phone will keep me right. You don't need to worry about it, OK?


So Friday then?

Aye. Friday. Thank you. Because I have no money for a month.

I know Joe. And we've got your back, OK?


The door closes.

I get in my van and put Joe's details into my phone for Friday afternoon.

And I pick up my bit of paper and check out the next address.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021



The mother of all Parliaments took time out to talk about poor people yesterday. To consider them. Debate them.

Except they didn't. Not really.

The Government of the day instructed its minions to abstain when it came to a vote. To hold their tongues and to toe the line. Basically they chose to keep their options open when it came to the big issue of the day, namely whether or not they should take away the extra £20 they had awarded the nation's poor to help them to get through the pandemic.

They certainly made their ingrained instincts clear enough. Of course they wanted to rip the extra £20 a week from the grasping hands of six million feckless scroungers.

Surprise, surprise. It has been that way for ten grinding years of cold, hard austerity.

But then again ...

What might the papers say? And what might the focus groups say? And what might all those untried and untested new northern MP's from the fallen 'Red Wall' say?

Oh my good lord, what might Marcus Rashford say?

So of course they chose the abstain and waffle option. Keep the powder dry. Kick the can down the road. And maybe another U Turn might be required......

Which is so incredibly stupid and pathetic. Because of course they will have to do another U turn. Yet another. But these guys have turned being weak and pathetic into the new normal when it comes to trying to run this Sceptered Isle of ours.

It seems the sainted Rishi Sunak is working on a cunning plan. Rishi's a numbers guy. Well, Duh! To rake it in in the world of merchant banking you need to know how to count, right? So here's the thing. If you continue to dole out an extra £20 a week to poor people, it costs £6 billion a year. Every year. And they get accustomed to all those treats and luxuries an extra twenty quid a week can buy.

So Rishi is looking to the left field. He is going old school. If all else fails, turn to bribery. Instead of sticking to the twenty quid a week Rishi is thinking about a one off cheque for £500.

Well that's going to work out well. A £500 windfall to people who have been eking out a hand to mouth existence for over a year. Obviously they will chose to treat themselves. New trainers for the kids. A film and bowling and Macdonalds. Rishi will dress it up as a gift of some rainy day money from a big hearted Government. And of course when he doles out the cash up here in Scotland, he will wrap it in a Union flag.

The good times will roll for a couple of weeks until the £500 payments become a faded memory. And then it will be back to trying to carve out a life on £70 a week.

Which is pretty much impossible as power and food costs keep on going up and up in our brave new post Brexit world.

I listened to a Department of Work and Pensions minister on the Westminster Hour Podcast yesterday. Bim Afolami. Now Bim is nobody's mug. He's one of the new breed of super smart young black Tory MPs who take to the media to bat for Boris. Public school. Oxford. Corporate law. Elected to Parliament at the tender age of 31. A through and through sharp cookie.

When asked about the prospect of the poor people of Britain having their extra £20 a week yanked away, Bim smoothly hit all his carefully prepared lines. It's all about work you see. The tax payer can only afford so much. Should we spend our money on keeping people in cosseted idleness or should we do the right thing and invest in getting them back into work?

Tough love, right Bim?

But then his smooth confidence suddenly received a severe jolt.

But Bim, surely you're aware that 40% of the people you want to relieve of £20 a week actually ARE working?

And surely Bim was indeed aware of this inconvenient truth. When all is said and done, he does actually work within the hallowed walls of the Department of Work and Pensions. He's one of the bosses there for goodness sake. He just hoped it wouldn't come up.

Public school, Oxford and Corporate Law don't prepare you for the realities of having twenty quid a week taken away to leave you with seventy. It's what they call a 20 percent pay cut, Bim. It's called ouch. It's called a complete kick in the teeth. It's called cold hard reality.

Now I make no claims to know what it's like to try to get by on £70 a week. I manage a foodbank and I get a salary. It is more than the minimum wage but a great deal less than the average wage. But it ain't £70 a week.

However I spend my days having socially distanced conversations with people who are paying the miserable price of being citizens at the sharp end of Broken Britain.

Here are three snap shots for you to check out, Bim. Not that you ever will, but what the hell.

As ever I am going to change the names. We have two men and one woman. So. How's about Boris, Rishi and Priti? Why not. My blog, my rules.

Boris got in touch a week before Christmas with all all too familiar story. The pandemic had cost him his job. A wife and four kids and a tsunami of bills. Could we help with food? Of course we could.

After I delivered his first parcel, Boris sent me this text.

'Hi Mark. Thank you for the food parcel. Would it be possible for us to get one every week? We've been hit with a benefit cap and we were only given £600 on the 21st December and we had to pay £387 for rent so whatever help you can give us I'd appreciate it.'

When I took the next parcel I asked about the £600. It seemed low, even for our our Government. His explanation was familiar. They had told hem there would be a delay before he received his first payment when he first signed on after losing his job. But hey Boris. It isn't a problem. We can give you an advance. Keep you going. Keep that head of yours above water.

Which was all fine and dandy until it became clear the advance would be deducted in the weeks and months to come.

Which in practice means some pretty tough maths for Boris.

£600 - £387 = £213 divided by 30 = £7 per day divided by 6 people in the household = £1.15 per person per day after paying the rent.

So I guess we'll be helping Robert out for a while yet.

Priti next. Priti sent me an email yesterday

'Hi Mark. Please could I apply for a food parcel. It’s for two adults and 5 children. My husband has recently lost his job. We don’t get our first payments until 21 February with Universal Credit.'

34 for days until a penny is granted. Bim would no doubt be more than happy to explain the theory behind this agonising wait. You see, Priti's husband will no doubt be due his last salary check. So the family needs to live of that until the Government steps up to the plate, right? We can't be too generous or we would be encouraging ideleess and fecklessness and that wouldn't do at all. Really Bim? Is it really a matter of national interest to be so completely cruel all the time? Maybe just for once you could take a different view. Check this out for a wild idea.

Priti's husband has just lost his job. We are in the midst of a pandemic. Unemployment is headed through the roof. Bearing all this in mind, we will start paying your Universal Credit straight away. Yup. As of right now. And when that final pay check comes in it will give you a little bit of a buffer. Not a huge buffer for what is to come. But something at least. Now wouldn't that be nice, Bim? They say it's nice to be nice, Bim. They really do.

OK. Rishi.

An email from January 2021. Britain in January 2021. Your Britain, Bim. A Britain far removed from public school and Oxford and corporate law and Parliament at the age of 31.


This is an emergency as I am running out of food for my cat. We will need the food tomorrow. Can you help me with this query?

Thanks in advance.


I replied to say of course we can bring some food for the cat, but what about you, Rishi? Surely you need some food for yourself?

He does.

So Rishi and his cat will get something to eat this afternoon. According to the weather forecast it is going to be raining. According to weather forecast it is going to be 5 degrees. According to the weather forecast it is going to be wall to wall grey.

And pitiless.

It is going to be Britain in January 2021. Your Britain, Bim.

It doesn't have to be this way.