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, June 24, 2021



Over recent years the nation's foodbanks have become something of a bell weather. The number of emergency food parcels we hand out is deemed to be a measure of how the country is doing. Lots of parcels means things ain't great. An easing in numbers indicates a degree of hope for better times ahead.

In a way, I guess this makes us kind of useful.

In England, the cost of getting yourself selected to be a candidate in a General Election runs to thousands. Wannabe Tory MPs in particular need very deep pockets indeed to have their name put in front of the electorate. The last time I looked, the average hit was north of £30,000.

This has pretty severe real life implications for the rest of us. It means the House of Commons is more and more a home people with little or no understanding of the lives most of their fellow citizens are leading. It is why they pursue so may idiotic policies. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Bedroom Tax.

So in a perfect world things could go something like this. Government enacts a new policy. Within weeks it leads to a ten percent spike in food bank demand. Government consigns aforesaid policy to the bin.

That would make sense, right? Chances of it ever happening? Aye right.

So. The last eighteen months of First Base figures give a predictably clear snap shot of what we have all just been through.

February 2020 - One month before the first lockdown - 500 parcels.

August 2020 - Six months into the pandemic – 2600 parcels.

May 2021 - Fourteen months into the pandemic - 1400 parcels.

Which of course begs the question 'Where next?' 

What will First Base's new normal look like as the warmth of the summer bleeds away and the cold winds of the coming autumn start to blow?

Well it is pretty hard to find much in the way of sunny optimism. The media is filled with tales of people whose lives have taken on a brighter sheen as they work from home and save a living fortune on commuting costs. And all the while the value of their bricks and mortar goes up by three percent a month. I was listening to the Guardian's Politics Weekly podcast a couple of months ago. I cannot remember the context of this quote, but one of the panel journalists said '... and there are some people who have to manage on less than £50,000 a year'

Some? Talk about the Westminster Bubble? You could hear the shudder in her voice as she tried to picture living a life on less than fifty grand a year.

Here in Dumfries and Galloway, there seem to be many reasons to see signs of promise in the post pandemic future. Every rural property to hit the market attracts a ferocious bidding war. It isn't hard to see why. Picture a London lawyer in his fifties suddenly able to imagine a working life needing only one day a week in his London office. He can sell his £2 million home in Putney in ten minutes flat and shop around for a country estate here in Dumfries and Galloway: a picture perfect working from home Shangri La. No university fees for the kids. No slow death from air pollution. No daily sardine experience on the tube. What's not to like?

And then where are all of those decent folk with sought after skills who are growing steadily more disgusted at what England is turning into. It seems many of the good folk of Hartlepool are more than happy to live in a land yearning to become the new Hungary under their beloved Donald Trump wannabe.

Many don't. Many crave the chance to live in a country where the Education Department is not run by an ex fireplace salesman who is now ordering all English school kids to stand and sing the kind of song Josef Goebbels might have written. There is a chorus line to be repeated time and again.

"Strong Britain, Great Nation......

Strong Britain, Great Nation......

Strong Britain, Great Nation......"

For Christ's sake! Hartlepool 2021 becomes Magdeburg 1937. 

So it comes as no surprise to see an increasing number of people choosing to flee Johnson's England in favour of a better life up here in Scotland.

Every plumber and joiner and sparky is booked up for months and months. I spoke to a builder a couple of weeks ago who told me he had to drive all the way to Edinburgh to buy five bags of cement.

And all of a sudden factories and farms can't find staff.

Good signs? Sure. No argument from me. So does this all mean First Base might not be too stretched this winter....?

I doubt it. Sadly there are far too many warning signs for any such optimism.

There is a lot of talk about the end of the Furlough Scheme, but I don't see that as a particularly big deal in our neck of the woods. There are lots of vacancies and finding work isn't going to prove to be so very difficult.

Everyone goes on about the unemployment figures. At any given time there are about 2000 people on Universal Credit in Dumfries and Galloway. Warm bodies actively seeking work. In theory. In reality? Not a chance. We see the people on this list on a daily basis. There is another list. Citizens of Dumfries and Galloway on the methadone programme. At any given time this runs at about 1500. See the crossover?

These are people whose lives have been wrapped up in the world of Class A drugs for twenty years and more. Their brains and bodies bear all the scars. As far as the Job Centre are concerned, they are tip top: all primed and ready to milk 500 cows or do a 12 hour shift in a fish factory or to drive an HGV to Portsmouth and back. Back in the real world? Not a chance.

As I write this, Rishi Sunak is still hell bent on taking away the £20 a week he added to Universal Credit in the early days of the pandemic. In the Autumn. Just as the wind turns cold.

Three big things have happened over the months of the crisis. All three go under the banner of 'inflation'. It seems yet another 1970's favourite is about to rear its ugly head again and kick us in the teeth.

Jummy Savile, Gary Glitter, rampant racism, Israeli jets killing Palestinian kids, .... inflation.

Nuts and bolts. Imagine your disposable income is £93 a week. 'The Brew'. Universal Credit for an individual adult.

It is cash to be spent on life's basics. Food, heat and light, rent.

Well at least Housing Benefit will continue to cover most of the rent. Except it seems like many have used the pandemic as an excuse not to pay any rent at all as the threat of eviction has been null and void for a while. Why pay the rent when you can spend £300 a month on dodgy street valium?

Well these salad days are about to end. The piper will demand payment in full and evictions will sky rocket. No wonder the good folk in the Homeless Department are dreading the coming months.

Food. In February 2020 I used to log on to the websites of the Supermarkets to order in deliveries of tinned spaghetti for the princely sum of 13p per can.

Now the best price I can find is 35p per tin. Now I was never the best at maths, but even I can see a 300% price hike here. So where is the 2.5% inflation we read about in the papers? I guess the prices in Waitrose must have stayed relatively stable.

First Base shops from the value range, so we notice what most pundits miss. The supermarkets have used to pandemic to thin out their value ranges and to jack up the prices. A trolley's worth of shopping which cost £30 a year ago will now cost at least £50.

Power costs are headed the same way. Yesterday Ofgen authorised the power companies to hammer home a record breaking price hike in the autumn. Every day the Johnson government chooses to print money in order to avoid the ultimate nightmare of taxing the super rich sees the value of the pound diluted. To buy in power on the world market, you need to first buy dollars. Then you use the dollars to buy the power. And as our currency continues along the road to becoming toilet paper, we will all see the consequences of what they like to call Quantitive Easing when we pay our electricity bills.

Will people be able to stump up for an extra £30 a week for food and power when their benefits are cut from £93 to £73? Seems unlikely.

Then there is the plight of those on minimum wages. Millions of families were barely able to make their incomings stretch far enough to cover their outgoings before the pandemic. The new normal will mean they will have to find £40 or £50 a week extra for food and power. And rent? With property prices shooting up so fast, rent increases will not be far behind. Will wages rise quickly enough to keep up? Will employers be able to pay out 10% more?

Maybe they can and maybe they will. And maybe Rishi Sunak will back off on his threat to take away £20 a week from those on Universal Credit.

I guess we will all find out soon enough.

I am pretty sure First Base is going to need all the help we can get in the months and years to come. If you are minded to help us out, you can find our online fundraising page via the link below.