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.

Monday, August 29, 2022


I've had this blog sitting for weeks now. It seemed right wait for the actual situation we all find ourselves in to to fully emerge.

Well it has emerged.

At first we were braced for a truly challenging winter.

Then things moved beyond 'challenging' and into 'crisis'. The much discussed 'Cost of Living Crisis'.

And now? Aye. And now. 

Now the coming winter is a looming catastrophe. 

Beyond challenging. Beyond anything we have seen since Hitler was strutting his stuff.

Sixty million citizens of the UK are suddenly wholly dependent on one ridiculously over promoted woman conducting a series of screeching U Turns to avoid complete civil breakdown.

If the UK Government allows the October gas and electric price hikes to go ahead in full the consequences don't bear thinking of. 

I can't believe Liz Truss has anything like the backbone to be so completely psychopathic. 

This blog assumes she will lose her nerve and somehow mitigate the projected price hikes which are looming in October.

If she does, then we are left with a huge crisis as opposed to an utter catastrophe.

It certainly is one hell of a crisis.

Literally millions of people were on the edge of needing to use a food bank before the world fell off a cliff in March 2020. 

With power prices twice what they were last year and food cost up north of 20%, the maths of life's very basics have become beyond brutal. All those barely managing millions will no long be able to pay all their costs any more.

By now we all know the maths. The desperate maths are laid out every night when we tune into the news. I will merely add a couple of thoughts.

In my sixty plus years, I have been there for two huge 'Pound a...' moments. I was 18 in the 'Winter of Discontent' of 1979 when the country chose Thatcher as the solution to our many ills. It was the first time a hard up 18 year old me paid £1 a gallon to fill up my venerable VW Beetle.

Eighteen years later, an older and still broke me got to know how it felt to pay £1 a litre for the first time.

This summer I had my third 'Pound a …' moment.

I was online in Tesco Groceries ordering the weekly First Base delivery and there it was right there on the screen.

As bold as brass.

Heinz Baked Beans. Not 440g any more. Only 415g now.

£1 a tin.

Quite a moment. And it seemed clear neither Heinz nor Tesco were in any mood to water it down. I mean they could have bottled it and gone for 99p. But no. They clearly were intent on sending a message.

£1 for a tin of beans.

Message received and understood.

My second thing. Just a simple bit of maths. The kind of brutal maths which leaves no wriggle room.

An individual adult relying on Universal Credit to keep their body and soul together receives £73 per week.

By the autumn, the projected average cost of domestic power is £70 per week.

It isn't the hardest of sums. It means a single adult is expected to feed, clothe and clean themselves for £3 a week.

45p a day.


When a 415g tin of Heinz Baked Beans is weighing in at a whole British pound?

Recently I heard the coming autumn nightmare described as a 'Social Emergency' by John Harris of the Guardian. I'll second that.

And of course you guys up in the Edinburgh Parliament are more than aware of all this stuff. I have absolutely no wish to give any lessons on egg sucking.

However, there are a few specific problems coming down the tracks for the country's foodbanks which you might not be fully aware of. 

As the coming social emergency draws ever nearer, there is lots of bad news and a couple of pieces of good news.


Foodbanks obviously rely on the public donating food. Well, duh! As the crisis deepens, people will start counting every penny. And there will be fewer and fewer spare pennies available to pay for a couple of extra items to drop into the Foodbank collection bin.

And how many of those who have made food donations in the supermarket collection box are actually in the store any more? A huge spike in grocery deliveries is one of the more noticeable legacies of the pandemic. If people simply are not physically in the store then they will no longer be dropping items into the foodbank bin.

Mass belt tightening will have a catastrophic impact on cash donations. The standing order to a charity will sadly be one of the first non essential costs to be cut.

Over the years, churches have been major collectors of emergency food. But things have changed in a big way over the years of the pandemic. Church goers are of an age. They have spent years in isolation. Many are still frightened to spend time in crowds. Church attendance has plummeted and so have the donations of food they are able to distribute. Churches who three years ago used to bring us a car boot full of donations every week now come with a couple of carrier bags.

And the church funds? Just imagine what it now costs to heat up a big old drafty church to the temperature required for an elderly congregation. There won't be much left for a cheque for the local foodbank.

Many emergency food projects rely on a either a subscription to Fareshere or the chance to collect the day's unsold or about to to be out of date goods from the local supermarket. Fareshare is a national charity which takes in vast quantities of surplus food from the supermarkets. Small charities pay Fareshare a couple of thousand pounds a year and in return they get a weekly delivery of food. Which is all good of course. Less food goes to landfill. Hungry people get a meal.

However things are slowly changing. Another news bulletin regular is the story of people gathering in the supermarket at seven in the evening to get a chance of buying 'yellow sticker' items. 'Was £1, now 20p'. And as the Social Emergency escalates, there will be more and more of these seven o'clock people.

The supermarkets are suited down to the ground by this. Why wouldn't they be? The yellow sticker opportunity is advertised regularly on the news. This equates to huge amounts of free publicity which will help the retailers to sell off more and more stuff and therefore give less and less away to the likes of Fareshare.

This will mean the emergency food projects relying on weekly Fareshare deliveries will start to receive less and less food. And projects relying on collecting unsold goods from their local store will also receive less and less food.

So basically, as the social emergency escalates and the demand for food rockets, the nation's foodbanks will be receiving less and less food.

Which leaves us all with only one option if we are to somehow keep up with the rising demand.

We're going to have to buy in more food.

But even this is getting harder with every passing week. It's not just a case of raising the required funds to buy in all the food we need. It's also the problem of actually being able to physically buy enough. Before the pandemic I could log on to the online supermarkets and order 100 tins of 'Value' baked beans.

Then came Covid.


Tesco limited us to 16 items of any given product

Asda limited us to 10 items.

And as of last week, Asda have reduced the ration to five items. If I order a delivery every day from Monday to Friday, I can only lay my hands on a lousy 25 tins of Asda's 'Value' beans. 

By December First Base will very possibly be expected to come up with at least a thousand emergency food parcels per week.

The maths are not exactly on our side!

And all the while, Foodbanks will be on the news. Every single night. And the story will always be the same. Things are dire! Many, many more people need to use their local Foodbank!

In these so familiar news pieces, there is always an assumption the local Foodbank will have some food to give. 

But will we? 

We're all pretty good at what we do, but none of us are miracle workers. Right now First Base is helping out 400 people a week. At the peak of the pandemic it was 600 a week.

Are we able to go back to 600 a week when the Autumn reveals the full extent of the social emergency?

Almost certainly.

But what if the Social Emergency means 750 people a week? Or a thousand?

Well logistically we can do it. But financially? Not a chance. There is no way we can raise enough cash to buy in enough food for such high numbers. And that is assuming we can find a way to work around the new rationing regimes of the retailers.

Instead I guess we might well have to change the parcels we give out to the kind of emergency food we see being provided in famine hit areas of Africa.

Not a great look for Scotland 2022.


Reason for optimism number one.

We all have a reasonable amount of time to get ready. There is no need for us to be blindsided by the coming social emergency. We have been given plenty of advance warning. Right now, heating is switched off all over Scotland and it won't be switched on until the first cold snap of the autumn. That will be the week when the impossible reality hits hundreds of thousands of people. The week when many will walk through the doors of their local Foodbank for the very first time. The week when demand will go through the roof.

Reason for optimism number two.

The Scottish Government has proved it is more than capable of stepping up to the plate to meet this kind of challenge. You did it in March 2020 when the pandemic threatened to tear apart the social fabric much like it is doing in China right now. You made quick and decisive decisions. You informed councils there would be funds available for front line charities to meet the spiraling needs of self isolating communities. You insisted these funds should be made available quickly and with minimal red tape.

And it worked. It worked better than anyone could possibly have imagined. All over Scotland, new community projects joined with existing projects like First Base and by hook or by crook, the vulnerable were looked after.

We all proved it could be done and it was done. It was done in double quick time and it was done unbelievably well. And it was done by an army of volunteers.

You guys provided the funding and the community did the rest.

Reason to be optimistic number three.

And here is the best news. 

The network which exploded into life in the early months of the pandemic is still in place. The premises. The volunteers. The expertise. The ability to support the vulnerable. All of it.

We all know how to deal with an huge crisis. We proved we could do it in 2020. We can do it again. As a legacy of the pandemic, every Council in Scotland now has a relationship with the community groups who stepped up when everything was grinding to a halt. You know who we are and you know where we are because you provided us with the funds we needed in the pandemic.

You can do it again. In 2020 our communities learned how to look after ourselves in the very darkest of times. In the coming winter, we're going to have to do it again. And we can do it.

But we can't do it on fresh air. We're not miracle workers. If we are to meet the coming demand, we're going to have to buy in an awful lot of food.

And you guys? Well you need to do exactly the same job you did in 2020. You need to make sure no emergency food project ever has to turn people away due to a lack of food.

It didn't happen when 2000 people a day were dying of Covid in the darkest days of 2020.

It doesn't need to happen in the darkest days of the coming winter. You have two months to make sure you have your side of things all sorted out and ready. 

You have two months to be ready for the worst.

And when the tsunami hits, you can be ready to press the button and the community will do the rest.

Please don't blow it.

If you would like to help First Base to gear up for the coming social emergency you can follow the link below to our online fundraising page.