Brune Street, E1 

1.54pm, Wednesday 5th December 2012

When I saw the old Jewish Soup Kitchen in Spitalfields I thought it was as a curio of a bygone age, but that was five years ago.  Soup kitchens for the poor?  It was a relic of times before the creation of the welfare state in 1946.

The Jewish Soup Kitchen was originally established in 1854 to provide meals on four evenings a week for the poorer members of the Jewish community.  The intention was to help those migrants escaping from the pogroms in eastern Europe, but once in place it quickly had a role in supporting the elderly, the ill, and the unemployed.  It moved to the premises illustrated in 1902, and continued serving meals until 1939 when the advent of wartime rationing placed restrictions on the supply of food.  Instead it became more of a food store, exchanging food for ration coupons.  After the war it continued in this role as an early form of food bank, providing food parcels for up to 1,500 families a week until 1992 when its services were no longer thought essential.

1992.  The era of Windows 3.1, election wins for Bill Clinton and John Major, and Whitney Houston at number one in the charts for weeks.  It seems an eternity ago.  Since then John Major’s successors have taken an axe to the welfare state, and food banks once more serve as sticking plaster for the mutilated casualties of austerity economics.  After yesterday’s election the Tories are still the biggest party in Westminster, so expect to see the soup kitchens and workhouses re-opening soon.