Oxfam posted this image on Twitter as part of a campaign on falling living standards and poverty in the UK. Conservative MP’s are angry about it and regard it as “politically biased” and controversial.
Lifting the lid on austerity Britain reveals a perfect storm – and it’s forcing more and more people into poverty.
Tory MPs have reported Oxfam to the Charity Watchdog for campaigning against poverty. I guess the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had better watch it, then. What next, will they be reporting the NSPCC for campaigning for children’s welfare?
The picture is part of a bigger campaign on poverty in the UK, and was posted on Twitter. Previously OxfamGB had invited people to hear how “we investigate the reasons why so many people are turning to food banks in Britain 2014”.
Another OxfamGB tweet said: “We think all political parties need to commit to action on food poverty in the UK.”
Conor Burns, a Conservative MP, tweeted in response:”This has lost you a lot of supporters. Very foolish.”
I think he mean tory supporters, as other people have realised that it is mostly the vulnerable who carry the burden of the Tory austerity cuts. Since when was a Government above criticism for its policies, especially when those policies are causing suffering and deaths?
It’s impossible to discuss poverty without reference to its root cause, and that invariably involves reference to government policies.
Oxfam are not alone in their concern about the rise of absolute poverty. Medical experts recently wrote an open letter to David Cameron condemning the rise in food poverty under this government, stating that families “are not earning enough money to meet their most basic nutritional needs” and that “the welfare system is increasingly failing to provide a robust line of defence against hunger.”
Many charities have said that the UK government has violated the Human Right to food. Article 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) recognises the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and housing. The UK has signed and ratified, and in so doing is legally bound by the ICESCR, in particular, the human right to adequate food.
According to the Just Fair Consortium report, welfare reforms, benefit delays and the cost of living crisis have pushed an unprecedented number of people into a state of hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity in the UK.
New research by Oxfam has revealed the extent of poverty amongst British children, with poor families taking drastic measures to survive. What kind of government is concerned only about stifling critical discussion of its policies, and not about the plight of the citizens it is meant to serve? This is a government that attempts to invalidate the accounts of people’s experience of the suffering that is directly caused by this government. By blaming the victims and by trying to discredit anyone that champions the rights of the vulnerable.
Tory MP Priti Patel said: “With this Tweet they have shown their true colours and are now nothing more than a mouthpiece for left wing propaganda.”
When did concern for poverty and the welfare of citizens become the sole concern of “the left wing”? I think that casually spiteful and dismissive admission of indifference tells us all we need to know about the current government’s priorities. And no amount of right wing propaganda will hide the fact that poverty and inequality rise under every Tory government.
Burns has written to the Charities Commission requesting an investigation into the “overtly political attack” on “the policies of the current Government.” However, he failed to mention this government’s overtly economic attack on the most vulnerable.
He questions whether the advert is breach of Oxfam’s charitable status.
The Conservatives are said to be particularly angry at the inclusion of unemployment and high prices in the list.
Well we know that the government lies extensively, and invents statistics. We also know that government “employment statistics” include those sanctioned, those awaiting mandatory review or appeal, those on workfare, in prison, in hospital or dead – anyone that has had their benefit claim closed for any reason, since people are not tracked to check if they have actually found a job – because the Department of Work and Pensions measures “employment” by off-benefit flows rather than sustained job outcomes. This can create perverse incentives to coerce jobseekers into short term employment outcomes, rather than refer them to long term contracted out support. It can also create a perverse incentive to sanction claimants, as we know.
Another Tory MP, Charlie Elphicke, branded the campaign post as a:
“shameful abuse of taxpayers’ money,” whilst Priti Patel accused Oxfam of “behaving disgracefully.” Elphicke also claimed child poverty had risen under the Labour government, and was now “falling”.
I wonder if Elphicke actually thinks that people are incapable of making the comparison between this government and the last, and recognising almighty Tory lies. As well as our own experience to draw on, we also have a wide array of research to verify the fact that poverty is rising rapidly under THIS government, because of austerity cuts, and a rapidly rising cost of living.
I believe Oxfam has behaved responsibly, honourably, and with good conscience. It is the Tory-led government that have behaved disgracefully. We have a government that provides disproportionate and growing returns to the already wealthy, whilst imposing austerity cuts on the very poorest. That is very clearly evidenced in their policies.
How can such a government possibly claim Oxfam’s observations are “biased” when inequality is so fundamental to their own ideology, and when social inequalities and poverty are extended and perpetuated by all of their policies. The Tories have no right to be indignant about research findings regarding the poverty they have caused, and to complain about the genuine concern Oxfam expressed about those politically damning findings, when those findngs are so patently true.
Apparently, number 10 has steered clear of the row, however, with a spokesperson saying: “Charities and organisations will have their campaigns. The Government’s job is to have the right policies and explain why those are the right policies.”
We have to wonder what the “right policies” actually are, and why they would need so much defending if they are “right”. And in a democracy, it would be acceptable for a charity to speak out if those policies were in fact the wrong policies, especially when people are suffering harm as a consequence of them. In fact, I believe they have a duty to do so.
Therese Coffey, another Tory MP, accused Oxfam of using: “anecdote to create alarmist generalisations.”
No Therese, the post followed a joint report yesterday by Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty and the Trussell Trust, which reported a 54% annual increase in the number of meals given to people in the UK unable to feed themselves. And it also follows many previous, meticulously researched reports that your government have chosen to deny and ignore.
Ben Phillips, Oxfam campaigns and policy director, has responded:
“Oxfam is a resolutely non-party political organisation – we have a duty to draw attention to the hardship suffered by poor people we work with in the UK.
Fighting poverty should not be a party political issue – successive governments have presided over a tide of rising inequality and created a situation where food banks and other providers provided 20 million meals last year to people who could not afford to feed themselves.”
“This is an unacceptable situation in one of the world’s largest economies and politicians of all stripes have a responsibility to tackle it.”
Oxfam found that more than 20 million meals were delivered to people living in poverty by the four main food bank charities last year.
The charity is asking concerned constituents to email MPs with a letter that highlights the unacceptable reliance on food banks by a growing number of people.
The template letter cites a number of reasons for the prevalence of foodbanks, including “low incomes, rising living costs, welfare cuts, and problems with the benefit sanctions system that stops vital welfare payments going to people who are struggling to make ends meet.” And in absolute fairness to Oxfam, this is verified by more than one piece of research.
Oxfam have urged the government to keep track of the number of people using food banks and encourages constituents to press their MPs to “highlight the need for urgent action to address the rise in food poverty”.
A Charity Commission spokesperson said that the Commission has begun an assessment of the Oxfam tweet, which is the first stage that could lead to full investigation, after receiving the complaint about the campaign, but had contacted the individual concerned for more information about the basis of their objections. The spokesperson added:
“It is worth being aware of the rules on charity campaigning,” she added. “Charities are often the most appropriate organisations to speak out and campaign on behalf of their users.
“From lobbying politicians to running online petitions, charities can engage in a range of activities to support their charity’s aims. But charities must never be politically biased or support a politician.”
I don’t believe that Oxfam have shown “bias.” The truth is the truth, whether conservative MPs like it or not. Tory“facts” are both constructed and seen through a lens of pre-conceptions and ideology. Oxfam and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation choose to study poverty. Cynical Tories, such as Iain Duncan Smith simply change the definition of it. But changing the narrative can never edit people’s experience of poverty and their consequent suffering. Or disguise the causes.
This is a government that gave us the Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill , which is a blatant and calculated move to insulate Tory policies and records from public and political scrutiny, and to stifle democracy.
The ambiguous way in which this Bill targets anything which may impact on an election is calculated and deliberate. It is a way of politically intimidating charities, trade unions, religious organisations and all protest groups into remaining silent on important issues (such as protecting the NHS, introducing fair taxation, fighting poverty, public health, education, financial sector reform, civil liberties, human rights, the privatisation agenda) in election years, and this includes European elections and local Council elections too, so it will mean an almost continuous constraint on organisational freedom to comment on politics in any way. The government’s intentions to stifle criticism and dissent could not be any clearer.
This Bill has been entirely deviously constructed by a spiteful and self-serving, anti-democratic Government. That this same Government no longer deems it necessary to be accountable for its policies, and is by-passing democratic processes and legal safeguards, is frankly terrifying. This is an oppressive, authoritarian Government.
Consider how likely is it that will this Bill will affect the likes of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp UK and the Daily Mail Group, because they spend a huge amount amount per day, and much of the content of the press is highly political in nature. (For more about the political tyranny directed against the “free press”, please see Once you here the jackboots, it’s too late).
In my opinion, every act of such tyranny is proof that the Tories have planned and carefully coordinated this multi-varied attack on our liberties. The Legal Aid Bill and the Welfare Reforms are just as blatantly oppressive. And such brutal policies and mounting opposition to them are the reason the government feel that water cannons are necessary. People are desperate, starving and destitute, and widespread protest is surely coming. But I fully expect that the Tories are prepared for it.
I am expecting an announcement from number 10 any day now, explaining that the water cannons are not a worryingly authoritarian move at all: that’s just plain scaremongering from “extremists.”
No, they are simply a safety precaution, just in case we get a little too rowdy in our street party celebrations of Osborne’s economic mirage: the “recovery.”
Well done Oxfam. You certainly have my continued support.
Copy of the letter from Conor Burns MP to William Shawcross, Chairman of the Charity Commission:
10 June 2014
Dear Mr Shawcross,
My attention was drawn this morning to some advertising being undertaken by Oxfam.
This is overtly political and aimed at the policies of the current Government.
In writing I would formally like to request that the Charity Commission undertake an enquiry as to whether this work in in breach of Oxfam’s charitable status.
Conor Burns MP
Member of Parliament for Bournemouth West.
Thanks to Robert Livingstone