The UK in 2019: Dickensian levels of poverty, malnutrition, scurvy and rickets

 Tories and their tall stories

The government have claimed over the last few successive years that the numbers of people in work has reached ‘record levels’. The Conservatives claim that work has ‘many benefits’. One of those claims, for example, is that “work is a health outcome”. So we should reasonably expect that the general health of the population has improved since around 2015, when the claimed employment ‘boom’ began, if the government’s claim were true.

However, that has certainly not happened. In fact public health  has generally has got worse In 2014, the government tried to claim that a substantial drop in food sales was because of ‘market competition’, rather than the growth in absolute poverty. Public spending in food stores fell for the first time on record in July of that year, which put the the UK’s alleged recovery in doubt. Such a worrying, unprecedented record fall in food sales indicated then that many citizens evidently had not felt the benefit of the so-called recovery.

It remains the case that what the government is telling us is nothing like the lived experiences of many citizens. The claimed economic ‘benefits’ of a Conservative government are not reaching the majority of citizens. In fact many citizens have been pushed into absolute poverty, while the wealthiest citizens have enjoyed a substantial boost to their own disposable income. This shift in public funds is intentional, as the government’s policies have been fundamentally designed to move public wealth from the public domain to the private one.

Cameron’s one moment of truth was when he made a slip, declaring that the Conservatives were “raising more money for the rich”. The Conservatives only ever tell the truth in error, it seems.

Reported cases of malnutrition caused by food poverty have significantly risen

The number of people who are so malnourished they have to go to hospital has more than tripled in the last ten years, and is continuing to rise. In 2017,  8,417 patients were treated for malnutrition. By then, the cases of malnutrition had risen by approximately 400% compared to the number of cases during the global recession in 2008.

Of those admitted in 2017, 143 were under the age of nine and another 238 were aged between ten and 19. Shocking statistics also showed that the number of people in hospital with scurvy, a serious deficiency illness arising because of a lack of vitamin C, has doubled in the same period from 61 to 128 cases.

The shameful figures lay bare the true human cost of cuts in wages and social security in a context of ever-rising food prices and the general costs of living.

These rising figures for hospital admissions because of malnutrition in England by NHS Digital show just the tip of the ­iceberg, as GPs say they have been treating ­thousands more less serious cases of malnutrition, without referring them to our already over-burdened hospitals.

Last year, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “It’s absolutely shameful that malnutrition and scurvy admissions to hospital have risen so ­dramatically after eight years of Conservative rule.

“As the sixth largest economy in the world, surely we are better than this.

“But this is the consequence of eight years of cuts to public services, the cost of living rising and falling real wages hacking away at the social fabric of our society.

“Labour in government will lead an all-out assault on the unacceptable health ­inequalities facing our society.”

Dianne Jeffrey, Chairman of the Malnutrition Taskforce, said: “I find these figures incredibly concerning. We already know up to 1.3 million of our older friends, relatives and neighbours are malnourished or at risk.”

Increasingly, children are also at risk.

Additionally, the Lancashire Evening Post reports that doctors at hospitals in Preston and Chorley, Lancashire, have seen a sharp increase in malnutrition over the last three years. They say they are seeing patients with rickets and scurvy.  Patients were admitted to hospital with malnutrition around 70 times at the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in the 12 months up to March 2018, according to NHS Digital data. 

This was an increase of around 75 per cent from the same period two years ago, when there were 40 recorded cases. The county’s NHS Foundation Trust also saw cases of rickets and scurvy during 2017-18.

Natalie Thomas, the community assistant at the Salvation Army which runs the food bank in Preston, says she is not shocked that hospitals in the county have seen people suffering from scurvy and rickets. “It’s scary, it really is but I’m really not all that shocked knowing what we see in here,” she said.

“It’s like we are going backwards in time. It’s quite believable with the amount of bags [of food] we are giving out at the moment.

“It’s not getting any better. Since July when Universal Credit came in we’ve been giving out approximately 1,000 bags of food a month. Since then we have not had any quieter months during the year because people are now getting monthly benefit payments rather than fortnightly payments.

“It’s not surprising for us. The Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is also collecting food for us.” 

Food banks rarely give out fresh fruit and vegetables, however, since they are perishable foods. Because of storage issues, the food bank in Preston does not hand out fresh fruit and vegetables on a regular basis.

Major Alex Cadogan said: “We are not medical professionals but in our food parcels we try and give out a healthy diet but we can only give what we are given. 

“When we are sometimes in receipt of fresh fruit and vegetables we distribute it as rapidly as we can. We do hand out tinned fruit and vegetables regularly.” 

Vitamin C is needed by humans every day to prevent scurvy, as the body cannot store it. It is a water soluble vitamin, and it is easily destroyed by canning processes and by over-cooking. It’s found most in a range of fresh fruit and vegetables. Vitamin D, which is fat soluble, can be stored in the body. It is found in milk, cheese, yogurt, egg yolks, oily fish such as tuna, salmon, sardines and mackerel. Lack of vitamin D causes rickets and other bone disorders. Lack of calcium and vitamin D can also affect the development of children’s teeth and cause osteoporosis later in life.

Hard Times

Scurvy and rickets were rife in Preston – and most other industrial towns and cities – during the Victoria era. And it was Preston’s heavy industry that formed the inspiration for one of Charles Dickens’ best-known books. The author, famed for his books about the impoverished working classes in Victorian England, spent three months in Preston. His time in the city is widely believed to have inspired his novel Hard Times, about people living in extreme poverty. 

These are the socioeconomic conditions that the Conservative government have recreated through their policies, which have reduced and stagnated wages and cut social security support radically, while the cost of living has dramatically increased, causing severe hardship for many families both in work and out. Meanwhile the very wealthy are rewarded with generous tax cuts from the public purse. 

Across England, the number of cases of malnutrition increased by a further 18 %, from 7,855 cases in 2015-16 to 9,307 cases in 2017-18. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation warned that over 1.5 million households across the country are regularly left struggling to afford basic survival essentials such as food.

Chris Goulden, from the organisation, said: “Living in poverty can severely restrict a family’s ability to put food on the table and lead a healthy life.

“The poorest fifth of households spend twice as much of their income on food and fuel compared with those in the richest fifth, meaning those on the lowest incomes are most vulnerable to price rises, inflation and the benefits squeeze.”

Public Health England recommends that people follow its Eatwell Guide to make sure they are eating a healthy, balanced diet. However, a 2018 report by independent think tank the Food Foundation found more than one in four households would need to spend more than a quarter of their disposable income after housing costs to meet the guide’s recommendations. For parents in the bottom 20 per cent of earners, the cost would be 42 per cent of their income.

The Food Foundation have warned that the figures were signs of a “broken food system”. Executive director Anna Taylor said: “Although cases of rickets, scurvy and malnutrition are caused by a complicated range of factors, they are not conditions that we should have to be talking about anymore in a country as wealthy as the UK.

“Nearly four million children in the UK live in households for whom a healthy diet is unaffordable. We need industry and government to take action now to ensure that everyone has access to enough nutritious food.”

A spokesperson from the Department of Work and Pensions claims there are now fewer households with low incomes.

“We know there’s more to do to ensure that every family has access to nutritious, healthy food”, she said.

“Malnutrition is a complex issue and most patients diagnosed in England have other serious health and social problems.

“For people that need extra support with their living costs we spend £90 billion a year on working-age benefits and will be spending £28 billion more by 2022 than we do now.”

However, while malnutrition may sometimes be caused by relatively rare illnesses that cause absorption problems in the stomach, the most common cause of malnutrition, scurvy and rickets is vitamin and mineral deficiency, which is due to a lack of access to adequate, fresh and varied food, due to absolute poverty.  This is why the number of reported cases of malnutrition is rising. 

Meanwhile charities, food banks and campaigners have continually warned that many households simply cannot afford a healthy diet, and have called for government action to increase access to nutritious food.

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19 thoughts on “The UK in 2019: Dickensian levels of poverty, malnutrition, scurvy and rickets

  1. Oh dear dwp same old same old answers we helping many. But aktion t4 rolling along without much of a ado. Culling the stock through benefits denial

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  2. Twenty years ago I predicted a new Dickensian era, one aspect of that has come to pass in the zero hours contract culture, which is contributing to poverty. People end up having to live carefully because of the unpredictability of employment.

    Worse is for those working in the UK coming from abroad, they are open to exploitation and this has been seen in ‘modern slavery’ situations when uncovered and in multi occupancy living in accommodation for example a house suited to 4 people having maybe 15 living in it and others in sheds in the garden.

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  3. This is appalling and it has not been brought about by “accident” or by maladministration, it is part of the vindictive and extremely nasty Tory policy of robbing the poor to give to the rich. Why so many working class people still vote for the Tories has long baffled me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “Labour in government will lead an all-out assault on the unacceptable health ­inequalities facing our society” says shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth.

    In recent weeks I have been inundated with comments from benefit claimants trapped on the legacy benefits where the benefit remains frozen and who are in despair over the expected increases in gas and electricity prices, not to mention the expected increase in Council Tax. The prospect of further increases in the cost of living as a result of a no-deal Brexit do not bear thinking about.

    Whilst the subject of Universal Credit has received coverage in the media, the subject of the freeze on legacy benefits has been largely ignored, and there is now an urgent need to lift the freeze on benefits.

    On the subject of the welfare reforms Labour have been largely ineffective.

    John Costello
    Activist for ‘We Are Shadows’

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    1. That’s because Labour are not in office. However, a group of us are currently part of round table discussions with shadow ministers about welfare at Westminster. John McDonnell among others has regularly written pieces in the media, slating the welfare reforms. I’ve also taken part previously in consultations with Labour concerning disability social security, which resulted in their manifesto for disabled people – Nothing About us Without Us. They had, by then, pledged to scrap the WCA, bedroom tax, and the sanction regime the Tories introduced.

      Unless there is a Labour government, nothing will change, and the Conservatives will continue to demolish welfare and health care.

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  5. Markets were seen as easy targets by Tories to increase stall fees destroying likes of Stockport market where for many generations working class folk had access to fresh fruit vegetables cheese fish meat at decent prices. Now it’s pre packed rubbish in supermarkets wrapped in plastic polystyrene often packed in unaffordable for one person sizes. All of this overall is likely to reduce aspirations in poorer families terrified of debt incurred and UC has made heating homes hot water washing clothes bedding impossible while family has no income or borrowed income which has to be repaid. Drunks gamblers controllers must be delighted with prospect of whole family income going to one adult? Vulnerable partners and children will potentially suffer as no money for even essential toiletries in bad relationships…. Disgusting times and yes the world is watching…

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  6. “Vitamin C is needed by humans every day to prevent scurvy, as the body cannot store it. It is a water soluble vitamin, and it is easily destroyed by canning processes and by over-cooking. It’s found most in a range of fresh fruit and vegetables.”

    There is another fact that is less well known. A high-carb diet requires more vitamin C than a low-carb diet. This is because carbs compete with vitamin C in the body. One of the changes in our modern industrialized diet of processed foods is a drastic increase in carbohydrates and added sugars. So, as the amount of vitamin C in the diet has decreased, the biological demand for vitamin C has increased. It’s a double whammy.

    “Vitamin D, which is fat soluble, can be stored in the body. It is found in milk, cheese, yogurt, egg yolks, oily fish such as tuna, salmon, sardines and mackerel. Lack of vitamin D causes rickets and other bone disorders. Lack of calcium and vitamin D can also affect the development of children’s teeth and cause osteoporosis later in life.”

    This is also a complex issue. The fat-soluble vitamins have many sources, not only dairy but meat (especially organ meats) and fish (concentrated in fish oil). It used to be common for children to have a spoonful of cod liver oil every day. And it also used to be common for people to eat organ meats. It was standard for organ meats to be added to sausages and similar processed meats, but that was made illegal at least in the US and instead they put those nutritious organ meats in pet food.

    Furthermore, dairy and meat from pasture-fed animals have higher levels of fat-soluble vitamins than factory-farmed animals. The deeply yellow butter from cows fed on the green spring grass was highly prized. Such pasture-fed animals foods have become rare and, though once common for the poor, are now too expensive for most.

    Weston A. Price wrote of this dietary change and the health consequences that followed, and he started observing this declining health more than a century ago as populations became increasingly urbanized and industrialized. Also, see the work of Gary Taubes (“Good Calories, Bad Calories”, “Why We Get Fat”, and “The Case Against Sugar”), Nina Teicholz (“The Big Fat Surprise”), Tim Noakes (“Lore of Nutrition”), Catherine Shanahan (“Deep Nutrition”), and Sally Fallon Morrell (“Nourishing Fats” and “Nourishing Diets”); among other great writers on this topic and related topics (I could throw out a few more writers if someone wants to know).

    It’s not only government policies that are problematic. The entire food system has failed in terms of public health, although it is doing great for big biz profits. But to be fair, the food system we have was created in collusion between big gov and big biz, something that is even more clear in the US. Many have written about this such as Marion Nestle, Kristin Lawless, .

    Government played a major role in its official dietary recommendations which then shaped the food industry. One of those recommendations that began in the US and spread to many other countries, especially in the West, was the promotion of a low-fat diet that specifically targeted animal fats as a health risk. The problem is that in eliminating animal fats they inadvertently eliminated the main sources of fat-soluble vitamins, and the data shows that Americans are eating far less animal fats (replacing them with unhealthy vegetable oils), Americans did what they were told in following bad advice.

    Big biz had no problem with this because these unhealthy foods with lots of carbs, sugar, and vegetable oils are shelf-stable and so much more profitable than fresh foods. Animal foods,in particular, spoil easier and so have a lower profit margin.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Another fact about vitamin D is that sunlight changes a chemical under the skin – ergosterol – into vitamin D. Margarines were fortified with vitamin D at one time, to compensate for the UK climate. Not sure f they still are.

      Some cereals and juices are also (still) fortified with the ‘sunshine’ vitamin.

      Yes I agree and have felt for years that the food industry is solely about profit over human need, and nothing to do with human nutrition

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      1. Also, chemical-drenched industrial farming has killed the microbes in the soil, depleted the nutrients those microbes make available, and eroded much of the topsoil. There is sad irony to the food system that has been forced to turn to fortification of foods. That indicates something severely wrong with what we’re eating. Traditional people never had to fortify their foods.

        Besides, fortification is of limited value in the present standard diet. You know why they call them fat-soluble vitamins? It’s because the body can only use them when they are consumed with fat. But modern people have followed government recommendations in eating low-fat. So, adding vitamin D to low-fat milk is inanely stupid because with the fat removed from the milk your body can’t absorb the vitamin D.

        On top of that, it’s not only that a high-carb diet messes with our need of vitamin C. The kinds of carbs that we eat are particularly problematic. The government has put the focus on increasing grains. Ignoring the other problems of grains (see David Perlmutter), a substance in grains blocks the absorption of nutrients. So, having a bowl of grain-based fortified cereal with low-fat fortified milk is rather pointless, as far as nutrition goes. You should never take nutrients (whether fortified foods or supplements) while eating grains.

        Before the industrial era, grain foods were an occasional food and not something eaten at every meal and numerous snacks in between meals. It was only until the GMO and chemical green revolution with heavy government subsidization that there suddenly was massive surplus yields of grains. In the past, grains were known as a poverty food, something to be eaten when there was nothing else. Even fattening cattle with grains was uncommon until the early 1800s when large-scale industrialized farming first began to take hold.

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    2. My mother fed me a spoonful of cod liver oil at least once a week. I actually liked the taste! In those days, you could also have vitamin supplements for children, but suspect those have long since been cut. Milk in primary school also cut.

      I should write more about nutrition, and healthy eating on a small budget. I did a couple of years of ‘domestic science’ at school, then woodwork. They weren’t my key subjects, but I enjoyed the nutritional element of cookery, because it was science – and the sciences were among my key subjects.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. In case you’re interested, there is a diet-related conflict over public health going on between alternative experts and the establishment, about statins in relation to fat and cholesterol. Here is a recent hit piece in the Daily Mail:
      https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-6764117/Devastating-investigation-reveals-impact-deadly-statin-denier-propaganda.html
      In response, here is what was written by Dr. Malcolm Kendrick (Scottish) and Dr. Zoe Harcombe (Welsh):
      https://drmalcolmkendrick.org/2019/03/03/cholesterol-games/
      http://www.zoeharcombe.com/2019/03/cholesterol-statins-the-ctsu-the-mail-on-sunday/

      The hit piece was published in timing with Harcombe speaking before Parliament, an attempt to discredit her and to distract from debate of the evidence. The third target of attack, Dr Aseem Malhotra (British), chose not to respond as he concluded it would be futile and it appears he was correct, at least in terms of the Daily Mail altering its message in the least because of what Kendrick and Harcombe sent them.

      This is the same fight that has been going on for some years, the conflict between two prestigious British medical journals, the BMJ and the Lancet. It has developed into full ideological warfare. But those defending the status quo are being forced to acknowledge their detractors, which is an improvement over silencing. And the failed attacks on Tim Noakes(South African) and Gary Fettke (Australian) over similar disputes are causing the powers that be to use the mainstream media as a weapon.

      On a related note, here is another ongoing fight where an individual, Diana Rodgers (American), like the others has been targeted.
      http://www.zoeharcombe.com/2019/02/is-a-vegan-diet-safe-for-infants-and-children/
      Attacking individuals in trying to destroy their careers or authority seems to be the standard tactic. Fortunately, social media sheds light on this dark practice and brings out the support for these doctors, dieticians, researchers, etc who in the past would’ve felt isolated. It’s one of the positives of the internet.

      This isn’t only about statins, LCHF diet, or whatever else. It indicates a deeper shift going on and those who are resisting it because of vested interests. What’s at stake is a paradigm change and the consequences of which side wins are potentially beneficial or dire for public health.

      Liked by 1 person

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