Category: Poverty

Select committee to investigate link between ‘survival sex’ and Universal Credit

amber rudd

In February, Amber Rudd finally conceded that the increased use of food banks is partly down to problems in rolling out Universal Credit, following a long line of Conservative ministers who have persistently and loudly denied their is any link between welfare cuts and people needing food banks to make ends meet.

The work and pensions secretary said she was “absolutely clear there were challenges with the initial roll-out” of the benefit and that the difficulty in accessing money was “one of the causes” of the rise.

But she also said that the government had “made changes to help tackle food insecurity”.

Although it seemed like a “promising” acknowledgement, little has changed. Many people are still notable to meet their fundamental survival needs. Universal Credit has been plagued with multiple problems since its inception in 2010. Eight years later, and those problems remain, with a wake of often devastating consequences in those communities where this flagship failure has been rolled out. The Labour party has called for ministers to halt the roll-out “as a matter of urgency”.

Austerity has caused a surge in “survival crime” – where absolute poverty has driven people to shoplift food and to prostitution. 

Frank Field raised the issue of “survival sex” in parliament last October, telling the then work and pensions secretary, Esther McVey, that some women in his Birkenhead constituency were “were taking to the red light district for the very first time” because of Universal Credit.

Relentlessly hard-faced McVey replied that job centre work coaches would be able to help the women off the streets, adding that “in the meantime” Field could “tell these ladies that now we’ve got record job vacancies – 830,000 and perhaps there are other jobs on offer”.

Now, the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee have launched an inquiry into a possible link between Universal Credit and so-called “survival sex”, after evidence has emerged that problems with the UK Government’s flagship welfare reform have resulted in some women so impoverished by universal credit or sanctions that they have turned to prostitution to pay rent, feed their families, and generally meet the costs of basic survival needs.

The Committee has opened this phase in its ongoing Universal Credit inquiry in response to reports from charities and support organisations that increasing numbers of people—overwhelmingly women—have been pushed into “survival sex” as a direct result of welfare policy ‘changes’ (cuts).

In his recent report on extreme poverty in the UK, the UN Special Rapporteur, Professor Philip Alston, described meeting people who:

Depend on food banks and charities for their next meal, who are sleeping on friends’ couches because they are homeless and don’t have a safe place for their children to sleep, who have sold sex for money or shelter.

Through its work on different elements and consequences of Universal Credit over the last two years, the Work and Pensions Select Committee has identified a number of features of the policy that may contribute to those claiming social security having difficulty meeting survival needs.

  • The wait for a first Universal Credit payment, which is a minimum of five weeks but can be a lot longer;
  • The accumulation of debt: for example, as a result of third-party deductions to benefits or taking out an Advance Payment at the start of a claim;
  • Sanctions, which are applied at a higher rate under Universal Credit than under the system it replaces.

New Universal Credit claimants are made to wait at least five weeks before receiving an initial payment, although recent changes to the payment system mean people can ask for advances to help tide them over while they await their first payment. However, the advances must be repaid over time, which traps people in a cycle of debt.

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “We have heard sufficient evidence, and are sufficiently worried, to launch this inquiry to begin to establish what lies behind the shocking reports of people being forced to exchange sex to meet survival needs.

“This is an investigation, and we do not yet know what we will uncover.

“But if the evidence points to a direct link between this kind of survival sex and the administrative failures of Universal Credit, Ministers cannot fail to act.”

Niki Adams, a spokeswoman for the English Collective of Prostitutes, a self-help organisation for sex workers, said there had been an increase in prostitution in the UK as a result of rising poverty and cuts to single-parent benefits.

The devastating impact of benefit cuts and sanctions on women’s incomes began before Universal Credit, which for many women, especially lone parents, she said, had the effect of making an already precarious financial situation worse.

“If you are on benefits it is already a very low level of income. If your income is then reduced, that’s when you find women going back into prostitution, or going into it for the first time,” she added.

The Select Committee wants to hear from Universal Credit claimants who have “had to exchange sex for basic living essentials, like food or somewhere to live”.

They say: “We understand that telling your story might be difficult.

“You can ask for your evidence to be anonymous (we’ll publish your story, but not your name or any personal details about you) or confidential (we’ll read your story but we won’t publish it).”

The Committee will also hear oral evidence in Parliament later in this inquiry.

 The deadline for submitting evidence is Monday 29 April 2019.

Terms of reference: Universal Credit and Survival Sex.

Evidence may be submitted through the Committee’s website.

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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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Research shows austerity results in ‘social murder’

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Dr Chris Grover, who heads Lancaster University’s Sociology Department says that austerity can be understood as a form of structural violence – a violence that is built into society and is expressed in unequal power and unequal life chances, as it is deepens inequalities and injustices, and creates even more poverty.

The article, Violent proletarianisation: social murder, the reserve army of labour and social security ‘austerity’ in Britain, suggests that as a result of the violence of austerity working class people face harm to their physical and mental wellbeing, and, in some instances, are ‘socially murdered’.

Dr Grover calls on the Government for change and action. He cites the consequences of austerity in the social security system – severe cuts to benefits and the ‘ratcheting up’ of conditions attached to benefits as constituting ‘social murder.’ 

He refers to the process as ‘violent proletarianisation’ (the idea that violent austerity is aimed at forcing people to do [low] paid work, rather than being supported by social security).

“To address violent proletarianisation what is required is not the tweaking of existing policies but fundamental change that removes the economic need for people to work for the lowest wages that employers can get away with paying,” says Dr Grover, echoing what many of us have also observed and commented on.

Published on 19 December in the journal, Critical Social Policy, Dr Grover gives examples of where social security austerity has led to a range of harms:

  •  an additional six suicides for every 10,000 work capability assessments done; 
  •  increasing number of people Britain dying of malnutrition 
  •  increasing numbers of homeless people dying on the streets or in hostels

The article rationalises that austerity, the difficult economic conditions created by Government by cutting back on public spending, has brought cuts and damaging changes to social security policy meaning Britain has fallen victim to a brutal approach to forcing people to undertake low paid work.

This is something that many of us have also observed.

“The violence takes two forms,” says Dr Grover. “First it involves further economic hardship of already income-poor people.

“It causes social inequalities and injustices in the short term and, in the longer term.

“Second, the poverty that violent proletarianisation creates is both known and avoidable.”

Dr Grover adds that only by fundamentally rethinking current social security policy can change that protects the poorest people be made.

The article examines socioeconomic inequality and injustice, discussing the way it is used to force the commodification of labour power, and a consequential creation of ‘diswelfares ‘that are known and avoidable.

By keeping citizens poor, and without the means of meeting their most fundamental needs, the state creates a desperate reserve army of labour, which is open to exploitation by employers. Conditional welfare also coerces citizens into accepting any work available, regardless of how poor the conditions and wage levels are. There is no means of bargaining for job security, better working conditions or pay, since people claiming social security cannot refuse a job offer, without facing financial sanctions, and subsequently, destitution.

The author suggests that violent proletarianisation is a contradictory process, one that helps constitute the working class, but in a way that socially murders some of its reserve army [of labour] members.

Just as ‘the market’ allocates wealth and resources, it has also come to allocate life and death.

Grover takes his  inspiration from Friedrich Engels’s account of the social murder committed by British capitalists to assess the contemporary impact of conservative economic policy, which they define as policies designed to maximize the accumulation of profit while socialising the associated risks and costs. Conservative neoliberals claim that if their policy prescription is followed, it will produce broad-based economic benefits including more rapid growth, higher incomes, less illness, and, even, more democracy.

The Lancaster university research contrasts the myths of Conservative economic policy with the reality. What Conservative economic policy has actually accomplished is a redistribution of wealth and power away from the vast majority of the population to private companies and their owners. The effects of these policies on citizens and workers have been politically determined economic instability, unemployment, poverty and widening inequality, resulting in suffering, harm and a rise in premature mortalities.

Social murder is a phrase used by Engels in his 1845 work The Condition of the Working-Class in England whereby “the class which at present holds social and political control” (the bourgeoisie) “places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death.”

Social murder was explicitly committed by the political and social elite against the poorest in society. Although Engels’ work was originally written with regard to the English city of Manchester in the Victorian era, the term has been used by other left-wing politicians such as John McDonnell in the 21st century to describe the impacts of Conservative economic policy (neoliberalism), as well as being linked with events such as the Grenfell Tower fire. The victims of Grenfell Tower didn’t just die. Austerity, outsourcing and deregulation killed them – just as the conditions of Victorian Manchester killed the poorest citizens then.

Engels said:  “When society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet; its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual.” 

Over 170 years later, Britain remains a country that murders its poor. When four separate government ministers are warned that Grenfell and other high rises are a serious fire risk, then an inferno isn’t unfortunate. It is inevitable. It is social murder.

The acts that culminated in the deaths were licensed by those in public office, or private sector authority, who had decided the lives of poor people mattered less than the profits of the rich. This is a logic that’s still very evident today. 

The past decade of austerity has been one of political violence: of people losing their lifeline income for not being disabled ‘enough’, of families evicted from their homes for having more than two children or a bedroom that the state deems surplus to requirements.

These are tales of private suffering and immense misery, of a person or a household  plunged into stress, anxiety, depression or worse.

Aditya Chakrabortty concluded last year, in his well-observed article about the Grenfell tragedy: “Class warfare is passed off as book-keeping. Accountability is tossed aside for “commercial confidentiality”, while profiteering is dressed up as economic dynamism. One courtesy we should pay the victims of Grenfell is to drop the glossy-brochure euphemisms. Let’s get clear what happened to them: an act of social murder, straight out of Victorian times.”

You can read the research report in full, without the paywall, here: Violent proletarianisation: Social murder, the reserve army of labour and social security ‘austerity’ in Britain

 


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Universal Credit is a ‘serious threat to public health’ say public health researchers

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Some citizens in the UK have ended up in an unprecedented and darkly absurd position of having to explain and prove over and over to a cruel and harmful government that their cruel and harmful policies are cruel and harmful.

Recent research has verified that Conservative welfare policies are damaging, yet the government simply denies this is the case.

New research conducted for Gateshead council highlights that Universal Credit, another cruel and harmful policy, is detrimental to peoples’ mental health, because it increases depression and anxiety. 

Public health researchers say that Universal credit has become a serious threat to public health after the study revealed that the stress of coping with the new benefits system had so profoundly affected peoples’ mental health that some considered suicide.

The researchers found overwhelmingly negative experiences among vulnerable citizens claiming Universal Credit, including high levels of anxiety and depression, as well as physical problems and social isolation, all of which was exacerbated by hunger and destitution.

The Gateshead study comes as the United Nation’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, prepares to publish a report of the impact of Conservative austerity in the UK. Alston has been collecting evidence and testimonies on the effects of the welfare reforms, council funding cuts, and Universal Credit during a two-week visit of the UK. 

This research is highly likely to raise fresh calls for the system’s rollout to be halted, or at the very least, paused to attempt to fix the fundamental design flaws and ensure adequate protections are in place for the most vulnerable people claiming it.

Approximately 750,000 chronically ill and disabled claimants are expected to transfer on to Universal Credit from 2019. Yet earlier this year, the first legal challenge against Universal Credit found that the government unlawfully discriminated against two men with severe disabilities who were required to claim the new benefit after moving into new local authority areas. Both saw their benefits dramatically reduced when they moved to a different Local Authority and were required to claim Universal Credit instead of Employment and Support Allowance.

The study findings are yet another indication of how unfit for purpose Universal Credit is. Six of the participants in the study reported that claiming Universal Credit had made them so depressed that they considered taking their own lives. The lead researcher, Mandy Cheetham, said the participant interviews were so distressing she undertook a suicide prevention course midway through the study.

The report says: “Universal Credit is not only failing to achieve its stated aim of moving people into employment, it is punishing people to such an extent that the mental health and wellbeing of claimants, their families and of [support] staff is being undermined.”

One participant told the researchers: “When you feel like ‘I can’t feed myself, I can’t pay my electric bill, I can’t pay my rent,’ well, all you can feel is the world collapsing around you. It does a lot of damage, physically and mentally … there were points where I did think about ending my life.”

An armed forces veteran said that helplessness and despair over Universal Credit had triggered insomnia and depression, for which he was taking medication. “Universal Credit was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It really did sort of drag me to a low position where I don’t want to be sort of thrown into again.”

Unsurprisingly, the report concludes that Universal Credit is actively creating poverty and destitution, and says it is not fit for purpose for many people with disabilities, mental illness or chronic health conditions. It calls for a radical overhaul of the system before the next phase of its rollout next year.

Alice Wiseman, the director of public health at Gateshead council, which commissioned the study, said: “I consider Universal Credit, in the context of wider austerity, as a threat to the public’s health.” She said many of her public health colleagues around the country shared her concerns.

Wiseman said that Universal Credit is “seriously undermining” efforts to prevent ill-health in one of the UK’s most deprived areas.

She added “This is not political, this is about the lives of vulnerable people in Gateshead. They are a group that should be protected but they haven’t been.”

The qualitative study of 33 people claiming Universal Credit and 37 welfare advice staff was carried out by Teesside and Newcastle university academics between April and October. It focused on those claimants with disabilities, mental illness and long-term health conditions, as well as homeless people, veterans and care leavers.

The respondents found that compared to the legacy benefits, Universal Credit is less accessible, remote, inflexible, demeaning and intrusive. It was less sensitive to claimants’ health and personal circumstances, the researchers said. This heightened peoples’ anxiety, sense of shame, guilt, and feelings of loss of dignity and control.

The Universal Credit system itself was described by those claiming it as dysfunctional and prone to administrative error. People experienced the system as “hostile, punitive and difficult to navigate,” and struggled to cope with payment delays that left them in debt, unable to eat regularly, and reliant on food banks.

The government claimed that people making a new claim are expected to wait five weeks for a first payment. That’s a long time to wait with no money for basic living requirements. However, the average wait for participants on the study was seven and a half weeks, with some waiting as long as three months. Researchers were told of respondents who were so desperate and broke they turned to begging or shoplifting.

Wiseman made a point that many campaigners have made, and said that alongside the human costs, universal credit was placing extra burdens on NHS and social care, as well as charities such as food banks. It also affected the wellbeing of advice staff, who reported high stress levels and burnout from dealing with the fallout on those claiming the benefit.

Guy Pilkington, a GP in Newcastle said that the benefits system had always been tough, but under Universal Credit, those claiming faced a higher risk of destitution.

“For me the biggest [change] is the ease with which claimants can fall into a Victorian-style system that allows you to starve. That’s really shocking, and that’s new,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said: “This survey of 33 claimants doesn’t match the broader experience of more than 9,000 people receiving Universal Credit in Gateshead, who are taking advantage of its flexibility and personalised support to find work.

“We have just announced a £4.5bn package of support so people can earn £1,000 more before their credit payment begins to be reduced, and we are providing an additional two weeks’ payments for people being moved from the old system.”

That will still leave people with nothing to live on or to cover their rent for at least three weeks. The study focused on those less likely to be able to work – people with disabilities, mental illness or chronic health conditions. The DWP failed to recognise that this group have different needs and experiences than the broader population, which leave them much more likely to become vulnerable when they cannot meet their needs.

Vulnerable people are suffering great harm and dying because of this government’s policies. It is not appropriate to attempt to compare those peoples’ experiences with some larger group who have not died or have not yet experienced those harms. Where is the empirical evidence of these claims, anyway? Where is the DWP’s study report?

Callousness and indifference to the suffering and needs of disadvantaged citizens – disadvantaged because of discriminatory policies – has become so normalised to this government that they no longer see or care how utterly repugnant and dangerous it is.

The DWP are not ‘providing’ anything. Social security is a publicly funded safety net, paid for by the public FOR the public. It’s a reasonable expectation that citizens, most of who have worked and contributed towards welfare provision, should be able to access a system of support when they experience difficulties – that is what social security was designed to provide, so that no one in the UK need to face absolute poverty. It’s supposed to be there so that everyone can meet their basic survival needs.

What people in their time of need find instead is a system that has been redesigned to administer punishments, shame and psychological abuse. What kind of government kicks people hard when they are already down?

Imagine what that level of state abuse does to a person psychologically. 

Techniques of neutralisation and gaslighting 

The government’s denial and indifference to the needs of others are part of a wider, deplorable gaslighting strategy, which strongly implies that the cruel and harmful policy consequences are actually intended and deliberately inflicted.

I once compared the relationship between marginalised social groups, such as the disabled community, and the state with being in an abusive relationship from which you cannot escape. 

The Conservatives have persistently claimed, contrary to the ever-mounting evidence, that there is no ‘causal link’ between their punitive welfare policies and social harm, such as increases in premature deaths, suicides, distress, poverty, destitution, physiological and psychological harm.

The denials are grounded in techniques of neutralisationaimed at discrediting citizens’ accounts of their own experience. Cruel and harmful policies are described as “support”, “help” and “incentivising behavioural change”, for example.

Techniques of neutralisation provide simple and powerful rationales for why some people violate society’s norms, and they are used to explain to perpetrators and others why it was “okay” to act immorally. Matza and Sykes identified five separate techniques of neutralisation:

1) Denial of responsibility. (Saying repeatedly “There is no causal link established between policy and harm”, for example)

2) Denial of injury.  (Claiming that any abuse causing injury is somehow ultimately in the person’s ‘best interests’. Claiming that any evidence presented of injury is ‘just anecdotal evidence’, and dismissing it, for example).

3) Blaming the victim. (Saying people are ‘scroungers’, ‘parked on benefits’, ‘cognitively biased’, part of a ‘something for nothing culture’, and “we need to ‘change their behaviours’,”for example)

4) Condemning the condemners. (Calling those who challenge the government ‘scaremongers’, or implying they are liars, for example)

5) Appealing to a higher loyalty. (The ‘tax payer’, the ‘national interest’, the economy, ‘the best interests of the individual’. 

Within an abusive relationship, this kind of constant denial – gaslighting – blurs normative boundaries, and what we once deemed unacceptable somehow becomes an everyday event. But gaslighting is a strategy of abuse that is carefully calculated to discredit your account, and to manipulate you into doubting your own perceptions, accounts and experiences. 

The government have normalised cruelty and have fostered an abusive relationship with some of the poorest citizens – those historically most vulnerable to political abuse. That abusive relationship reflects a profoundly authoritarian imbalance of power and traditional Conservative prejudice, contempt and malice towards the most systematically disadvantaged citizens.

Watch Sarah Newton use techniques of neutralisation to discredit the robustly evidenced account of the United Nations, opposition shadow ministers and ultimately, the accounts of the citizens who they represent – many of whom submitted evidence of the harm they have experienced because of government policy to the United Nations.

If you have experienced any of the issues discussed here, or if you are feeling low or distressed for any reason, please talk to someone. The Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org. 

Update Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, has published his report following his visit to the UK . In it, he also discusses a government ‘denial.’  

He says: “The Government has remained determinedly in a state of denial. Even while devolved authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland are frantically trying to devise ways to ‘mitigate’, or in other words counteract, at least the worst features of the Government’s benefits policy, Ministers insisted to me that all is well and running according to plan. 

“Some tweaks to basic policy have reluctantly been made, but there has been a determined resistance to change in response to the many problems which so many people at all levels have brought to my attention.”

You can read the report in full here: https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Poverty/EOM_GB_16Nov2018.pdf

I will write an analysis of the report in due course.

 



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George Osborne ignored civil servants’ warnings of increased child poverty due to 1% public sector cap

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Back in July 2015, George Osborne, then chancellor, announced that the 1% public sector pay cap would be extended for four years – a policy that had not been included in the Conservative manifesto. The cap remained in force until the 2018/19 pay round.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show that Osborne had received advice from civil servants warning him that the policy would “make it more difficult for low-income families with children to access essential goods, and will therefore make it harder for the government to hit the Child Poverty Act targets.”

Authoritarian Osborne ignored civil servants’ warnings that extending the public sector pay cap would force children into poverty, the newly released documents reveal. Civil servants also warned that extending the cap “could increase financial pressure on families of public sector workers which may have a negative impact on family relationships”.

The previously undisclosed warnings are contained in a ministerial decision record obtained by GMB union. The papers reveal that ministers had also considered freezing public sector pay for two years. 

The Treasury released the paper to GMB after a prolonged delay and following being instructed to respond to the GMB by the information commissioner. Rehana Azam, GMB’s national secretary, said the pay freeze had a devastating impact on the union’s members for many years.

Osborne’s policy has directly affected over a million families with children. There are an estimated 2.4 million dependent children in households in which there is at least one public sector worker in the UK.

Azam went on to say : “This document is a mark of shame on ministers who imposed years of real-terms pay cuts in the full knowledge that it would condemn families and children to poverty.

“If Theresa May is serious about ending ‘burning injustices’, she must use this budget to reverse the fall in living standards that this government has imposed on ordinary working people.”

It emerged earlier this month that the cap on benefits, also imposed by Osborne in 2015, will mean that low-income families will miss out on an extra £210 a year from April. Analysis by the Resolution Foundation highlighted that more than 10m households will face a real-terms loss of income from the government’s austerity measures, introduced when Osborne was chancellor. It was also reported this week that Philip Hammond, Osborne’s successor, is considering imposing regional public sector pay rates. However, similar proposals were defeated in the 2010 to 2015 parliament.

A Whitehall source confirmed that the Treasury is considering overhauling the system to allow greater regional variation in pay rises. The chief secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss, reportedly told the cabinet that pay rises should be ‘determined by retention, performance and productivity.’

The reasoning means that those working in London and the south-east could receive greater increases because pay in other regions is already more “competitive” with private sector levels, the source confirmed.

Meanwhile, Hammond is under increasing pressure to loosen curbs on spending after May used her conference speech in Birmingham to tell voters that next year’s spending review would mark the end of almost a decade of austerity.

George Osborne was contacted for comment and has not responsed at the time of writing.

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Two very vulnerable homeless men left to die in sub-zero temperatures

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A homeless man died tragically, earlier this week while sleeping rough in freezing temperatures in Nottinghamshire. He was known as Ben to locals, and had been sleeping in a tent near Saint Swithun’s Church in Retford. He was found in the early hours of Tuesday morning, as freezing temperatures swept across the county due to the ‘Beast from the East’ storm.

Police confirmed that they were made aware of a ‘sudden death’ near to the church by the ambulance services at 8.40am on Tuesday (February 27).

One local resident in the area, Kenny Roach, said he knew Ben well and had previously helped him out with money and food. 

“He contacted me last week just before he came out of hospital – he had pneumonia,” he said.

Two local scout leaders, Hazel and Kenny Newstead said they both knew Ben well.

“We’re so shocked and saddened by this. He seemed to be a lovely, friendly chap,” said Hazel.

He was living in a tent between a wall and the old church hall off Churchgate near our scout hut.

“He told us he was 53 and used to be a brickie – he even offered to re-do the brickwork on our building.

“We used to chat to Ben over the wall. He was happy here and didn’t want to go to a shelter in Worksop.”

Hazel said she and her husband had come across Ben a week or so ago, but understood that he was originally from the south and moved between Retford, Gainsborough and Worksop. His girlfriend had died tragically before he became homeless.

“He had a tent, sleeping bags and quilts, and we gave him tinned food because he said he had something to cook with. He used to hang his sleeping bags between the trees to air them,” Hazel said.

Roach added “He had had his stuff pinched so I arranged to meet up with him to give him some camping gear, money and food.

“He didn’t want something for nothing.

“Ben was quite comfortable where he was and didn’t want to go to Worksop. All he needed was a break. This is so sad.”

Worksop is just over 12 miles from Retford.

Roach said that Ben would search bins for items to sell in the town and would buy food with any proceeds he received. Roach had also offered him work with an upcoming project.

He was a grafter,” Roach said. “But he just needed somebody to give him a break. He couldn’t get a job because he didn’t have a home, he couldn’t get a home because he didn’t have a job, and he couldn’t get benefits because he didn’t have a home. It’s a vicious, vicious circle. People need to cut them some slack.” 

Councillor Simon Greaves, leader of Bassetlaw District Council, said :

We were all saddened to learn about this tragedy and had put provisions in place in an attempt to prevent something like this occurring.

“The Council has been providing a Severe Weather Night Shelter every night since Saturday, February 24 where anyone in Bassetlaw who is homeless can get out of the cold and into a warm and safe environment for the night.

“Severe Weather Night Shelters are set up when the outside temperature is set to drop below zero degrees centigrade for three consecutive nights.

Outreach Workers from Framework, the Council, the Police and a number of other agencies are in regular contact with people who are sleeping rough and have made them aware of the shelter.

“While the shelter is based at Crown Place Community Centre in Worksop, free transport has been offered to people known to be homeless, regardless of where they are currently living. Some people have taken up this offer and have used the shelter. Regrettably other individuals have made a personal choice to decline this offer.

“We are aware of between 15 and 20 people known to be sleeping in Worksop and around five people in the Retford area who are known to be homeless. We will be keeping the shelter open until at least Sunday night, and possibly longer, depending on the weather. Up until Wednesday evening the Shelter has been used by a total of 11 people since it opened last weekend.

“In terms of long-term provision for Homelessness, the council continues to work with the individuals concerned and the relevant agencies to place people in the most appropriate accommodation as well as work to prevent people becoming homeless in the first place.”

A file will now be put together to hand to the coroner.

It’s not clear if anyone had approached Ben regarding shelter provision, bearing in mind that he has been in hospital with pneumonia little over a week before he died. 

Hazel Newstead said “He had only been here for about a week. He said he had come out of hospital on 14 February, where he’d been treated for pneumonia. Before that I think he had been in another church sleeping in the door way.”

She added: “I can’t help wondering whether I could have done more personally – I’m disabled and limited physically, but the guilt is there, as there didn’t seem to be anywhere else for him to go.

“He was bothering nobody where he was. Probably hardly anyone knew he was there.”

Bassetlaw District Council opened a severe weather night shelter over the weekend but residents of Retford said it was 10 miles outside the town, which means some rough sleepers were unwilling to go there.

Following Ben’s death, local residents have set up their own homeless shelter to provide more accessible beds, as some homeless people in the area didn’t want to go to Worksop.

I spoke to a former worker from Framework – the local homeless service provider – who had worked in the area for seven years. She said “ Funding has been cut by more than 70% for Framework’s services in Nottinghamshire. Prior to 2010, there was a countywide street outreach team, Winter Night Shelters opened from December to the middle of March, plus various services offering longer term hostel and move on accommodation and tenancy support once people were in their own homes. We predicted that people would die as a result of those services closing. I’m heartbroken and full of rage that it’s happened.”

It’s difficult to believe that a person who had pneumonia was discharged from hospital into below freezing weather conditions with no shelter but a tent and sleeping bag. Surprisingly, some local people say they were shocked that the poor man had died.

Another man homeless man was found dead behind the shutters of an empty shop following one of the coldest nights of the year. Police and paramedics were called to the former Argos building in Chelmsford. The man was know locally as ‘Rob O’Conner’ had been living behind the shutters, he was found dead at the scene.

Aaron Smith, 27, who has been homeless for a year, said he found Rob’s body.

I was his only friend. We bed down together under the shutters,” he said.

“I was all he had. He was ill and had throat cancer.

“The bad weather didn’t help at all and it is picking us off one by one.

“When I found him he had one thin sleeping bag on.

Everyone has him wrong.

“He was a lovely bloke but because he couldn’t speak properly people had him wrong. He had throat cancer

“He was a good and loyal friend.”

Following the news of the death, a sign placed next to the Halifax bank was left in tribute to the man.

A tribute to Rob, a homeless man who was suffering from throat cancer, found dead in Chelmsford (Image: Essex Live/BPM Media)

Brian McGovern, Who runs the Rucksack Project, said: “This is something that the council were warned about.

“I did approach the council when we had a cold spell about opening up fire stations for them to sleep in.” Rob Saggs, executive director of the homeless charity CHESS said: “It’s devastating to hear that somebody has died on our streets in Chelmsford.

“I’m just devastated and quite shocked. What’s really sad about it is that we have been running a winter project that somebody like this could have been accessing, where it’s warm and comfy. It’s horrendous.”

A spokesperson for Chelmsford City Council said: “CHESS have confirmed that the winter project has extended their service until the end of March. They have just 10 bed  spaces at a local Church which rough sleepers can access each night. Sanctus is open for rough to get hot food and drink throughout the day.”  

Shortly after Rob’s death, tributes came in for the man described as a “good and loyal friend”. 

Rob’s death comes after one of the coldest nights of the year when the temperature in the Essex city dipped to a low of -1.7C at 4am.

It’s reported that his death is not being treated as suspicious. It should, however, be treated as an absolutely shameful national disgrace. Rob had throat cancer and was sleeping rough. Behind the shutters of an Argos shop. No-one would choose to live and die like this. 

Ben was discharged from hospital following treatment for pneumonia just over a week before he died, to sleep in a tent.

There is something very wrong with a society that leaves ill people without adequate shelter in sub-zero temperatures. People are apparently so shocked that this is happening right under their noses. 

However, it’s far too late to be shocked after the event of someone’s death.

We seem to have become a nation that is blind to the suffering of some of our most vulnerable citizens, to the point where we somehow think they have some sort of immunity to exposure and sub-zero temperatures. Until it kills them. 

Over the last seven years we have witnessed the return of absolute poverty in the UK because of Conservative welfare policies, austerity, low wages and insecure work. Absolute poverty is when people can’t afford to meet one or more of their basic survival needs as they don’t have an adequate income to eat, keep warm or afford shelter.

Welfare was originally calculated to meet people’s basic needs and to ensure that citizens did not have to live in absolute poverty. We were a society that believed that everyone has a right to life. However, since the Conservative government’s welfare ‘reforms’, the amount of support people have does not alleviate hardship nor does it adequately ensure that people can meet their basic survival needs. Furthermore, the punitive welfare sanction regime often leaves people without any income at all.

In one of the wealthiest nations in the world, people are dying because they have no home and because there is not an adequate safety net in place to help them when they so desperately need it.

I wept while writing this.

 

You can help a homeless person by contacting Streetlink. (Click) When a rough sleeper is reported via the Streetlink app, or by phone – telephone number 0300-500 0914.

The details  you provide are sent to the local authority concerned, so they can help connect the person to local services and support. You will also receive an update on what action was taken so you’ll know if the situation was resolved. StreetLink aims to offer the public a means to act when they see someone sleeping rough, and is the first step someone can take to ensure rough sleepers are connected to the local services and support available to them.

Don’t walk on by. We are better than this

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Please don’t walk on by. We are better than this

 


I don’t make any money from my work, and as a disabled person, I have a limited income. But you can help by making a donation and enable me to continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others going through disability benefit assessment processes and appeals. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

I do have a roof over my head, however. If you know of someone who is homeless, I’d prefer that you help them first and foremost

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