Category: Poverty

A few billionaires own more wealth than 4.6 billion people, says report ahead of Davos

Bootstraps

The age of endless growth in prosperity for everyone is now a distant memory of a rather more hopeful era. Despite what the government tells us, inequality is growing. And this is damaging to the economy, and to ordinary citizens who are struggling to get by on ever-diminishing incomes and ever-rising living costs. It’s highly unlikely that Brexit will help matters, too

Rising inequality coincided with a profound shift in economic policy throughout much of the developed nations of the world – neoliberalism. Political parties got elected from the end of the seventies by promising to cut tax rates, ‘free up’ markets, and reduce government intervention in the economy. The change was most pronounced in Britain and the United States, after Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan took office. But it also occurred to varying degrees in Continental Europe, Canada, Australia, and Japan. 

Those countries with largest tax cuts also experienced the biggest increases in inequality, and losses in public welfare and social cohesion.. However, neoliberals’ prevailing view of inequality is that it isn’t a bad thing because it ‘spurs’ people to work harder and become more self-reliant and self-disciplined.

However, people in poverty are increasingly likely to be in working families, which indicates that poverty isn’t caused by people being lazy, undisciplined and unmotivated.

The myth of meritocracy is also used to justify inequality.  Boris Johnson and Charles Murray, among others, have argued that wealth is linked with having a higher IQ. However, roughly a third of rich people inherit their wealth, so that cannot be linked to their own personal qualities, talents or achievements.

There is also the problem with defining ‘skills’and ‘talent’ worthy of merit. One person’s idea of talent is another person’s idea of Simon Cowell. 

The authors of a paper called Talent vs Luck: the role of randomness in success and failure, say “The largely dominant meritocratic paradigm of highly competitive Western cultures is rooted on the belief that success is due mainly, if not exclusively, to personal qualities such as talent, intelligence, skills, efforts or risk taking. Sometimes, we are willing to admit that a certain degree of luck could also play a role in achieving significant material success.

But, as a matter of fact, it is rather common to underestimate the importance of external forces in individual successful stories.”

The authors conclude, rather depressingly that: “The maximum success never coincides with the maximum talent, and vice-versa.”

Although the researchers outline the role of luck and randomness in how some people become very wealthy, they have overlooked the role that neoliberal policies play in redistributing public wealth towards the already wealthy.

The team who undertook this study, led by Alessandro Pluchino, also concluded that an important factor in their model was an element of fortune and misfortune that can make or break the individuals’ success.

This is one good reason why we need a robust social security system. Because no-one is immune from periods of hardship and misfortune: an accident or illness, the loss of a job, and a range of other circumstances can leave us facing poverty. No-one ‘deserves’ to be hungry, homeless and poor.

The ‘Inequality Turn’ in the 1980s is one of the most distinctive aspects of contemporary political economy. It isn’t likely that people suddenly became less ‘deserving’ of a decent standard of living, given the radical change in economic ideology and subsequent shift in socio-economic organisation. It’s rather more likely that the political choices of neoliberal policy over that time have resulted in the growth of inequality.

The neoliberal shift has led to the world’s billionaires having more wealth than 4.6 billion people and the world’s richest 1% own more than double the wealth of 6.9 billion people. There are just 2,153 billionaires. 

Those are the latest figures on global inequality from a report released on Monday ahead of an annual meeting of global elites in the mountain resort of Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. The report by the international aid organisation Oxfam states that the number of billionaires has doubled in the last decade.

As at least some of the world’s 2,153 billionaires attend the World Economic Forum this week, others will be working to communicate another message: the complicity of the global elite in wealth inequality.

“Our broken economies are lining the pockets of billionaires and big business at the expense of ordinary men and women. No wonder people are starting to question whether billionaires should even exist,” said Amitabh Behar, the CEO of Oxfam India who will be present at Davos.

“[Inequality is at the] heart of fractures and social conflicts all over the world, and no one is fooled,” said Pauline Leclère, Oxfam France’s senior campaigner for tax justice and inequalities.

“Inequality is not someone’s ‘fate’. It is the result of social and fiscal policy that reduces the participation of the wealthy [through taxes] and weakens funding for public services.”

Leclère said this is the message that Oxfam will be trying to deliver at Davos.

The charity  has released its annual report ahead of the famous economic meeting to address mounting inequality since 2014. 

The 2008 financial crisis saw the rich get richer. In 2012, the top 10% of earners took home 50% of all income. That’s the highest percentage in the last 100 years, according to a studyby economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty. 

If you want to know how that happened, you need to simply compare and contrast Conservative neoliberal policies: those aimed at wealthy people have tended to reward them with money, simply for having money, while the poorest citizens have been ‘incentivised’ to be less poor by being financially sanctioned.

This language of ‘incentives’ has been used to engineer a massive shift of public wealth from the poorest to the wealthiest. For example, the social security cuts to disabled people’s support happened at the same time as a generous tax cut to the UK’s wealthiest citizens. While the government imposed austerity on everyone else, they handed out £170,000 each per year to the millionaires in the form of a generous tax cut. 

According to government opinion and rationale, wealthy people require wealth to ‘incentivise’ them to be wealthy, whereas poor people require less money to somehow punish them out of their poverty. 

I don’t think the current government are in a position of power because of their coherence, honesty, talent and intelligence.

I think they are in government because of their ruthless pursuit of insulting the intelligence of others. And succeeding to do so.

Boris Johnson making a tenuous and tedious link between IQ, talent, competition and the inevitability and essential nature of inequality.

Gender inequality

This year, Oxfam examined the gender divide as well, highlighting that men worldwide own 50% more wealth than women due to a “sexist and unfair economic system”.

The 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa, according to the report.

Women are much more likely to work in sectors that are more insecure and less valued economically, the Oxfam said.

They do more than 75% of unpaid care work and make up two-thirds of the “care workforce” in nursery and domestic jobs.

“Women and girls are among those who benefit least from today’s economic system,” said Behar.

Overall, their conclusions on inequality remain unchanged.

“Unfortunately, the organisation’s conclusion is the same. Inequality continues to rise in extreme proportions,” Leclère told Euronews, adding that inequality is bad for economies.

The director of the International Monetary Fund said at a conference in Washington DC last week that although inequality between countries was decreasing, inside many high-income countries, inequality is growing.

“The gap between rich and poor can’t be resolved without deliberate inequality-busting policies, and too few governments are committed to these,” said Behar.

Though members of civil society say they’re looking to receive concrete results from Davos, they know it’s an uphill battle.

Leclère says NGO members aren’t “fooled” by the events’ big, lofty political speeches. “We’re waiting for them to follow up with action.”

I can’t see that happening any time soon.

The remedy for an inclusive economy and society

77 years ago, the Beveridge Report identified five social evils: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease. We had thought we had eradicated these injustices from society for virtually everyone in the advanced economies with the development of social security, education, housing and health services combined with a growing and inclusive economy offering full employment.

What’s the point of a government of a wealthy nation if it cannot ensure citizens have food, fuel and shelter – fundamental survival requirements? And even worse, one that thinks it is somehow acceptable to punish citizens who need welfare support by withdrawing the means of meeting survival needs by sanctioning them for ‘non-compliance’.

How did we regress to become a state where absolute poverty is once again visible and widespread, and where inequality is everywhere? Absolute poverty is when people cannot meet the costs of basic survival needs, such as for food, shelter and heating. Inequality causes lower economic growth and reduces efficiency, as a lack of opportunity means that the most valuable asset in the economy – citizens – cannot reach their full potential, and so cannot fully contribute and benefit.  

Maslow

Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs

Breaking with the Keynesian model in western Europe and north America in the early postwar decades, the UK and US returned to an earlier, ‘classical’ presumption that, left alone, markets arrive at ‘optimal’ economic equilibria and the state should therefore withdraw from ‘social steering’. The neoliberal era has not only seen the soaring away of top incomes at the expense of those in the lower reaches of the income hierarchy but has also itself been thrown into question by the financial crash of 2008, which no neoclassical economist anticipated.

What would help to reduce inequality?

A good starting point for the UK government would be ensuring:

  • quality, long term employment jobs and fair wages
  • housing everyone can afford
  • health care and support when people need it
  • education for the future
  • a progressive and redistributive tax and transfer system that promotes fairness
  • reversing the legislation that disempowered trade unions, leading to the decline of trade-union membership and collective-bargaining rights
  • secure income in retirement.

These measures would reverse some of the damage that successive neoliberal governments have done to the UK’s social safety nets, resulting in a shift away from democratic norms and the balance of power and wealth.

Prof Alston, an independent expert in human rights law, spent nearly two weeks travelling in Britain and Northern Ireland and received more than 300 written submissions for his report about inequality and poverty in the UK.

He concluded: “The bottom line is that much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos.”

Alston is absolutely right. The Conservatives from Thatcher onwards have steadily dismantled the social gains of our post war democratic settlement: the NHS, social security, legal aid, social housing and trade unions have been under a vicious onslaught of oppressive Conservative policies for many decades. Our public services are being sold off. Privatisation is about a few people making a big profit, which invariably comes at the expense of the quality of services delivered. Companies making ‘efficiency savings’ by cutting costs, restricting services and hiring fewer and less qualified, less expensive staff.  The public ends up paying private contractors rather more, than public providers, too.

The Australian professor, who is based at New York University, said government policies had led to the “systematic immiseration [economic impoverishment]” of a significant part of the UK population, meaning they had continually put people further into poverty.

“Some observers might conclude that the DWP had been tasked with “designing a digital and sanitised version of the 19th Century workhouse, made infamous by Charles Dickens”, he said.

The UN report cites independent experts saying that 14 million people in the UK – a fifth of the population – live in poverty, according to a new measure that takes into account costs such as housing and childcare.

Alston said the cause was the government’s “ideological” decision to dismantle the social safety net and focus on work as the solution to poverty, something that many of us have also observed over the past decade.

“UK standards of well-being have descended precipitately in a remarkably short period of time, as a result of deliberate policy choices made when many other options were available,” he said.

Alston raises a fundamental question – is the government, and the country, comfortable with the society that we’ve become?

He outlines the normalisation of food banks, rising levels of homelessness and child poverty, steep cuts to benefits and policing, and severe restrictions on legal aid. All of these political decisions make life considerably more difficult for millions of people.

In Professor Alston’s view, these are the unequivocal consequences of deliberate, calculated political decisions. I agree. 

Despite the government’s focus on work and record levels of employment, and their glib promise of ‘making work pay’, about 60% of people in poverty are in families where someone works. 

Alston notes that this, along with welfare cuts, has created a “highly combustible situation that will have dire consequences” in an extended economic downturn.

facade welfare

Read more: Davos 2020: everything you need to know about the World Economic Forum

 

Related

Welfare sanctions can’t possibly “incentivise” people to work

 


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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.

universal-credit-forcing-women-into-prostitution

 

 


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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’

Image result for social murder poverty

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.

 



My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. This is a pay as you like site. If you wish you can support me by making a one-off donation or a monthly contribution. This will help me continue to research and write independent, insightful and informative articles, and to continue to support others.

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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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My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. This is a pay as you like site. If you wish you can support me by making a one-off donation or a monthly contribution. This will help me continue to research and write independent, insightful and informative articles, and to continue to support others.

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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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The neoliberal ideologues lost their fig leaf and so now turn to shoot the messengers

Yet another remarkable Conservative-led backlash against Oxfam’s annual report on global inequality ahead of the opening of the World Economic Forum in Davos was started almost as soon as the charity issued the press release.  The report says that just 42 people hold as much wealth as the 3.7 billion who make up the poorest half of the world’s population. Inequality has widened over last year, with some 82% of the entire world’s money going to just 1% of the population. 

The report says it is “unacceptable and unsustainable” for a tiny minority to accumulate so much wealth while hundreds of millions of people struggled on poverty pay. It called on world leaders to turn rhetoric about inequality into policies to tackle tax evasion and boost the pay of workers. 

Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB chief executive, said: “The concentration of extreme wealth at the top is not a sign of a thriving economy, but a symptom of a system that is failing the millions of hardworking people on poverty wages who make our clothes and grow our food.”

Oxfam has made changes to its wealth calculations as a result of new data from the bank Credit Suisse. Under the revised figures, 42 people hold as much wealth as the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorer half of the world’s population, compared with 61 people last year and 380 in 2009. At the time of last year’s reportOxfam said that eight billionaires held the same wealth as half of the world’s population.

The wealth of billionaires had risen by 13% a year on average in the decade from 2006 to 2015, with the increase of $762bn (the equivalent of £550bn) in 2017  – enough to end extreme poverty seven times over.

The charity also said nine out of ten of the world’s 2,043 dollar billionaires were men.

Goldring went on to say: “For work to be a genuine route out of poverty we need to ensure that ordinary workers receive a living wage and can insist on decent conditions, and that women are not discriminated against. If that means less for the already wealthy then that is a price that we – and they – should be willing to pay.”

An Oxfam survey of 70,000 people in 10 countries, including the UK, showed widespread public support for action to tackle inequality. Nearly two-thirds of people – 72% in the UK – said they want the government to urgently address the income gap between rich and poor in their country.  

The New Right and neoliberals subsequently have advocated policies that aided the accumulation of profits and wealth in fewer hands with the argument that it would promote investment, thereby creating more jobs and more prosperity for all. As neoliberal policies were implemented around the world inequalities in wealth and income increased, there were health inequalities and poverty increased, contradicting neoliberal theories that by increasing the wealth at the top, everyone would become more affluent. Public funds were simply funnelled away into private hands. (See: the Paradise Papers, for example, and A few words about trickle down economics).

Furthermore, it’s become increasingly apparent that neoliberalism, as a totalising free-market ideology, is fundamentally incompatible with democracy and human rights frameworks.

The socioeconomic changes pushed through by the New Right in the US and the UK in the 80s removed constraints on bankers, made finance more important at the expense of manufacturing and reduced the power of unions, making it difficult for employees to secure as big a share of the national economic wealth as they had in previous decades.

The flipside of rising corporate profits and higher rewards for the top 1% of earners was stagnating wages for ordinary citizens against a backdrop of rapidly rising living costs, and of course, a subsequent higher propensity to get into debt.

Let’s not forget that the main factors behind the global economic crisis were ill-conceived and ideologically motivated fiscal and monetary policies, which were aided and abetted by inadequate regulation and a variety of other neoliberal policy ‘mistakes’. We subesequently learned that squeezing the oligarchs – those whose behaviours were responsible for the Great Recession – is seldom the strategy of choice among free market governments. Instead, they look to the less powerful – ordinary citizens – to carry the consequences and burdens of the greed and reckless risk-taking of the financiers. Government’s can’t stay tough on erstwhile cronies, after all.

The oligarchs use their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed. Responsibility and blame for the recession and the failure of neoliberalism has been re-written: it’s because of the ‘culture of entitlement’, it’s because of the opposition’s previous ‘spendthrift’ policies; ‘it’s because of poor people’s sub-optimal, faulty behaviours’ and ‘cognitive biases’; it’s because of ‘scrounging’ welfare claimants; it’s down to disabled people who are ‘parked’ on welfare; it’s because of immigration which drains our resources: it’s down to ‘inefficient’ public services; it’s because of the ‘bloated’ state. It’s because of anything but what it actually was because of. 

The pre-bust rising delinquencies in US subprime mortgages have all but been forgiven and forgotten. The political solution to catastrophically failing neoliberalism has simply been the application of more aggressive neoliberal policies.

Of course, in a society that celebrates the idea of self interest, greed and accumulating money, it’s easy to infer that the interests of the financial sector are the same as the interests of the country. 

Meanwhile, in the UK, when people were asked what a typical British chief executive earned in comparison with an unskilled worker, people guessed 33 times as much. When asked what the ideal ratio should be, they said 7:1. Oxfam said that FTSE 100 bosses earned on average 120 times more than the average employee.

Goldring said it was time to rethink a global economy in which there was excessive corporate influence on policymaking, erosion of workers’ rights and a relentless drive to minimise costs in order to maximise returns to investors. He is absolutely right. In the wake of the Paradise Papers, the catastrophic collapse of Carillion, which further exposes the neoliberal privatisation ‘efficiency’ myths, the wake of scandals from the likes of G4S, Atos and Maximus,  and Virgin Care. (See also: Doctors bribed with 70-90k salaries to join Maximus and “endorse a political agenda regardless of how it affects patients.). 

Payments to private finance companies where Carillion have a stake, 2017-18 to 2048-49

It’s unsurprising that the neoliberal ideologues are out in force, outraged as their hegemony is crumbling and their fig leaf has been removed. Astroturfing aggressively in an attempt to stigmatise knowledge that is an empirically inconvenience to neoliberal ideologues. The culprits are easily identified because they use the same crib sheet, with comments that are identical almost word for word.

The effects of inequality are not confined to the poor. A growing body of research shows that inequality damages the economy and the social fabric of the whole of society.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said last year: “Research at the IMF and elsewhere makes it clear that persistent lack of inclusion—defined as broadly shared benefits and opportunities for economic growth—can fray social cohesion and undermine the sustainability of growth itself.” And development experts point out that inequality compromises poverty reduction.

The IMF also say “While some inequality is inevitable in a market-based economic system, excessive inequality can erode social cohesion, lead to political polarization, and ultimately, lower economic growth.” In the Fiscal Monitor, the IMF discussed how fiscal policies can help achieve redistributive objectives.

The Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), a think tank insisting since the 1950s that free market have an important role in solving economic and social problems, have spearheaded what can best be described as an aggressive right wing and neoliberal astroturfing campaign on Twitter. It’s because they know neoliberal dogma has run out of road. Manic privatisation, small state extremism, austerity and a profit over human need philosophy have shoved and abandoned us in an economic cul-de-sac.

The IEA are braying in response to Oxfam’s modest call for a fairer, progressive tax system and a more inclusive form of capitalism : “Yet again Oxfam gets it wrong on inequality and poverty, “ says Mark Littlewood, for example, who defends the neoliberal go-to trickle down approach, arguing for growing the overall size of the pie instead of quibbling about how it is sliced. He also says: “Higher minimum wages would also likely lead to disappearing jobs, harming the very people Oxfam intend to help.”

trickle-down-theory-the-less-than-elegant-metaphor-that-if-one-11938559

The origins of trickle-down theory: poor people are expected to live on a diet of horse sh*t.

Yet the growth of low paid and insecure employment under neoliberalism has placed an increasing burden on our rapidly shrinking public services and in particular, such exploitative thinking, which places profit over the needs and rights of workers, has placed a drain on our welfare system, with the highest proportion of costs – most benefits – being paid to people in low paid work.

Littlewood fails to make the link between inequality and growing poverty. You’d think that if this approach worked, we would have seen evidence of it over the years since the Thatcher era. Instead, we have witnessed growing inequality and the return of absolute poverty – which is when people cannot meet the costs to fulfil their basic survival needs, such as for fuel, food and shelter. 

The worlds’ wealth and power is increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, undermining democracy in the process. On the IEA site, Kate Andrews also tries to completely separate inequality from poverty, but fails miserably in her justification of inequality of the grounds of meritocratic dogma. She intentionally overlooks the dynamics of the triangular relationship between distribution, poverty and economic growth. Poverty can be reduced through increases in income, through changes in the distribution of income, or through a combination of both. 

Accumulation by dispossession –  the consequences of privatisation and commodification of public assets, transferring property and wealth from public to private ownership – has been among the most widely criticised and disputed aspects of neoliberalism. It was originally observed and outlined by David Harvey, who says that neoliberal policies in many western nations, from the 1970s to the present day, has resulted in an accumulation and centralisation of wealth and power in the hands of a few by dispossessing the public of their wealth, public services, resources, power and land.

This process of accumulation by dispossession intimately ties growing inequality with increasing poverty, especially in an age of neoliberal austerity, a programme which has targeted the poorest citizens disproportionately.

Increasing the income of poor citizens contributes to the expansion of the economy. Andrews also intentionally disregards the fact that almost everyone pays National Insurance and tax, and that poor people tend to pay proportionally more of their income in tax than very wealthy citizens. That’s if wealthy citizens choose to pay any tax  at all – it’s become increasingly optional, politically, to tax the rich. It’s become increasingly apparent over the last decade that the real economic free-riders are the very wealthy and privileged, not the poorest citizens. Poverty and inequality isn’t ordained by the laws of either economics or physics. It’s the result of hegemonic decision-making, and rigidly institutionalised class advantage and disadvantage.  

This is why big players such as the World Bank, United Nations, World Economic Forum, OECD and IMF have gone about setting twin goals and outlining recommendations that policy needs to simultaneously tackle poverty and inequality in rich as well as poor countries.

I’m just wondering if the Twitter trolls and astroturfers have yet ridiculously accused these institutions and organisations of being ‘Corbynites’ , ‘Marxists’ and of joining or supporting Momentum, as they did Oxfam.

oxfam

The condition that people who champion social justice and object to inequality and poverty must be poor and oppressed, otherwise their proposition must be invalid is a peculiarly right wing one, based on a form of faulty narcissistic reasoning. 

By attempting to shift the debate away from the policy changes that have caused inequality, neoliberals are simply trying to legitimate it without the merit of open and rational scrutiny.

One of the primary characteristics of this type of reasoning is an exaggerated sense of entitlement and resentfulness and outrage of other peoples’. These protagonists are the ultimate meritocrats, just as long as they can define who ‘deserves’ what and who does not. Despite the steadfast ethical values such neoliberal champions loudly profess, they are moral relativists in that what they adamantly deem immoral for others is somehow acceptable for themselves. Furthermore, they are also overly sensitive to any perceived slight, challenge or criticism, regardless of how legitimate it may be. Market competition is one thing, pluralism and a healthy competition of ideas is apparently quite another. 

It’s very telling that any call for a degree of social justice and for protecting the poorest citizens against the worst ravages of capitalism is now dismissed by the right wing free market ideologues as ‘radical’. It betrays their utter indifference to the plight of the inevitable and innocent casualties of the catastrophically failing neoliberal experiment, imposed, regardless of the consequences, from the 1980s to date.

It isn’t possible to discuss growing global poverty without reference to its root causes and that invariably involves some reference to government priorities and policies. In a democracy, scrutiny of the impact of political decision-making and policies on citizens ought to be seen as a fundamental priority, rather than being simply increasingly indolently dismissed by authoritarians as ‘radical’ and ‘marxist’. 

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Tory MP David Morris denies citizens accounts of the devastating impact of Tory policies

This is part of the second of two special reports. ITV Granada Correspondent Daniel Hewitt investigates the rise of in-work poverty in the North West of England. You can watch the first report here.

The Conservatives have, on more than one occasion, tried to pass off evidence regarding the negative impacts of their policies as ‘anecdotal’ or as politically ‘biased’.  

Conservative MP David Morris has attempted to deny the accounts of rickets and  children going hungry because of poverty, saying claims are from schools ‘with links to leftwing group Momentum.’

Of course this approach also entails attempting to discredit dedicated public servants and constituents who dare to criticise government policies that are causing harm. 

A report by ITV earlier this week showed teachers at more than one school explaining that they had to wash their pupils’ uniforms because their families couldn’t afford to pay the electricity bills. The report was very widely shared on social media.  

West End primary school reported that teachers sometimes gave coats and shoes to pupils whose parents could not provide them.

Meanwhile, a local GP spoke of treating children for rickets, a condition not seen commonly in the UK since before the development of the welfare state.

It’s clear that welfare provision is no longer adequate in alleviating absolute poverty, which is usually seen in only in developing countries. The welfare ‘reforms’ have systematically reduced the amounts provided for people to meet their basic living costs, such as for food, fuel, clothing and shelter. 

However, Morris, who is the MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, responded to the reports by posting a call for social services to investigate on Facebook. He wrote: “These claims are not those being experienced by myself or the jobcentre in the area and I would urge anyone affected to book an appointment with the staff at Morecambe jobcentre to assess if they are receiving all of the benefits they are entitled to.” 

Morris added that the claims “always seem to emanate from the same primary schools and Ash Trees surgery in Carnforth”.

Dr David Wrigley of Ash Trees Surgery issued this comment on Twitter: 

“As a senior GP partner at Ash Trees Surgery (mentioned by my own MP Mr Morris in his statement) I can categorically state we have NO links to Momentum as he has stated. I would ask Mr Morris to provide solid evidence of this accusation or withdraw his remark.”

The Morecambe and Lunesdale Labour party said in a statement that Morris “does not see what is happening on his own watch because on the rare occasions he is here, he refuses to engage with the community and attacks teachers and doctors for being ‘politicised’.”

A spokeswoman for the party said: “In the age of the internet, MPs should use social media to establish meaningful dialogues with their constituents.

“For a long time now, Morris has blocked and banned from his Facebook page those who voice their concerns regarding things that happen in our constituency and speak out about the government’s policies, which he supports. However, Mr Morris has gone beyond blocking and banning his aggrieved constituents and now frequently accuses those who criticise him of being trolls or part of coordinated campaigns against him, often using parliamentary privilege to do so.”

The spokeswoman added that Morris was “yet to provide a shred of evidence to back up his accusations and continues to refuse to acknowledge the genuine concerns of his constituents”.

Morris later told ITV: “I’ve not got issues with the report that you’ve run, I’m just questioning the validity of it … [the schools featured] have very strong links to Momentum, and to be quite frank, all the indicators from Ofsted say that the child poverty at that school is absolutely no different to any other in the country.”

Actually, that last part should worry him, because it indicates a widespread problem at a national level. 

As for ‘questioning the validity of it’, well the Conservatives do that with every single piece of research that shows their policy in an unfavorable light. Yet study after study have found pretty much the same thing: that people don’t have enough money to meet their most fundamental needs, including many of those in work

The Conservatives have closed many Sure Start centres, despite the fact that the Sure Start programme was a groundbreaking success. A commitment to supporting families in the early years of their children’s development shouldn’t have been revolutionary, but it was. When the Labour government announced Sure Start in 1998, the programme was targeted at the poorest 20% of wards in England. From there it grew into a network of 4,000 children’s centres across the country, each dedicated to improving the life chances of young children and the wellbeing of families. 

The children’s centres offered employment support, health advice, childcare, parenting help – unified service delivery designed to prevent isolation and, ultimately, to reduce the gaps between rich and poor children which, as a growing body of evidence shows, often go on to define lives.

Now, after almost 7 years of Tory government, it’s hard to imagine what it would feel like were a prime minister to announce a new, universal service designed to reduce poverty and inequality. Instead, the current government seems happy to reverse the social progress made by the Sure Start programme.

By April of last year, nearly a quarter of all Sure Start children’s centres had closed; 156 centres closed in 2015 – almost twice as many as in the previous year. This is unforgivable and tragic because Sure Start worked. A study by Oxford University revealed by the Department for Education just before Christmas was the most detailed ever conducted on the impact of children’s centres – and it found the centres benefited parents and families who regularly attended classes in poorer areas, contributing to less disruptive home lives, better maternal mental health, and improved social skills among children and adults.

Just 4 months ago, Learndirect, the UK’s largest adult training provider, blamed the government’s austerity programme for its failure to meet the education regulator’s minimum quality standards.

Morris claims that “all the indicators from Ofsted say that the child poverty at that school is absolutely no different to any other in the country.” However, Ofsted don’t provide evidence of variations in levels of poverty in their annual report at all. The only comment made by Ofsted relating to poverty was an acknowledgement that schools under-performed and had some difficulty improving their educational standards in areas with acknowledged high levels of deprivation.

It was noted that there is a correlation between high levels of deprivation and educational under-performance, but there was no comparison undertaken between the levels of deprivation in each Local Authority area. So Morris’s reasoning there is fundamentally flawed.

In fact the National Education Union commented on the latest Ofsted report – produced this month – saying: “[…] Ofsted as the Chief Inspector of Education should take Government to task over this. Teachers can do what they can do within schools but it is Government that is missing child poverty reduction targets, presiding over increases in  poverty and failing to produce a decent industrial strategy. 

Conservative ministers wanted to remove a statutory duty to publish levels of UK household income as part of the welfare reform, since 2013, but have been forced to accept, after a battle last year with the House of Lords, that the material deprivation measures should remain protected. The Conservatives had cynically argued for changing the criteria of childhood poverty targets in a way that did not relate to family income. However, poverty IS related to a lack of income that is necessary to meet basic needs.

The government wanted assessments which reflected traditional Conservative prejudices. They wanted to include ‘the number of households with parents in long-term relationships and households where parents were addicted to drugs, alcohol or gambling for example.’ Yet research shows that substance misuse is not correlated with poverty.

The government suffered a defeat in the Lords after peers pushed through an amendment forcing the Conservatives to retain four established indicators, including income, which use official statistics to track and monitor relative and absolute poverty.

It’s difficult not to see the Conservatives’ original proposed changes to what was an anticipation of worsening child poverty figures as a cynical move. It was at the time widely perceived as an attempt to mask the impact of equally widely anticipated cuts to tax credits and to other forms of essential welfare support. 

Poverty and social exclusion: social immobility 

The government has attempted to defend its commitment to improving social mobility for the most disadvantaged people, despite the recent resignation of the entire social mobility commission board, but when pressed, Conservative ministers struggled to name any proposals recommended by the body that had been adopted in the past year. The Conservatives have consistently failed to acknowledge, despite all their rhetoric about ‘meritocracy’, that social mobility is a product of favorable and accommodating economic and social structures. The austerity programme that was aimed disproportionately at the poorest citizens has not facilitated social mobility. Instead it has extended inequality of opportunities, as well as widening material inequality.

In his resignation letter, Alan Milburn says:

“The need for political leadership in this area [social mobility] has never been more pressing. Social mobility is one of the biggest challenges facing our country today. It is not just the poorest in society who are losing out. Whole communities and parts of Britain are being left behind economically and hollowed out socially. The growing sense that we have become an “us and them” society is deeply corrosive of our cohesion as a nation. As the commission’s work has demonstrated, the 20th-century expectation that each generation would do better than the last is no longer being met. At a time when more and more people are feeling that Britain is becoming more unfair, rather than less, social mobility matters more than ever.

While the government seems unable to devote the necessary energy and focus to the social mobility agenda, I have been heartened that others in civil society – from local councils to major employers – are actively embracing it. So I will be establishing a new social mobility institute, independent of the government and political parties, to take forward the practical work that is needed to make a reality of my belief in a fairer, more open, more mobile society in Britain.”

As an emblem of this government’s antipathy to genuinely improving opportunity, it is forecast that record levels of  child poverty will be reached on its watch; the inevitable product of savage cuts in support for low-income working families by around a thousands of pounds a year and those cuts made to people out of work, including disabled people – the cuts that are funding expensive tax cuts which benefit the most affluent.

Many charities have complained they have been silenced from criticising Conservative social policy despite the fact they are hugely damaging. 

Increasing authoritarianism

The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill – a controversial legislation introduced in 2014 – heavily restricts charities and other organisations from intervening on policy during an election period. However, the legislation has been used to effectively stifle legitimate criticism of damaging policies.

Earlier this year, for example, the Prime Minister launched an attack at the British Red Cross after its chief executive claimed his organisation was responding to a ‘humanitarian crisis’ in hospitals and ambulance services. Theresa May accused the organisation of making comments that were ‘irresponsible and overblown.’ Yet the British Medical Association, Royal College of Nursing and Royal College of Physicians and Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, had all issued warnings about the increasing pressures on health services.

It’s not the only time the Conservatives have tried to gag charities for highlighting the dire impacts of their policies. In 2014, Conservative MPs reported Oxfam to the Charity Watchdog for campaigning against poverty. I guess the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had better watch it, too. What next, will they be reporting the NSPCC for campaigning for children’s welfare?

The Oxfam campaign that sent the Conservatives into an indignant rage and to the charity watchdog to complain was an appeal to ALL political parties to address growing poverty. Oxfam cited some of the causes of growing poverty in the UK, identified through meticulous research.

'Lifting the lid on austerity Britain reveals a perfect storm - and it's forcing more and more people into poverty' tweeted Oxfam

The Oxfam poster that caused a storm among the Conservatives

Conservative MP Priti Patel must have felt that the Conservatives are exempt from this appeal, due to being the architects of the policies that have led to a growth in poverty and inequality, when she said: “With this Tweet they have shown their true colours and are now nothing more than a mouthpiece for left-wing propaganda.”

I’m wondering when concern for poverty and the welfare of citizens became the sole concern of ‘the left-wing’. That comment alone speaks volumes about the indifference and prejudices of the Conservatives. 

Another  Conservative, MP, Charlie Elphicke, branded the campaign post as a: “shameful abuse of taxpayers’ money,” while Priti Patel went on to accuse Oxfam of “behaving disgracefully.

Therese Coffey, used a favorite Conservative response and accused Oxfam of using: “anecdote to create alarmist generalisations.” Since when is empirical evidence ‘anecdotal’? The increasingly remote Conservative government also label everyone who challenges their ideology and spin on policy as ‘scaremongers’.  

It’s impossible to discuss poverty without reference to its root cause, and that invariably involves reference to government policies. 

Ben Phillips, Oxfam campaigns and policy director, 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 are far from alone in their concern about the rise of absolute poverty in the UK. Around the same time, medical experts 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.” There have been further cuts to welfare, including both in-work and out-of-work support since 2014, which means that the situation can only have got worse.

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 the Covenant, 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.

Further research by Oxfam has revealed the extent of poverty among 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 discredit the accounts of people’s experience of the suffering that is directly caused by this government.

By blaming the casualities of government policy, by imposing coercive ‘behavioural change’ programmes on the poorest citizens – which indicates the government has loaded the responsibility for poverty on individual citizens – and by trying to discredit anyone that champions the rights of the most vulnerable people, the government has abdicated its responsibility to ensure citizens can meet their basic living needs. Their survival needs

Malnutrition is becoming commonplace

In 2014, I wrote an article about the rise in hospital admissions relating to malnutrition. Diseases associated with poverty, which were common during the Victorian era had almost vanished with the advent of the welfare state. Now we are seeing them again. 

NHS statistics indicated that the number of cases of infectious illnesses such as cholera, whooping cough and scarlet fever have almost doubled within five years, with a rise in other illnesses which indicate severe malnutrition such as scurvy, rickets. People are more susceptible to infectious illness if they are under-nourished.

Scurvy is a disease associated with pirates who have been stuck at sea for long periods – it has increased by 31 per cent in England since 2010. This is caused by a lack of vitamin C and is usually due to an inadequate diet without enough fresh fruit and vegetables.

Figures from January 2014 from the NHS indicate that there were 833 hospital admissions for children suffering from Rickets – a condition which is caused by a lack of Vitamin D, from 2012-13. Ten years ago, the figure was just 190. 

The disease, which causes softening of the bones and permanent deformities, was common in 19th century Britain but was almost eradicated by improvements in nutrition. The body produces vitamin D when it is exposed to the sun, but it’s clear that adequate diet plays an important role, too, since the decline of Rickets happened at a time when we saw an improvement in the diets of the nation as a whole.

It is thought that malnutrition is the main cause, children are most at risk if their diet doesn’t include sufficient levels of vitamin D.

Low incomes, unemployment and benefit delays have combined to trigger increased demand for food banks among the UK’s poorest families, according to a report commissioned by the government and released in 2014.

The report directly contradicts the claim from a government minister that the rise in the use of food banks is linked to the fact that there are now more of them. It says people turn to charity food as a last resort following a crisis such as the loss of a job, or problems accessing social security benefits, or through benefit sanctions.

The review emerged as the government comes under pressure from church leaders and charities to address increasing prevalence of food poverty caused by welfare cuts. 

The report was written by food policy experts from the University of Warwick, and it was passed to ministers in June 2013 but had remained undisclosed until February 2014, creating reasonable speculation that the government suppressed its findings.

Examining the effect of welfare changes on food bank use was not a specific part of its remit, and the report is understood to have undergone a number of revisions since early summer, ordered by the Department for Food and Agriculture and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The researchers found that a combination of rising food prices, ever-shrinking incomes, low pay, increasing personal debt, and benefit payment problems meant an increasing number of families could not afford to buy sufficient food.

In a letter to the British Medical Journal, a group of doctors and senior academics from the Medical Research Council and two leading universities said that the effect of Government policies on vulnerable people’s ability to afford food needed to be urgently monitored.

The group of academics and professionals said that the surge in the number of people requiring emergency food aid, a decrease in the amount of calories consumed by British families, and a doubling of the number of malnutrition cases seen at English hospitals represent “all the signs of a public health emergency that could go unrecognised until it is too late to take preventative action”.

The health specialists also said:“Access to an adequate food supply is the most basic of human needs and rights”.

The authors of the letter, who include Dr David Taylor-Robinson and Professor Margaret Whitehead of Liverpool University’s Department of Public Health, say that they have serious concerns that malnutrition can have a long-lasting impact on health, particularly among children.

Public spending in food stores fell for the first time on record in July 2014, putting the UK recovery in doubt at the time. Such a worrying, unprecedented record fall in food sales indicates that many consumers evidently had not felt the benefit of the so-called recovery.

Yet Conservative ministers have repeatedly insisted that there is no “robust link” between the welfare reforms and rising food bank use, while the welfare minister at the time, David Freud, claimed the rise in food bank use was because there were more food banks and because the food was free.

The Department of Health figures showed that the number of ‘bed days’ accounted for by someone with a primary or secondary diagnosis of malnutrition rose from 128,361 in 2010-11, the year the coalition came to power, to 184,528 last year – a 61% rise over five years.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence classes someone as malnourished if they have a body mass index of less than 18.5, have suffered the unintentional loss of more than 10% of their weight over the last three to six months, or if they have a BMI under 20 and have unintentionally seen their weight drop by more than 5% over the previous three to six months.

Worryingly, four out of five people who needed inpatient hospital care because of malnutrition were admitted as an emergency, which suggests their health had deteriorated significantly in the days before they were taken into hospital.

Not enough health and social care professionals have the time or knowledge to correctly identify malnutrition.

Stephen Dalton, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals, said: “Our members take malnutrition seriously. Good nutrition is a fundamental human right our citizens can expect, and vulnerable, particularly older, people are most at risk of serious consequences if denied basic compassionate care. At a time of unprecedented demand on health and social care we need to be alert and will take seriously any reliable evidence of basic care not being delivered.”

Time and time again, when challenged and confronted with overwhelming empirical evidence of the terrible harm that their austerity policies and welfare ‘reforms’ are inflicting on citizens, the government simply deny any ‘causal link’. They say that the increase in absolute poverty, malnutrition and hunger, deaths and distress are unrelated to their policies, which they also quite ludicrously claim to be ‘working’. Anyone who tries to raise debate on the matter is labeled a ‘scaremonger’ or a ‘marxist’.

With no sign that the government are going to emerge from behind their basic defence mechanism of collective denial – nor are the Conservatives remotely interested in investigating a clear correlation between their blatant attacks on the poorest citizens via their draconian policies and the terrible hardships people are suffering –  we do have to wonder what the real intention is underpinning their intentionally targeted austerity programme. 

In a very wealthy first-world  democracy, it is absolutely unacceptable that anyone is left hungry, malnourished and in absolute poverty. 

Increasing numbers of people are living in absolute poverty. This is because of the governments’ austerity programme, depressed wages and the steep rise in the cost of living over the last few years.

Disgraceful Conservative MPs that continue to deny this in the face of consistent and overwhelming empirical evidence from a wide array of sources for the past five years at least, are not fit to represent their constituents, nor are the Conservatives, with their crib sheet strategies of denial and dismissal, and techniques of neutralisation, fit to run this country. 

If the government refuse to listen to citizens and to prioritise the basic living conditions and needs of the public, it really is time for it to go. 

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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