Tag: Jonathan Ashworth

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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Malnutrition, austerity and eugenics.

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Earlier this year, I reported that figures released by The Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed 391 people died from malnutrition in 2015. There were 746 hospital admissions for malnutrition in just 12 months. The statistics also showed two people in the UK are admitted to hospital with the condition every day in what campaigners have called a “national scandal.” 

Official figures more recently from the Department of Health reveal that people with malnutrition accounted for 184,528 of days in hospital beds taken up in England taken up last year, a huge rise on 65,048 in 2006-07. The sharp increase is adding to the pressures on hospitals, which are already struggling with record levels of overcrowding and limited resources because of underfunding.

 

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Critics and campaigners have said the upward trend is a result of austerity and rising absolute poverty, deep cutbacks in recent years to meals on wheels services for the elderly and inadequate social care support, especially for older people. 

Theresa May has made it clear there will be no end to Tory austerity, she said:“What I’m clear about is we’re going to continue as we have done in Government over the last six years – ensuring that we’re a country that can live within our means.” 

The figures once again directly contradict the glib claim from government ministers that the rise in the use of food banks is linked to the fact that there are now more of them. Ludicrously, millionaire David Freud has claimed that people use food banks just because they provide a  “free good”.  However, research shows that people turn to charity food as a last resort following a crisis such as the loss of a job, the delays and problems accessing social security benefits, and through benefit sanctions. 

People may only be referred to a food bank by a professional such as a social worker or GP. If someone turns up without a voucher, food bank staff put them in touch with relevant local agencies who can assess whether they need a voucher and signpost them to the right services. The number of people receiving emergency food is disproportionate to the number of new food banks opening: following the welfare “reforms”, by 2013, numbers helped by food banks increased by 170% whilst there was only a 76% increase in new food banks opening. 

Over 50% of children living in poverty in the UK are from working households and many of the people helped by food banks are in work, with the rising cost of living combined with no rise in low wages causing many to hit a crisis where they can’t afford to met basic needs such as eating.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, unearthed the latest figures in a response to a recent parliamentary question submitted to the health minister Nicola Blackwood. He said: 

“These figures paint a grim picture of Britain under the Conservatives. Real poverty is causing vulnerable people, particularly the elderly, to go hungry and undernourished so much so that they end up in hospitalOur research reveals a shocking picture of levels of malnutrition in 21st-century England and the impact it has on our NHS. This is unacceptable in modern Britain.”

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

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.

The worrying decision by the chancellor, Philip Hammond, not to fund the NHS or social care with any more money in his autumn statement last week will only worsen this already unacceptable situation.

Ashworth said: “The reality is the government have failed this week to both give the NHS and social care the extra investment it needs while also failing to invest in prevention initiatives to foster healthier lifestyles. The cuts to public health budgets along with an emaciated obesity strategy are both utterly misguided.” 

Figures are not available for exactly how many patients accounted for the 184,528 bed days last year, but information supplied to Ashworth by the House of Commons library shows that 57% of the patients were women and that 42% were over-65s.

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 in.

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 harm that their class-contingent 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 claim to be “working”.

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 such clearly targeted austerity.

Conservative ideology seems to be founded on the hypothesis of an inborn and “natural order” – a society that is based on a human hierarchy of worth. The Conservatives feel justified that they are part of a superior class in society and therefore they have an entitlement to hold power. Their policies don’t include the majority of us in their design or aims. The government are not democratic, they are authoritarians. Conservative policies act upon ordinary citizens and have become increasingly detached from citizen needs.

I was accused of the terrible crime of being an “interfering do-gooder” recently by someone with social Darwinist ideals. I couldn’t understand his ferocity. Then I made a connection, the proverbial penny dropped. Again. I suddenly felt very weary, disgusted and shocked – the recognition froze me. Again

Historically, eugenicists thought that misguided “do-gooders”, by giving poor people help and support, were allowing them to survive “unnaturally”, and were consequently interfering in human “natural selection”, a benign force which they thought was “deselecting” the people with the “weakest” genes and the “moral defectives”.  The Conservatives moralise about people who are poor and their punitive anti-welfare policies indicate plainly that they think that poor people have moral deficits.

The Conservative message that poverty is caused by character or behavioural “defects” and not socioeconomic and political circumstances should have been ringing alarm bells very loudly everywhere. The problem with authoritarian governments is they usually have sufficient power, one way or another, to mute the alarm. The first base of power over public perceptions that all authoritarians build is invariably facilitated by the corporate mass media. 

Austerity, “the national debt”, “a country living within its means”, “hardworking families”, the scrounger/striver rhetoric, “hard choices” and the “culture of entitlement” has all been a smokescreen for eugenic policies.

We cannot find any comfort in the belief that the government are simply neglectful policy makers. The persistent and loud denial regarding the increasingly precarious existence of the poorest citizens – especially disabled people – and the loud refusal to investigate the correlation between austerity policies and social outcomes that are damaging and harmful, and to consider the empirical evidence of humanitarian harm presented by citizens, academics, charities and campaigners, indicates a government that is not ignorant of the consequences, yet has no intention of changing their policies. The Conservatives are appallingly unconcerned about the terrible harm they are inflicting on invididuals and on our society.

 “Eugenic goals are most likely to be attained under another name than eugenics.” – Frederick Osborn

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The art of character divination

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