Tag: Trussell Trust

Gaslighting Conservative MP says Universal Credit protest is a ‘political stunt’

A Conservative MP, Simon Clarke, has condemned a protest against Universal Credit in Guisborough, dismissing it as a “political stunt”.

Clarke said the protest will ‘disrupt local businesses’ on one of the busiest days in the run up to Christmas.

Local Labour MPs and unions are holding a march in the town on Saturday. They join thousands of other people, accusing the government of a “callous approach”.

They said the so-called flagship reform – which replaces six existing benefits, and has been introduced across Teesside in recent months – was “causing real poverty and hardship in our communities”.

Redcar and Cleveland Council has written to the Government three times to delay the roll-out until after Christmas, saying that claimants’ waiting five weeks for their first payment would leave families penniless over the Christmas period.

However Clarke, whose Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland is the only Conservative seat on Teesside, claims he has not had a single constituent flag any problems with the system.

Clarke claims: “At the heart of Universal Credit is the principle that work should always pay and those who need support should receive it.” 

“That is what it delivers – bringing an end to the broken culture we inherited from Labour, where the number of households where nobody had ever worked doubled between 1997 and 2010.”

Clarke continued with his myth making: “I have liaised really closely with the brilliant team at Loftus Job Centre in recent weeks. The team there could not have been clearer: they think Universal Credit will help people, they are well trained to deliver it and they are fed up of being demonised by politicians who only want to frighten their clients unnecessarily.”

However, it is very problematic to accept the narratives of administrators and to completely discount the negative experiences and citizen accounts of those Universal Credit is being imposed on. The system is so riddled with design flaws and process faults that it is practically guaranteed to generate mistakes and delays that would push vulnerable benefit claimants into hardship, according to administrative whistleblowers. 

Service centre workers have told the Guardian that glitches and errors in the “cobbled-together” system have commonly led to peoples’ benefit payments being delayed for weeks or wrongly reduced by hundreds of pounds. Mistakes and delays can add on average an extra three weeks to the formal 35-day wait for an initial benefit payment, pushing claimants into debt, rent arrears, and reliance on food banks.

Campaigners warn that the problems may get worse next year when more than 3 million claimants start to be “migrated” to the new system.

One employee said: “The IT system on which Universal Credit is built is so fundamentally broken and poorly designed that it guarantees severe problems with claims.”

He said the system was “overcomplex and prone to errors that affected payments and often proved slow to correct.”

“In practical terms, it is not working the way it was intended and it is having an actively harmful effect on a huge number of claimants.”

Bayard Tarpley, who left the Grimsby service centre after two years as a telephony agent, told the Guardian that he had been dealing with distressed claimants every day. “My hope is that by speaking out I can help explain why these processes have such a significant, harmful impact on claimants.”

He gave several examples of where poor system design and practice caused delays and payment errors, including:

  • Staff are not notified when claimants leave messages on their online journal; for example, if they wish to challenge payment errors. As a result, messages sent to officials can go unanswered for days or weeks unless claimants pursue the inquiry by phone.
  • Claimants are discouraged by staff from phoning in to resolve problems or to book a home visit and instead are actively persuaded to go online, using a technique called “deflection”, even when callers insist they are unable to access or use the internet.
  • Callers have often been given wrong or contradictory advice about their entitlements by DWP officials. These include telling severely disabled claimants who are moving on to universal credit from existing benefits that they must undergo a new “fit for work” test to receive full payment.
  • Although the system is equipped to receive scanned documents, claimants instead are told to present paper evidence used to verify their claim, such as medical reports, either at the local job centre or through the post, further slowing down the payment process.
  • Small delays or fluctuations in the timing of employers’ reporting of working claimants’ monthly wages via the real time information system can lead to them being left hundreds of pounds out of pocket through no fault of their own.

Food banks are regarded as a formal backstop for when the system fails, he said. Officials are told to advise those claimants who are in hardship and who do not qualify for cash advances to contact charities or their council for help. However, many councils have closed local welfare provision as a result of central government cuts to funding.

These disclosures add to the mounting concerns over Universal Credit, and provides evidence that the system is not supporting people with even their most basic living costs. Universal Credit roll out is six years behind schedule but will eventually handle £63bn of welfare support going to 8 million people.

Campaigners and researchers say their concerns have been met with a “defensive and insular” approach to managing welfare reform by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). 

The department came under withering fire from a cross-party group of MPs who accused it of a “culture of indifference” after it had repeatedly ignored warnings of basic process errors that led to 70,000 disabled benefit claimants being underpaid an estimated £500m over six years.

The then work and pensions secretary, Esther McVey, sought to limit the damage in a speech in which she admitted there were problems with Universal Credit, and promised to listen to campaigners, claimants and frontline staff to find ways to change and improve the system.

If Universal Credit is so ‘helpful’ for citizens, wouldn’t you think that the United Nations would have recognised that this was the case during the recent inquiry? As it is, Philip Alston said that Universal Credit is “entrenching people in poverty” and inflicting “unnecessary misery” on citizens, because of the government’s “radical social re-engineering programe”. 

Alston concluded: “In the fifth richest country in the world, this is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.” 

He also warned that the motivation behind the controversial benefit reform was to slash spending, despite finding little evidence that there had been any savings, and that the message to claimants is, “You are alone” and that state assistance is the “last resort”.

Yet Clarke says: “Since roll-out began here last month, not a single constituent has come forward with a problem for me to help with. My staff have all received training if anyone does. No amount of staff training, however, can ensure that people have enough money to meet their basic living costs within a punitive framework that is purposely designed to create a hostile environment to deter people from claiming social security support. 

“But I think people in Guisborough will rightly be unimpressed that their town is being disrupted on one of the busiest shopping days before Christmas by what is frankly a political stunt,” said Clarke, using what is frankly a deplorable gaslighting technique.

I can’t imagine that many people experiencing problems with their Universal Credit claim would find Clarke particularly approachable. He seems to be surrounded by an impervious wall of denial.

Redcar MP Anna Turley has also called for the roll out of Universal Credit to be stopped until flaws in the system are put right. She said that low income families and vulnerable people would be left reliant on food banks and forced into personal debt.

A similar protest, organised by Unite the Union, was held in Redcar last weekend.

Cllr Sue Jeffrey, leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council, said: “I am dismayed at the callous approach being taken by this Government.

“We know that there is likely to be difficulties for many people who are forced to move onto Universal Credit in the month before Christmas.”

The TUC said that the Conservatives “are in denial about the hardship Universal Credit will cause in our area”.

Accusing the accuser: Conservative techniques of neutralisation and perception management

However, it’s an intentional, evidence-vaulting sort of deliberated response – a habitualised, patterned, crib sheet, ‘strategic communication’ (communication tactically aligned with the government’s overall strategy and ideological aims, to enhance its strategic positioning) kind of denial:

Another MP who called for an end to “scaremongering” about Universal Credit last year is Wendy Morton. Speaking in a Commons debate about Universal Credit, she said: “It is this government who are helping people, which is why I am disappointed to have sat through a lot of this debate and heard scaremongering stories from Opposition Members.”

She responded with the sloganised, detached and meaningless comment: Universal Credit “makes work pay and helps people into work” and staff at job centres, who administer the benefit, were “working hard to get it right.” 

In October, during a parliamentary debate, St Austell and Newquay’s MP, Steve Double, claimed that jobcentre staff “love it, and claimants like it” and that “one of the problems is all the scaremongering, primarily from the Labour party.”

The evidence from a wide variety of sources, however, strongly suggests otherwise. 

As Labour MP Liz McInnes said at the time: “If these claims are in fact true, who could possibly object to impact assessments being released? They will no doubt reflect the happiness and joy being spread to Universal Credit claimants in beautiful Cornwall. One would think that the Government would be shouting this marvellous news from the rooftops – if it were true.”

Esther McVey memorably refused to agree to meet with the women so bady affected by Universal Credit that they were forced into sex work to avoid destitution. She coldly asked former Labour minister Frank Field, who raised his concerns, to remind them “there are now record job opportunities” in the UK.

During that particular debate, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood called on the government to stop the  roll-out, adding: “There’s a real danger that hundreds of thousands of people could fall out of the social security system altogether and be pushed into poverty and left at risk of destitution.”

McVey dismissed those concerns as “scaremongering”. And again in March, McVey accused Labour of “scaremongering and misinformation”, saying an extra 50,000 children would benefit under the Universal Credit system, when MPs raised concerns of growing childhood poverty.

In March, at a meeting ,the Conservative Mansfield MP and Hucknall councillor Ben Bradley said, ludicrously, that Labour were “weaponising poor people” and “scaremongering rubbish”.

The government are weaponising social security.

And Labour councillor Michael Payne, who represents Arnold North, quoted parts of a disgraceful blog written by Bradley in which he said people on benefits should have vasectomies

There are many on the Opposition Benches who have expressed legitimate concerns about the catastrophic Universal Credit roll out on behalf of their constituents only to have them passed off as “scaremongering.”

However, the government should not ignore the concerns shared by affected citizens, many outside the House, by the charities and organisations at the forefront of supporting people through such difficult and distressing periods when they don’t have the means to meet even their basic living needs, leaving them extremely vulnerable. 

Last week I wrote about Dan Carden’s letter to Amber Rudd, also asking her to postpone the roll out of Universal Credit in his Liverpool Walton constituency. 

He said: “We have families experiencing poverty on an unprecedented scale and now facing further avoidable hardship in the run up to Christmas. 

“I have now been informed that job centres across Liverpool are advancing payments to my constituents to obtain provisional driving licences for the purposes of identification and then deducting the cost from their benefits.

“Constituents are also having to pay for postal orders, passport photographs and postage, just to obtain provisional licences.”

He explained that the DVLA says there is a five-week wait for provisional licences, and highlighted the delays before the first payments are made when someone is transferred on to Universal Credit.

Carden added: “Continuing with this roll-out will leave many of the most vulnerable families in Liverpool Walton destitute by Christmas and I am therefore asking you to intervene as a matter of urgency.”

The secretary of state for work and pensions, responded despicably and oppressively, as follows:

However, it seems Rudd failed to bother checking her own government’s web site for advice and evidence.

When people apply for Universal Credit, they are asked to verify their identity online via the GOV.Verify service. 

To do so, you need either;

  • A valid UK driving license
  • A valid UK passport.

Of course this creates problems for those without the documents. Their Universal Credit claim cannot go ‘live’ without conforming to the ID verification framework. People generally can’t get an advance because their claim isn’t live. Once they’ve received their new ID document, (takes around 6-8 weeks usually), it’s then a further 5 weeks (at least) until their first Universal Credit payment.

According to the government web site, you can only apply for an advance on your first payment if you have already verified your identity.

You can apply for an advance payment in your online account or through your Jobcentre Plus work coach.

You’ll need to:

  • explain why you need an advance
  • verify your identity (you do this online when you submit your Universal Credit claim or at your first Jobcentre Plus interview)
  • provide bank account details for the advance (talk to your work coach if you cannot open an account.)

It seems that the “terrific” job coaches are not applying rules consistently, leading to a post code lottery concerning the verification requirements for claims. 

The Verify framework:

 

The response from Rudd and other ministers has become a deplorable, standardised and authoritarian tactic of repressing legitimate criticism for the Conservatives, however. Other ministers who have habitually used the term ‘scaremonger’ as a gaslighting technique include Sarah Newton and David Gauke among others. 

Traditional Conservative prejudices about poverty: blame the victims

Gordon Henderson the Conservative MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey in Kent, has tried to argue that the move to Universal Credit was not responsible for a significant rise in the use of foodbanks.

He said that he had secured information from a local foodbank about claimants who had faced difficulties with Universal Credit, and he claimed he had ‘discovered’ that many of them were “living in a local hostel that provides temporary accommodation for homeless adults” conflating cause with effects as a matter of prejudice, ideological preference and despicable politcal expediency.

He went on that it “soon became obvious that some of them suffered from underlying problems that affected their ability to manage the transition to Universal Credit, and that forced them into using the food bank”, such as “drug addiction, alcoholism, mental health problems, an inability to manage money, or plain fecklessness”.

It’s not possible to ‘manage’ no money, or amounts that are insufficient to meet basic survival needs. 

He added, disgracefully, that making Universal Credit perfect overnight would not “solve their mental health problems” and issues with drugs and alcohol and “would not make them less feckless” and that “they would still have the same problems, whatever benefits system was put in place”. 

He concluded that he was “glad” that such people were “in the minority” and appeared to suggest that those with mental health problems – and seemingly people with learning difficulties – were to blame for their difficulties with Universal Credit, after adding that there were also “some people who have genuine concerns”.

In 2014, Anglican bishops and the new Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster joined the Left to claim that a national crisis had driven half a million people to use food banks.

Deplorable right wing ideologue Simon Heffer said “Government ministers knew that was nonsense. The level of benefits is, they believe, sufficient to feed those who receive them.”

Yet a huge and growing amount of evidence says otherwise.

He continued: “Though Leftists cynically exploit the existence of food banks as proof that a Tory-led government has inflicted terrible hardship on the poor, there is a widespread belief that some people use them because they have chosen to spend their money, instead, on drink, tobacco, slot machines, tattoos or pornography. This leaves little cash to buy food.” Heffer was advocating the use of prepaid cards welfare cards, to restrict what people can spend their money on, to “incentivise them out of dependency and into work”. 

Exposing Conservative mythologies

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One of the biggest myths that the Conservatives peddle is that of ‘intergenerational dependency on welfare’. However, only 0.3% of households have two generations that have not worked, according to studies of the Labour Force Survey.  The majority of these households included children who had only come out of education within the last five years and in a third of these households, the member of the younger generation had been out of work for less than a year. The Conservative folk devils created from the “longterm undeserving benefit claimant” sponger stereotype is very much exaggerated.  

Detailed research into what ordinary people think should go into a minimum household budget showed that actual out of work benefits are no way near as generous as some politicians would have you believe – and were actually well below the minimum level before the welfare cuts were implemented.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that while pensioners did receive 100% of what people think they need, a single adult of working age received just 40% of the weekly minimum and a couple with two children received just 62% of the weekly minimum. Those amounts have been further reduced because of the welfare caps, Universal Credit, bedroom tax and reductions in Emloyment and Support Allowance (ESA), council tax support, in a context of ever-rising living costs.   

The biggest part of social security spending – 53% – actually goes to pensioners. Overall, out-of-work benefits account for under a quarter of all welfare spending. Even excluding pensioners’ benefits, nearly half of welfare spending goes on benefits such as Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment, which helps disabled people (both in and out of work) with extra costs; Child Benefit and Tax Credits or Universal Credit to working families; and Statutory Maternity Pay. The majority of children and working age adults in poverty in the UK live in working, not “workless” households. 

Cuts to the social security budget are having a huge impact, and will continue to have an even bigger impact on those in work, especially the poorest families. 

Furthermore, the idea that social security spending has increased and is currently out of control is shown to be incorrect as spending in 2011-12 accounted for 10.4% of GDP, lower than an average of 11% in the mid-1980s and 12% in the mid 1990s. 

The commonly held public perceptions of large numbers of long-term social security claimants are incorrect as less than 10% of Job Seekers Allowance claimants claimed for more than one year. Moreover the majority of people claiming social security support are in work.

An interesting Conservative council’s report on Universal Credit: off the crib sheet 

Sedgemoor in Somerset has a Conservative district council.  Last year the council produced a report about the impact of Universal Credit, which was rolled out in 2016 in Somerset. The intention behind the report was to formally present the findings to the Department for Work and Pensions. 

The authors of the report say that although they support Universal Credit, they are concerned about the way in which the system is being rolled out.  They say that Sedgemoor District Council’s experiences mirror those of both Citizens Advice and Digilink, particularly in terms of the level of support required.

However, they also raised concerns around the administration of the scheme and the additional costs to local service providers. They maintain Universal Credit Telephone Records (and a sample of these are attached as Appendix B in the report).

Here is a list of some of the concerns expressed in the report, which contradict the Conservatives’ official line:

Inadequate support for most vulnerable in Society;
 Lack of understanding of the nature and often severity of some customers’ personal circumstances (see case study 6 on the report);
 Delay in receiving first payment and the need to budget carefully (case study 7);
 Rent element of UC not paid in the first instance and clients using the personal element on housing to stay in their homes until the ‘top-up’ is received;
 Additional work with tenants to prevent them going into arrears (and the additional cost of this to service providers);
 Some concerns that the administration of the virtual call centres around the country are failing, for example through providing inadequate answers and explanation, and these cases are being picked up by Citizens Advice and others;
 The policy of the scheme is set centrally and the delivery of the scheme is controlled  nationally, yet solutions on a local level are needed; 
 Specific issues with some customers unable to make an online application due to no computer/internet access or the skills to do so;
 Inadequate funding to support the scheme, e.g. the £6,000 for Digilink sessions;
 Lack of understanding and explanation of the scheme and the frustration this causes (case studies 8 and 9).

Other concerns raised were that the “DWP’s approach encourages all applicants to take responsibility for their own claim, which means that service providers cannot interact with the DWP without the client being present. Unfortunately, this does not take into account that many of the most vulnerable residents are not in a position to fully manage their own claim, for example, if they do not have the technological skills.”

Despite some Conservatives disgracefully attempting to link food bank use with individuals’ “fecklessness”, in the council’s report it says that the Trussell Trust, which runs foodbanks in Somerset, has reported nationally that benefit delays/changes remain the biggest cause of foodbank use, accounting for 42% of all referrals, up from about a third the previous year. Around 10,000 emergency food parcels were distributed in Somerset in 2015/16. Bridgwater has seen an increase in referrals in the last year.

The government claim that the social security system is designed to target and provide for those who need support. Yet the report above raises concerns that those most in need are not getting the support they need.

However, it is clear that Conservatives generally believe that many people needing support don’t ‘deserve’ it because of traditionally held Conservative prejudices about poor people. These prejudices are plainly evident in their narratives that justify punitive ‘behavioural change’ policies and the creation of a hostile environment to deter members of the public from accessing a public service that most of them have paid for via taxes and national insurance contributions. 


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NHS hospital to offer food parcels to patients at risk of malnutrition – Rachel Pugh

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This article was written by and first published in the Guardian today.

A central food collection point will sit by the canteen at Tameside hospital.

A central food collection point will sit by the canteen at Tameside hospital. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

Emergency staff at a hospital are being asked to offer food boxes discreetly to patients they believe may benefit as they are discharged amid rising concerns among doctors of malnourishment.

Tameside hospital in Greater Manchester is also planning to open a permanent food bank collection centre inside the hospital next month to help the nutrition of both patients and locals in the area.

News of the move came after it was announced on Wednesday by the work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith that job advisers have been posted in a food bank in Manchester as part of a trial set to be rolled out across the UK.

Bosses at Tameside hospital said they had made the decision after doctors and nurses became worried about what they said was a significant rise in patients showing signs of malnourishment, and also staff living locally becoming worried about some neighbours. Staff have been given training to spot malnourishment.

Tameside hospital’s chief executive, Karen James, said: “I was talking to an old lady recovering on a ward, who was in financial difficulties and chose to feed her dog first after paying the bills, whilst she went without. It’s heartrending.”

Elsewhere, the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham opened a food and clothing bank on its main premises earlier this month, and a spokeswoman said on Wednesday that they had been inundated with donations. In the summer the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle began offering parcels to parents using its neonatal care unit.

Malnutrition affects three million people in the UK and costs the NHS an estimated £5bn a year.

Malnourished surgical patients have complication and mortality rates three to four times higher than normally nourished patients, with longer hospital admissions. Similar findings have been described in medical patients, and particularly the elderly.

Tameside hospital was placed in special measures in summer 2013 after a review by the NHS England medical director, Sir Bruce Keogh. It was taken out of special measures in September this year.

A spokeswoman for Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth hospital said its scheme was part of a wider community initiative that involves using hospital land for community orchards, gardens and beekeeping. Twice a month, the hospital hosts a farmer’s market, one of the largest in Birmingham. “Food banks are about more than food,” said the hospital. “People who are referred to them are also offered practical and emotional support by signposting other agencies, whether that is financial advice or counselling services or in some cases help with clothing.”

Speaking earlier on Wednesday, Duncan Smith told the Work and Pensions Committee that people who turn to charities for help when they cannot afford to eat will be given advice on claiming benefits and finding work while they pick up emergency food parcels.

“I am trialling at the moment a job adviser situating themselves in the food bank for the time that the food bank is open, and we are already getting very strong feedback about that,” he said. “If this works and if the other food banks are willing to encompass this and we think it works, we think we would like to roll this out across the whole of the UK.”

Robert Devereux, the permanent secretary to the Department for Work and Pensions, who appeared alongside Duncan Smith at the hearing, said two advisers had been working one day a week at the Lalley Welcome Centre in Manchester.

Duncan Smith said: “They are to provide support to people who come in, and that can include people saying: ‘I haven’t had my payment’,” giving the example of a claimant whose money was delayed because officials had not seen the right documents.”

 

Fabian Commission condemns Cameron’s indifference to growing food poverty

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Poverty, and particularly child poverty, is increasing. Welfare cuts, austerity measures and low wages have pushed hundreds of thousands, including more than 300,000 children, below the poverty line since 2012, despite Tory claims to the contrary, according to the New Policy Institute (NPI) thinktank, who undertook a study after the government refused to bring forward the publication of official data which would have shown the impact on poverty figures of the major welfare reforms introduced in 2013, and enabled the coalition’s record to be properly scrutinised before the election.

The Fabian Society has accused the Government of lacking a strategy to combat food poverty and said proposed tax-credit cuts could become an even bigger driver of poverty and food insecurity than low wages. A year-long independent food and poverty commission by the Fabian Society found the Government lacks any strategy for addressing hunger in the UK, making a mockery of the prime minster’s party conference pledge to lead “an all-out assault on poverty” earlier this month.

The Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty has brought together experts, as well as those experiencing poverty, to look at the roles of government, civil society and the food industry in increasing the availability and accessibility of sustainable, nutritious food.

The final report of the Fabian Commmission on Food and Poverty is due to be launched later today.

The Commission is chaired by Geoff Tansey, a renowned writer, consultant and Trustee of the Food Ethics Council. The Commission also includes leading representatives from across civil society, trade unions, academia and the food industry.

Food is becoming more and more expensive, and falling real incomes make healthy, nutritious diets less affordable. Yet food plays a wider role in society than nutrition. We use it to celebrate family events, milestones, rites of passage, festivals, to socialise with, and to express ourselves. Food poverty also means that people often experience social exclusion as well as hunger.

Yet only last week, David Cameron insisted at Prime Minister’s Questions: “I do not want anyone in our country to have to rely on food banks.”

Whilst the chair of the commission, Geoff Tansey, acknowledged Cameron’s comments, he said: “But for food – people’s most basic need – he currently has no means of achieving this aim and no plan to deliver a reduction in food banks, let alone tackle the other links between food and poverty.

“The commission has even found that the Government has no count of the number of people who currently lack secure access to nutritious, affordable food.”

A recent NHS statistics release show that 7,366 people were admitted to hospital with a primary or secondary diagnosis of malnutrition between August 2014 and July this year, compared with 4,883 cases in the same period from 2010 to 2011 – a rise of more than 50 per cent in just four years. Cases of other diseases rife in the Victorian era including scurvy (an illness arising through a lack of vitamin C), scarlet fever, cholera and whooping cough have also increased since 2010.

Chris Mould, chairman of the Trussell Trust, which runs a nationwide network of foodbanks, said they saw “tens of thousands of people who have been going hungry, missing meals and cutting back on the quality of the food they buy”. 

“We meet families from across the UK struggling to put enough food on the table and, at the extreme end, you get people who are malnourished,” he said. “We often see parents who are going without food so that they can feed their children, and these parents often struggle to afford enough nutritious food for their children, too. We don’t think anyone should have to go hungry in the UK, which is why we’re working to engage the public, other charities and politicians across parties to find solutions to the underlying causes of food poverty.”

The Mirror revealed on Monday how food bank volunteers will feed hundreds more hungry children this week:  Children from deprived families will go without free school meals during half term, leaving their hard-up parents unable to afford an additional meal every day.

The desperate reliance on food banks was one of the problems investigated by the panel, during its fact-finding tour interviewing food producers, charities and those living on the breadline.

Mr Tansey has warned it was “not enough to ensure people don’t go hungry. Food banks are just the tip of the iceberg of a much bigger problem.

“We need to make sure no-one lives in fear of not being able to feed themselves or their family, and to break the bigger links between food and poverty and their effect on people’s health, the environment and working conditions.”

The Fabian Society wants an end to food banks by 2020. Its report also calls for a tax on sugary drinks to see if the higher price cuts demand for unhealthy food, appointing a minister charged with eliminating household food insecurity and launching “food access plans” so people find it easier to buy “affordable, nutritious food”.

The commission’s report says: “We need to recognise that food banks and charitable food providers are not solutions to household food insecurity, they are symptoms of society’s failure to ensure everybody is sustainably well-fed.”

The report also notes that many people who are too poor to afford food do not use food banks for fear of the stigma of being labelled.

The report comes just two months after the children’s commissioner issued a report warning that the government’s continued austerity programme, especially the welfare reforms, does not conform to the standards of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which protects children from the adverse effects of government economic measures.

It’s absolute poverty, not “market competition” that has led to a drop in food sales.

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Public spending in food stores fell for the first time on record in July this year, putting the UK recovery in doubt. Such a worrying, unprecedented record fall in food sales indicates that many consumers evidently have yet to feel the benefit of the so-called recovery.

The price of food was 0.2% higher than a year ago. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) started collecting the data for food sales in 1989The volume of food sales was also down last month, by 1.5% on an annualised basis.

There was also a marked fall in petrol consumption, and the only prominent area of growth was in spending that entailed use of mail order catalogues, and at market stalls, as people use credit to buy essential items and shop around for cheap alternatives and bargains.

Food manufacturing is the UK’s single largest manufacturing sector. The food and drink supply chain is a major part of the UK economy, accounting for 7% of GDP, employing over 3.7 million people, and generating at least £80 billion per year,  according to data from the Cabinet Office. There was an increase in the food sector (excluding agriculture) from 2000-2009 in Britain; the whole UK economy increased by 47% during the same period.

The Office for National Statistics has put the recent decline down to “prolonged discounting and price wars”.

However, crucially, the quantity of food bought in food stores also decreased by 1.5 per cent year-on-year in July.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that repressed, stagnant wages and RISING living costs are going to result in reduced sale volumes. Survation’s research in March this year indicates that only four out of every ten of UK workers believe that the country’s economy is recovering. But we know that the bulk of the Tory austerity cuts were aimed at those least able to afford any cut to their income.

What we need to ask is why none of the mainstream media articles, or the ONS account, duly reporting the drop in food sales, have bothered to link this with the substantial increase in reported cases of malnutrition and related illnesses across the UK. It’s not as if this correlation is a particularly large inferential leap, after all.

It stands to reason that if people cannot afford food, they won’t be able to buy it. Furthermore, that consumers were not actually considered as a part of the ONS and media assessment is frankly strange, to say the least, with emphasis being placed solely on deterministic market competition criteria, and hardly a skim over any analysis of the social-political conditions that have undoubtedly contributed to the significant drop in food sales.

Food banks provide food aid to people in acute need, usually following referral by health or social care professionals, such as social workers, doctors, health visitors, and organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureau and Jobcentre Plus. The Department for Work and Pensions has acknowledged that there is internal guidance to staff on signposting to food banks and a recent Freedom of Information request reported in The Guardian, revealed a “high level process” to be observed by jobcentre staff for referring claimants who say that they are suffering hardship and need food.

The role of Jobcentre Plus in referring people to food banks was described by Mark Hoban, Minister of State for Employment at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as follows in December 2012: “The DWP, through Jobcentre Plus, operates a foodbank referral service. This is a simple signposting process which builds on the Jobcentre Plus standard practice of holding, locally, the details of organisations to which we signpost claimants who tell us they are in financial difficulty. Jobcentre Plus will only signpost claimants when they can offer no more help.”

Jobcentre Plus have been “signposting” people to food banks nationally since September 2011. Circumstances where a Jobcentre might make a referral to a food bank include:

  •  where a Crisis Loan or Short Term Benefit Advance had been refused;
  •  where a change in circumstances had affected a person’s entitlement to benefit, or reduced the amount they receive;
  •  where payment of benefit had been delayed (e.g. because a claim was still being
    assessed, or DWP was awaiting information to enable a decision on a claim).

The original version of the Jobcentre Plus referral form included boxes to tick to indicate the reason for the referral. However, the report in the Guardian on 6 September 2013 highlighted that the DWP had suddenly “unilaterally redesigned the food bank vouchers it issues to clients” – the three boxes on the previous form which had enabled JobCentre Plus “to indicate why they referred the person: because of benefit delay, benefit change, or refusal of crisis loan … have been removed from the new version of the form. The vouchers no longer tell the [Trussell] trust why the person has been referred”.

As Patrick Butler astutely observed, this has the effect of removing data that helps highlight why impoverishment caused by welfare “reform” has become one of the biggest single drivers of people turning to food banks. The Government needs political cover for lying ministers such as Freud and McVey, who like to pretend food banks have nothing to do with austerity and welfare reform; but the DWP sends its impoverished customers in droves to them anyway.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and others indicates quite clearly that:

  • Some of the increase in the number of people using food banks is
    caused by unemployment, increasing levels of underemployment,
    low and falling income, and rising food and fuel prices. The
    National Minimum Wage and benefits levels need to rise in line
    with inflation, in order to ensure that families retain the ability to
    live with dignity and can afford to feed and clothe themselves and
    stay warm.
  • More alarmingly, up to half of all people turning to food banks
    are doing so as a direct result of having benefit payments delayed,
    reduced, or withdrawn altogether. Figures gathered by the Trussell
    Trust show that changes to the benefit system are the most common reasons for people using food banks;these include changes to crisis loan eligibility rules, delays in payments, Jobseeker’s Allowance ,sanctions and sickness benefit
    reassessments.
  • There is very clear evidence that the benefit sanctions regime is leading to destitution, hardship and hunger on a large scale.

Furthermore, in November last year, 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 austerity policies on vulnerable people’s ability to afford food needed to be “urgently” monitored.

There was a significant 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, which represents “all the signs of a public health emergency that could go unrecognised until it is too late to take preventative action,” they wrote.

Despite mounting evidence for a growing food poverty crisis in the UK, Tory ministers continue to maintain the lie that there is “no robust evidence” of a link between their sweeping welfare “reforms” and a rise in the use of food banks. However, publication of research into the phenomenon, commissioned by the Government itself, was delayed, amid speculation that the findings may prove embarrassing for the Government.

“Because the Government delayed the publication of research it commissioned into the rise of emergency food aid in the UK, we can only speculate that the cause is related to the rising cost of living and increasingly austere welfare reforms,” the public health experts wrote. It is very evident that the welfare state is “failing to provide a robust last line of defence against hunger.”

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 malnutrition can have a devastating, long-lasting impact on health, particularly amongst children.

Chris Mould, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, the largest national food bank provider, said that one in three of the 350,000 people who required food bank  support at the Trussell Trust centres alone this year were children. It is estimated that by 2013, at least 500,000 people were reliant on food aid.

Access to adequate food is the most basic of human needs and rights. The right to food is protected under international human rights and humanitarian law and the correlative state obligations are equally well-established under international law. This right is recognised in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 25) as part of the right to an adequate standard of living, and is enshrined in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 11).

Olivier De Schutter (a United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food) recently pointed to increases in the number of food banks in developed countries  such as the UK as an indicator that Governments are “in danger of failing in their duty to protect citizens under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights” (IESCR), which states that all citizens should have access to adequate diet without having to compromise other basic needs.

Whilst the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) claims that the benefits system provides a “safety net for essentials such as food”, the evidence increasingly does not support this claim. In fact, there is substantial and ever-mounting evidence that the inadequacies of the welfare safety net are now directly driving the growth of hunger and reliance on charitable food handouts.

The BBC reported the “‘Shocking increase’ in Employment Support Allowance (ESA) sickness benefit sanctions” on August 13th, within the first three months of 2014, there were 15,955 sanctions on ESA claimants, compared with 3,574 in the same period last year. I reported about the impact of sanctions in February, 2014, and I reported the substantial increase in ESA sanctions May 2014, along with the Benefits and Work site, amongst other “non-mainstream” writers. It’s incredible that the BBC, with relatively vast resources to hand hasn’t bothered researching and reporting this issue until now.

Perhaps this explains the BBC’s endorsement of the Government welfare “reforms” and their complicity with the persecution of sick and disabled people: James Purnell – one  of the chief architects of the current government’s “reforms”  (Gordon Brown had previously rebuffed Purnell’s proposals, and Purnell resigned as a consequence), is the BBC’s Director of Strategy & Digital which “brings together Communications, Future Media, Marketing, Policy, Research and Development and Strategy”. So, Mr Purnell is on the Executive Board, which, I am sure, contributes to the BBC’s current degree of “impartiality”, especially evident in attempts to defer delivery of politically damning news, or in their other quest to purposefully deliver politically motivated factual detours.

There is currently no established government measure of food poverty. A recent report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research defined households who have to spend more than 10% of their annual income on food as being in food poverty.

The Food Ethics Council states that food poverty means that an individual or household isn’t able to obtain healthy, nutritious food – they have to eat what they can afford or find, not what they choose to.

If people can’t meet basic survival needs, then that is defined as absolute poverty. We haven’t seen absolute poverty in the UK since before the inception of the welfare state. Until  now.

“Food banks open across the country, teachers report children coming to school hungry; advice services and local authorities prepare for the risks attached to welfare reform. There is evidence of a rising number of people sleeping rough, and destitution is reported with increasing frequency.” Julia Unwin, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2013.

“In households which cannot afford an adequate diet for their children, 93% have at least one adult who “skimps” on their own food to try to protect the children. Half a million children are not adequately fed in the UK today, not as a result of negligence but due to a lack of money.” Poverty and Social Exclusion UK. 2013.

We know that the imposed limitations on welfare processes and procedures have been found to be impacting on the growing demand for food banks. Decision-making around sanctions has been found to be particularly problematic from the perspective of food banks, where decisions were seen as unfair and/or arbitrary. Similarly, errors made in declaring people on Employment Support Allowance fit for work were also highlighted, by research undertaken by the Sheffield University Political Economy Research Institute.

More generally, “ineffective administration” of lifeline welfare payments is also seen to be an important driver of need, where people’s payments are delayed or stopped and they are left with no or heavily reduced income. Tory policy changes to the length of time sanctions run for (from 2 weeks to 3 years) is “significantly problematic”, given the  enormous implications for financial insecurity. And resultant absolute poverty.

Basic incomes are being reduced, making it much more difficult for people to make ends meet. In addition, “reforms” – which is the Orwellian Tory word for severe cuts – impacting on food poverty include the cap to benefit payments, the Bedroom Tax, and the loss of full Council Tax exemption for many benefit claimants.

No-one should be hungry, without food in this Country. That there are people living in a politically imposed state of absolute poverty is unacceptable in the UK, the world’s sixth largest economy (and the third largest in Europe). This was once a civilised first-world country that cared for and supported vulnerable citizens. After all, we have paid for our own welfare provision, and we did so in the recognition that absolutely anyone can lose their job, become ill or have an accident that results in disability. This is a Government that very clearly does not reflect the needs of the majority of citizens.

It is also unacceptable in a so-called liberal democracy that we have a Government that has persistently denied the terrible consequences of their own policies, despite  overwhelming evidence that the welfare “reforms” are causing people, harm, distress and sometimes, death. Furthermore, this is a Government that has systematically employed methods to effectively hide the evidence of the harm caused to others as a consequence of their devastating, draconian “reforms” from the public. This clearly demonstrates an intention to deceive, and an intention to continue causing people harm.

In English criminal law, intention is one of the types of mens rea (Latin for “guilty mind”) that, when accompanied by an actus reus (“guilty act”), constitutes a crime. It’s difficult to envisage that anyone in the UK would fail to understand that any act that prevents people from accessing food, and the means of meeting other basic survival needs, such as shelter, will cause them harm.

This is a Government that knows exactly what it is doing.

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Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent artwork