Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Feeding Britain

The report on hunger came and went.  For the media it was a one-day wonder and then they moved on.  The coverage elicited the expected denial and incomprehension, and nothing will be done.

The report, unfortunately, conflated two unrelated issues; the huge wastage of food, and the fact that large numbers of people can't afford food at all.  This allowed the media to focus on the first and to give the impression that the surplus food now thrown out could feed the poor.  There are, in fact, several organisations such as Fareshare which collect surplus food from the producers and retailers and pass it on for distribution to those charities which feed people; but they can't pass it on to food banks because it's fresh food which can't be stored by those food banks.  And anyway, that would not solve the problem of why people are going hungry.

It was important that the report brought out the reasons for food poverty.  It drew on the figures collected by the Trussell Trust to show that the majority of users are suffering from benefit delays and sanctions.  How did Iain Duncan Smith respond?  According to a Guardian report, he "promised to respond positively, telling MPs "“We want to do everything we can to make sure that people do not stumble into a process of sanctions”.  But on the same day the paper reported, "It is also unlikely that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will shift its stance on the administration of benefit sanctions, even though the report says they are the single biggest reason for the poor resorting to food banks. DWP sources said it was very clear at the start of a benefit claim what was required of a claimant and there would be consequences for failing to meet that commitment."  The FT commented on a suggestion by Nick Clegg, among others, that there should be a sort of "yellow card" system for sanctions, a warning before an actual sanction was imposed.  Many of us would endorse that, and could come up with detailed plans for how it could work.  But, "aides to Iain Duncan Smith, work and pensions secretary, argued that the yellow card warning system was 'not necessary' because jobseeker’s allowance claimants were now required to sign a 'claimant commitment'. This left them in no doubt as to the obligations they were required to fulfil in return for their social security."  So IDS's pious words in the House of Commons were nothing more than pious words.  He did say that he would ensure that people are informed about hardship payments; but neglected to tell his colleagues that such payments are a pittance and don't kick in immediately anyway.
At least we know where Business Minister Matthew Hancock stands.  He said that that food banks had only increased “because more people know about them” and that poverty in Britain “coming down”.

I could point you to numerous articles about the report and the fall-out from it.  But you can find them for yourself.  The fact is that nothing will change.  At PMQs today Clegg, standing in for Cameron, reeled off lie after lie, apparently believing what he was saying.  


  1. I believe that the central bank and government have really missed a trick here to stimulate the economy. I know that the following idea might upset the inflation rate for a while but that would even off as the country recovers and people find themselves in employment.

    Consider for one moment , for the economy to work you need consumers and you need people to create and sell goods. When you have a large number of people out of work or retired then you have people who you could encourage to buy what they need to be a bit better off thus increasing demand for goods.

    The central bank could have created a 'poverty easing' program and allow government to increase pensions and welfare benefits. Poor people could create demand by buying the food they need. The demand fuels employment and expansion. No-one in this country should require food banks to survive in the 21st Century. it is a utter scandal that government treat them as normal way of fixing the problem.

    Central Bank has printed money to enable banks to lend to business but that did not fix poverty. Creating a demand from the poorest of Society would. Next time you are in your local supermarket or garden centre during week days and look at the age ranges who are buying. Who is creating a demand for goods? they cant all be employed .

    Just an idea.

    1. My local garden centres are not doing well, mainly because there is less demand for plants, and because they have introduced sidelines like cafes, homeware (for which read tat), and so on. The people in there are mainly OAPs, they go to the garden centres because they have cafes and it's considered a nice day out with a meal. I don't think they buy much else. As a self-employed gardener I do make a point of looking at the customers in such places when I go there.

      As a side note, I have now had my HB etc sorted out, but apparently if I try and sign on I'll have a 3 month wait (JC told me this) so if I get no work over the winter I'll still be in the same situation of having no money. It was interesting to see the change in the adviso'rs attitude too, when I explained about the situation.

    2. Anonymous - what you've described is essentially a variation of Friedman's concept of helicopter money. It has quite a bit going for it, particularly if targeted at the part of the population who spend everything they receive, and tend to spend it locally, but it wouldn't be risk-free and has generally been regarded as too scary, in part due to the inflationary aspect that you refer to. As we've seen in the last few years, it would also be political suicide.

      Some characteristics of QE make it pretty similar to helicopter money; one of the differences being where the money has gone (banks, bankers and asset prices) and another being that it's perceived as controllable and reversible.

      You make an important point about benefits - spending money on some benefits (LHA and, to an extent, Tax Credits are different) can be an elegant and effective intervention. Benefits have a useful multiplier effect and generally have the advantage of going to areas (poor areas) and people (poor people) in most need and who stand to gain the most. In fact, it's such a good way of spending money that there's no reason to couple it to expanding the money supply; just do it anyway.

      However, none of that seems to bother the government, or if it does, it has a funny way of showing it. See 'Hitting the Poorest Places Hardest' by Fothergill and Beatty for details. Combine that with the way that successive local government settlements have hammered deprived areas far more than affluent ones, and it starts to look rather like a concerted, deliberate and quite open attack on poor, urban areas, the people that live in them and their councils, who needless to say, are quite often Labour.

  2. A "Claimant Commitment" ??? I have signed one,It requires me to actually do nothing,the work coach(?) was to busy to fill it out,explain what was required of me or offer any advise,a year later and I am still trudging down to the JCP,asking for advice,training and jobs that do not exist. On UJM their are 6732 positions available within 20 miles of my address,you can ask how many new postings within the last day,2 days,week..Ect..It averages 3.2 per day...Do the math,something is fishy!

  3. A yellow card system will be next to useless if the absurd nature and reasoning of the sanctions are not fully addressed such as jobseekers penalised for missing appointments by a few minutes due to an interview overrunning or applying to too many vacancies.

    Also the DWP and JCB management will have to scrap any sanctions targets too. This simply leads to sanctions dished out arbitrarily and without sound judgement or reason.

  4. Interesting article on food banks and their effects from the LSE.

    "Food banks are opening up in surprising, even well-off, places. The numbers of people using them has tripled in the last year to almost a million. People resorting to food banks say they feel humiliated and degraded by the experience and only use them out of desperation – in other words, hunger."

    More below:

  5. 'Aides to Iain Duncan Smith, work and pensions secretary, argued that the yellow card warning system was 'not necessary' because jobseeker’s allowance claimants were now required to sign a 'claimant commitment'. This left them in no doubt as to the obligations they were required to fulfil in return for their social security.'

    A statement which completely ignores the fact that you if you are claiming JSA you have no choice but to sign the commitment or you are disqualified. The point is that the commitment is NOT FAIR and sanctions are being applied freely.


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