It was announced today that the Red Cross will be distributing its first emergency food parcel programme in the UK since World War II. The charity is gearing up to provide food for 500,000 starving Britons this winter, as the UK government announces the British economy is back on track.
No Such Thing as Poverty in the UK?
One argument commonly put by politicians, pundits and the wilfully ignorant, is that there is no such thing as poverty in the UK – that somehow, those who find themselves in such a condition, do so because of their own bad choices or idleness. Just last week, Conservative MP Paul Maynard announced that Food Banks were some sort of a ‘bad habit’ for the poor. He is not alone.
Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) Iain Duncan Smith claims the astronomical rise in Food Banks is more about poor financial planning on behalf of the poor, than the effects of his assault on the welfare state. He was immediately and robustly contradicted by the chief of the Trussell Trust, which manages the largest collection of Food Banks in the UK, who stated categorically that the rise came as a direct result of the government’s actions.
Poverty exists in the UK – but so does destitution. There is a great distinction between the two in the novel ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’. A character representing the voice of reason, states the following:
“What I call poverty is when people are not able to secure for themselves all the benefits of civilisation; the necessaries, comforts, pleasures and refinements of life, leisure, books, theatres, pictures, music, holidays, travel, good and beautiful homes, good clothes, good and pleasant food”
This is poverty: the removal of access to the benefits of a civilisation we all, and generations before us, participated in creating. Destitution is when this barrier becomes extreme to the point of terminal.
So, for some time, most people would acknowledge that by this proper definition of poverty – the UK is rife with it. However, the UK has also now become home to rising levels of destitution. Not only are people locked out of the benefits of the civilisation they helped build, but they are in risk of starvation, sickness and death.
This is What Destitution Looks Like
The policies of the coalition government are effectively turning back the clock on civilisation in the UK. Problems tackled by previous generations are now back with a vengeance. Here is a glimpse into the 21st century destitution in the UK.
Oxfam reports that by 2020, there will be an additional 800,000 children living in poverty in the UK, up from 2.3m today. They state that this is as a direct result of the government’s Austerity policies, which ‘hit the poorest hardest’. But these are just numbers, aren’t they? What does this actually look like in reality?
A recent poll of 1,700 teachers revealed some appalling findings:
- 85% of teachers reported children in their class coming to school hungry, without having has breakfast, because their parents could no longer afford to feed them the meal.
- “Bed and breakfast children, with no facilities for hot food, or clothes washing. Pupils are dirty, unkempt, hungry, poorly nourished.”
- “I have noticed children complaining of missing breakfast and no snack at break.”
- Some teachers told how they have taken in food for starving children, fearing that they would not eat at all
- “Staff making toast for children who arrive hungry is becoming an increasingly regular occurrence.”
- “Children sneaking extra sandwiches from school dinners and stealing them for later as their whole family are hungry.”
- “I have had to resort to buying breakfast biscuits for hungry children in my class.”
- “Parents struggling to make ends meet especially since the introduction of the Bedroom Tax. Some parents have commented they may not be able to afford the bus fees to bring their child to school due to the changes and cuts in benefits.
- “Parents who pay for school meals are taking their children to the chicken shop for lunch (at £1 for a small meal) as it is cheaper than school meals.”
This is what child poverty actually looks like. It is not poverty, but destitution. Without charitable intervention these children would be starving, and even with it, they are malnourished and going without the very basics such as shoes and appropriate clothing.
Homelessness and Rough Sleeping
The end game for those who cannot find work, and cannot find shelter, is that they join the ranks of the homeless. There are two types of recognised homelessness in the UK:
Statutory Homelessness: These are people deemed eligible for support in finding temporary accommodation funded by their local authority if they find themselves unable to keep a roof over their head. A person needs to be eligible for public funds, have a local connection, prove they are unintentionally homeless and demonstrate they are a ‘priority need’ to qualify. Despite the gauntlet one has to run to join this list, number still rose by 21% in England and 17% in Wales in 2012.
Rough Sleeping: This group is formed of all those excluded from the list above, and is very hard to quantify. These numbers have risen even faster, at 31% in England. Homeless Charity Crisis claims numbers could be even higher though. Outreach workers in London performed a count which found a 62% rise in rough sleepers in the capital in just two years.
The government has launched no significant programmes to take action on this issue. Quite the opposite:
- 4,000 bed spaces have been lost in cuts to housing support services
- In a recent survey by Homeless Link, nearly half of all homeless services reported budget cuts of an average 17%
Instead, they have chosen to criminalise homelessness through new anti-squatting legislation. The following is the tragic story of just one of the 6,437 people that slept rough on the streets of England during 2012/3.
Thirty five year old Daniel Guantlett froze to death in February 2013 on the porch of an empty bungalow in Aylesford, Kent (pictured above). He was on the porch because if he had entered the bungalow he would have been in breach of new ‘anti squatting’ laws.
A whole host of homeless people have been crushed to death by refuse collection vehicles after sleeping in bins to keep out the cold.
In one of the world’s richest nations, this scale of poverty and destitution can only be a political choice.
The Consequences of Poverty
Poverty and destitution are inherently untenable conditions to place any human being, plant or animal in. There should be no need for any further argument than that – creating a situation where a living thing, surrounded by an abundance of what it needs to live and thrive, cannot access those things and is left to wither and die – this should surely be a matter for the law. Shouldn’t it be simply unlawful to act in such a way? Not in our society. In our sick society, that’s success. It is described as somehow, the natural order of things. There is nothing natural about it.
But, nevertheless, there are consequences beyond the sheer inhumanity itself. Poverty related diseases and conditions, such as rickets (which has increased fourfold) are making a comeback. Children are leaving school earlier as they cannot afford to stay on in their local area, and need to try and seek a wage to support the family purse. If not that, their poor life conditions mean they are not able to learn and aspire to anything higher than making their appalling conditions incrementally better. This is creating a lost generation. As their richer counterparts are able to leverage every opportunity they are afforded, we face a rising wave of inequality. Since the 1990’s, the top 1% of earners in the UK have seen their share of wealth rise from 7% of the total to 10%, while the bottom half have seen their share drop from 19% to 18%. It is literally a case of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Allowing the continued destitution of the next generation only serves to exacerbate this rising economic inequality. This economic inequality translates into political and social inequality – put simply, our children will have even less say over improving their conditions, and their conditions will be worse.
Wake Up Britain
At some point, we need to wake up to the fact that we are witnessing the rapid de-civilisation of our country. Our children, and our adults, are being taught to expect no better. The attacks on the so-called ‘something for nothing culture’ of the working and jobless poor by political leaders who have inherited significant wealth and political connections, this cannot stand. It is an attempt to finally kill the already prone and prostrate remains of the Spirit of ’45 which created the welfare state and the idea that all citizens of this nation deserved to benefit from its economic success. Instead, the UK has once more become a place where children can starve, while the stock exchange hits record highs and the economy is growing. For pity’s sake Britain, wake up and stop the madness.
Don’t get angry, get involved!
Time Banks – if you are out of work or you wage is not enough to meet your needs, how about joining your local time bank? Turn your skills and time into currency – you help someone, and the time you spend can be claimed back from someone else for something you need.
Community Gardens and Farms – the weekly shop becoming untenable? Seeking proper nutrition for yourself and your family but cannot afford it? Then grow and share food in and with your local community.
Local, community run projects like these work on both a practical and principal level – they help alleviate the impacts of poverty, whilst also creating the community that our political leadership is seeking to erode. By reducing our reliance on their defunct economy, we might just grow a new and more equitable one of our own.