The Hunger Games 2 : Still Blaming the Victims

St Frank

“Moral and civic duties provide the very foundations upon which civilised life is built and are a proper area for legislative prescription and if necessary sanctions”

The Professor once again nails local poverty tourist Frankenfield with his learned dissection of the sinister agenda behind the saintly persona.

We’d just like to add that we don’t need lessons in moral and civic duties from the man behind the Wirralgate cover-up.

THE HUNGER GAMES 2: Still Blaming the Victims

‘The liberation from the Victorian approach – or so it is interpreted – came when the poverty debate began laying the blame for poverty on society and its institutions instead of the poor themselves’ – Frank Field, Neighbours from Hell

A year has passed since Frank Field’s ‘Feeding Britain’ report appeared in a storm of media controversy. In addition to rightly condemning this government’s rabid policies towards the ‘deserving‘ poor, Frank’s team decided that the ‘undeserving’ poor, whocould not budget and cook properly, who wasted their benefits on non-essentials, only had themselves to blame for their hunger. These feckless, ungrateful people should be sent to the state Troubled Families gulags for ‘reprogramming’. As Frank’s co-author, the posh Tory, Lady Jenkin, famously said: If they can’t cook, let them eat porridge. A bowl only costs 4p.  

 The issue of these ‘undeserving’ poor people was framed not as one of intellectual and social inadequacy but as a matter of personal irresponsibility and lack of moral sensibility. Frank has long had a clear and fixed view of the coping differences between the deserving and undeserving poor in the underclass

‘How can these different circumstances be explained if personal character and its view of responsibility are written out of the script?’-                                                                        Frank Field, Neighbours from Hell

Nothing has changed a year later. Frank’s second hunger report, ‘A Route Map to ending hunger as we know it in the UK’, was launched at the end of 2015 …somewhat more circumspectly than the first report. The report is based on submissions from a sample ofthe 420 UK food banks which are now active according to the Trussel Trust. The sample evidence involved narrative observations from 115 food banks. This is a sample of 27%. Seven of the submissions were said to be anonymous. The second report still rightly sees a major factor in hunger creation as rabid government welfare policies and their deliberatively destructive implementation. However we will see that sadly, underlying attitudes to the ‘feckless’ poor in the report have not changed. Turning to page 79 of the ‘evidence’ we read that

‘A sizeable majority (is it 20, 30, 40%?) of submissions attributed the onset of, and constant vulnerability to hunger in some families to their inability to cook and budget from week to week. ‘Several food banks are quoted. Liverpool’s HOPE+ centre allegedly said

‘while it might not be a popular observation… many people do not spend their limited budget wisely in respect of food…this is due to a lack of basic budgeting skills and an inability or unwillingness to cook.

Frank concludes that therefore, school curricula must include compulsory ‘home economics and life skills courses’. A good thing surely? Well, yes but we must be careful when Frank becomes prescribing in the area of social policy. Things may get out of hand. Consider his views on the wider state control of UK society in his book, Neighbours From Hell:

Moral and civic duties provide the very foundations upon which civilised life is built and are a proper area for legislative prescription and if necessary sanctions’

Moral duties? Who is to decide on these …why Frank, of course. We must therefore be careful where Frank’s nostrums are involved. Other food bank correspondents took less condemning stances on the hungry. Financial Action and Advice, Derbyshire said

‘Many people have poor budgeting skills and prioritise wrongly…some have poor literacy and numeracy and don’t understand contracts…’

The issue here is primarily one of low IQ and poor education, not moral turpitude.

On page 80 the report turns, in earnest, to the theme of waste and the irresponsible use of resources by the poor. We are told that

‘The financial benefit of being able to use one’s resources more efficiently could make a huge difference to household budgets. The average cost to all households of the food and drink they throw away each week is £9 or 14% of the average weekly shopping budget.’

Presumably we are invited to assume, without evidence, that these figures apply equally to the poorest in the UK and without any caveats. It’s hard to throw away food from an empty fridge…or preserve food when you have no electricity to run it. It is interesting that the average shopping budget implied above is £64 while job seekers allowance and employment and support allowance (in the WRA Group) for the sick and disabled, is just £69 per week. (By the way the author knows from his professional career with a large multi-national that food processing and transport losses in the supply chain are often in excess of 25%. Perhaps the well off, throw away, middle class and the food companies should be condemned rather than the, desperate, hungry poor?)

Having set up the poor as ‘wasters’ we now move on to allegedly wilful misuse of benefits. We learn according to Frank, that

‘Even if wages and benefits were high enough to provide a subsistence minimum, we fear some of our citizens still would fall below our national minimum because of the havoc wreaked on their budgets by addictions to drink, smoking and gambling.’

This is based on two condemning reports from (unidentified) food banks. One allegedly said

‘…we are anxious that by giving them food we are freeing up money for some of them to fund other habits. Most of them smoke, many of them have drug or alcohol dependency…

We are trying to cap the level of benefit which entitles clients to come to us.’

The second allegedly said :‘Fags are ever present among poor people. They [fags] hoover money out of the pocket

…the addictive and damaging aspect of smoking is awful. It is a major factor in taking money for food and spending it on addiction…

 Of course government has the power to ban addictive and health damaging products as it does with illegal drugs. But then think of the outcry if popular ‘drugs’ were banned outright …and the loss of tax revenue. No, it is easier to further raise unit costs and impose more tax, which penalises the poorest ‘addicts’ and has no effect on the middling classes, while appearing virtuous. The poor should not be smoking and drinking anyway should they?

Addiction is a ‘lifestyle choice’…but only if you are poor.

It is interesting that in comments on other ‘hunger creating factors’ in the report, the food banks are always identified…but not in this case. In other areas of concern several food banks are typically quoted. In this case only two. Is this because dependency and misuse of benefits is not a major issue and few correspondents reported it as such? Well apparently only 2 out of 115 submissions, or 1.7% of submissions, took this strong stance. Why are these 2 not identified? Were they by coincidence, 2 of the 7 anonymous submissions received in total? Should we give equal weight to opinions which are anonymous? In other research fields, data of unknown provenance would be deleted.

In fact under the earlier ‘debt’ section of the report, the County Durham food bank takes a directly opposite view on this matter.

‘Our debt advice service is increasingly seeing people who are simply on low incomes rather than those who have been unwise in how they spend their money. Single parents, working but on low incomes, are being seen especially [frequently].’

This view is not referenced in the ‘addictions’ and ‘benefit wasting’ section although it is clearly relevant to the issue at hand and its origin is clearly identified.

Although ‘dependency’ and ‘addiction’ are recognised medical conditions we see no discussion of accessing serious medical treatment, but we see again a concern for the risk of creating a ‘moral hazard’, implied in supplying food to the hungry. It is the same apparent ‘hazard’ which persuades many to not give money to beggars…they will only waste it.

This is an argument frequently used by Iain Duncan Smith, DWP minister, to justify cutting benefits. As the report says, we should do all we can to combat smoking and other addictions. We must not however ‘punish’ desperate people in the mean time …which clearly a small minority of food banks is ready to do…with the implicit endorsement of Frank’s report. But then Frank has long established views on ‘dependency’ and lack of moral fibre as his earlier utterances show.  And as he said in the Wirral Globe on 22.05.15

‘The Victorians [or rather the evangelical Christians] were not wrong when they called alcohol the demon drink’

Of course many food banks are run by Christian church groups. Perhaps the two pro-Frank food bank quotes (out of  115 ) share his views and are able to apply them to the unfortunate hungry who come to their doors? Surely Frank and his moralising friends should be campaigning to ban the ‘demon drink’ in general …beginning by closing down the House of Commons bar and imposing sobriety checks on MPs entering the chamber.

Surely MP and peer ‘allowances’ should be reduced in case they are misspent on booze and cigars…and worse. And what about the alcohol, tobacco and legal high infested middle class, not to mention the coke snorting metropolitan elite? Well, Frank et al, lack the levers to compel moral compliance in such groups.

The fact is the ‘hungry poor’ is the last minority where ideological governments intent on rolling back the Welfare State can justify rabid cuts by labelling powerless citizens as ‘scroungers’, ‘benefit cheats’ and addicted, moral degenerates, unworthy of support. It is doubly sad when ‘charity’ groups, supposedly opposing government benefits policy and ‘supporting’ the hungry poor, use the same moralising arguments to try to impose their views on how the poor should behave. Persuasion or rational argument and education is one thing but using hunger as a weapon for (supposedly) moral and social reform is quite another. Is this perhaps an overly harsh view of some in the ‘charity’ sector? If we examine other attitudes and recommendations in Frank’s report we will see that it is not.

Chapter 4 is about ‘rescuing Britain’s wasted food’. Frank tells us

‘Earlier  in this report we outlined a series of uncomfortable findings around some families lacking skills that were once passed from one generation to the next; namely how to be good parents and be able to cook decent meals on a limited budget…the absence of these skills can impact badly upon one’s self worth.’

Hang on there…where did the issue of ‘being good parents’ sneak into the debate on

poverty and hunger? Well Frank has long had feckless, inadequate parents in his sights. That is why in the first Feeding Britain report he tried to get hungry, mentally impaired parents sent to the abusive, ineffective, Troubled Families Projects. As he has said many times

‘As an ever increasing number of families becomes dysfunctional an ever increasing supply of socially offensive individuals results’

                                                                                            Neighbours From Hell

 

Frank would like to see Citizens’ Contracts imposed by the state which would enforce his views on ‘moral and civic duties’ and behaviour …at least on the dependent poorest. Citizen ‘duties’ would be linked to ‘benefit entitlement’. As he said in NFH

‘New boundaries need to be drawn…Benefits provide such a boundary as between them they provide universal coverage for those most likely to commit antisocial behaviour [the undeserving poor]

Frank, who has attacked the Conservative government for cutting benefits to the poor, is ready, for those who fail to abide by his model of society, to…well…cut their benefits!

Not only this, but the imposing of sanctions should be seen as a criminal justice matter!

‘The agency deciding what action should follow a repeated failure to meet a [citizen’s] contract should be the police and only the police. Once the police have the required  evidence to levy a sanction…[it] should automatically come into operation on the appropriate benefit.’

The hungry poor appear to be trapped between a rock and a hard place. On the one sidea rabid government: on the other, some in the ‘charity sector’ with a moral utopian agenda. The only difference between Frank and this Conservative government on benefit sanctions is the reason for them, although in both cases those reasons are ideological as we have seen. So how will Frank use the issue of food waste to promote his utopian aims? He will use so-called Social Supermarkets along the lines of the Community Shop model. In the report he recommends, grandly that:

‘A next phase in Britain’s fight back against hunger must encourage the growth and evolution of social supermarkets. Here we have an accessible source of affordable food that also comes with so much more in the way of practical and emotional support…’

The Community Shop website itself says:

‘CS is a social enterprise that is empowering individuals and building strong communities by realising the social potential of surplus food’

That is some claim. The idea is to buy ‘surplus’ food from manufacturers at ‘ten pence in the pound’ and sell it at ‘thirty pence in the pound’ to a defined subset of the poor. The CS chairman has told the media

‘CS is tackling the problem of food surplus while giving it a real social purpose. Not only do we offer high quality, low cost food to people experiencing tough times, but we provide them with the chance to take up support services…because they are [then] motivated to do better.’

 Surely this time Frank is correct to enthusiastically support such a positive model? The author looked more closely at the scheme some time ago. Their jolly website listed the

wide range of means tested benefits which enables ‘those on the cusp of poverty’  to access the Community Shops. He was surprised to note that sick and disabled people on long term employment and support allowance were excluded…yet these are amongst the most disadvantaged benefit recipients in the country. Well it turns out that CS is only for those on in work benefits and the unemployed and the ‘real social purpose’ is ‘training to get them back into work’ and ‘motivated to do better’.

So these Community Shops actually, do not support the most vulnerable in the Community, nor those in a state of urgent need. No doubt the social supermarket model is worthy but it seems peripheral to the problem of immediate, urgent hunger. Why is Frank so keen on it? We will see.

Surely helping the unemployed is still a good thing? Well according to The Independent there is a catch: to get the ‘cheap’ food the applicants must sign up to a compulsory development and mentoring programme called the ‘Success Plan’…nothing is left to ‘chance’ despite the chairman’s claim. This appears to be rather like many state schemes available through Job Centre Plus. So why the ‘charity sector’ duplication? Well ASDA,the Co-op, M&S, Morrisons, Tesco, etc, who supply the food get good public relations coverage …doing their bit for the poor. What does the company get? We do not know …perhaps just a warm glow? Well in 2014 the Community Shop won the ‘Community Partner’ award of the powerful Food & Drink Federation whose members had supplied the surplus food. Warm glows all round. CS won the award in competition with famous social activists and philanthropists like General Mills, Mars Foods and Siemens. Anyway, at least the potentially hungry CS members ‘are motivated to do better’ …or they don’t get any food. Certainly Frank can’t get enough of this scheme. We might suspect it takes Frank back to those heady Victorian days when the feckless poor could be turned around in their lazy, immoral ways in return for bread or workhouse shelter. After all there is a moral imperative here as benefits ‘rot the soul’, according to Frank in 2012. As he also said about means tested benefits

‘As we now have a welfare state based on meeting need, this encourages individuals, not unreasonably, to try to ensure they qualify under this guise. It therefore pays to lie about one’s earnings, to cheat, or to be [economically] inactive. The worst side of human nature is encouraged…’

Frank has forgotten that the welfare state was founded precisely to support people in need and ‘for as long as that need lasts’ according to Lord Beveridge himself.  As the author suggested earlier, Frank and his like minded friends, appear to be ideologically as concerned with avoiding ‘moral hazard’ and ‘soul rot’ as feeding the urgently hungry. At the very least the above statement makes very clear what Frank really thinks about the poor he says he is championing. Is that so different from the views of rabid Tories like Eric Pickles, then Communities minister, who commanded a ‘less understanding approach’ be applied

‘ We have sometimes run away from categorising, stigmatising, laying blame…It’s time to wake up to that…to realise the state is no longer willing to subsidize a life of complete non-fulfilment on just about every level.’

In March 2015 Eric declared the supposed triumph of his Troubled Families Projects in‘turning around’ the dysfunctional, feckless, lazy, cheating families we have discussed.

Somehow getting somebody back into work in 8.9% of the 75% of families who began the projects with all adults unemployed, and marginally reducing truancy, defined this triumph. In Frank’s home territory on Wirral just 2.6% got jobs. Even these modest results were exaggerations since Eric’s own department tells us that 

‘It is likely some of the improvements in outcomes would have happened in the absence of [project] intervention’

It should be noted that the council survey data used by Eric to make his claims are not recognised as official government statistics and have not been audited by any independent body. Eric’s claims were defined by the director of the National Institute for Economic & Social Research as

                                               ‘Completely meaningless’  

 

Some MPs expressed doubts on the veracity of the success claims in the House of Commons, including Hilary Benn MP. However Frank still rose to congratulate Eric, whose approach to dysfunctional families was clearly as policy nectar, and put in his two pence worth, based on his expert observations of the dysfunctional poor  

‘There were other scallywags who could not be bothered to feed their children.’

Sounds familiar? Meanwhile in Eric’s TF projects, 33% of the families had adults with long term, debilitating, physical illnesses or disabilities and 45% had adults and 33% had children with serious mental health problems. 39% had children with special educational needs statements and 28% had children in special schools. 97% were in social housing. 27% were in rent arrears. They were very poor. Now that’s feckless for you. Only 3% had members receiving treatment for drug or alcohol dependency. 93% of the adults had no involvement in crime and anti-social behaviour. We do not know how many families had to resort to food banks.

There is much that is worthy in the second Feeding Britain report and particularly in the dissection of the roll out of Tory government ‘welfare reforms’ in creating hunger in the UK.

Recommendations for reform of government welfare reforms are well targeted. The simple innovation of having a (hopefully independent) benefit adviser sit in the food banks to tryto resolve benefit problems is excellent : the so-called Food Bank Plus model, although the echo of ‘Job Centre Plus’ is disturbing and mission creep should be watched carefully.

There are some recommendations, possibly, equally well meant but unlikely to be practical. The idea of budgetary advisers in JC+ encouraging desperate claimants, already in dire straits, living from hand to mouth, that they really should save for a rainy day is quaint, to be polite.

It is a reasonable strategic aim but out of place in an emergency context. It very much reflects Frank’s root conviction that the feckless poor simply need reprogramming to behave more responsibly and so escape poverty.

 However some of the analyses and recommendations we have examined need to be looked at very carefully and if implemented, monitored very closely. At least the ideological basis of this government’s actions is crystal clear: the reduction or elimination of the welfare state. The ideological basis of some of Frank’s proposals is not overt and should be spelled out. If one wants to try to build a new, Moral Jerusalem on the backs of the poor and hungry do so openly so that the community may debate it. But then Lady ‘Porridge’ Jenkin raised a storm of protest at the first Feeding Britain report launch when she crudely blamed the ’feckless’ poor for their own hunger. Let us hope the media and the British public will remain on the side of unconditional compassion for these vulnerable, hungry families, and particularly for their children who are indisputably innocent, and equally, be vigilant in future about damaging policy innovations by the state and  self-styled ‘do-gooders’ with an agenda.  

I completely support Archbishop Welby’s key question in his introduction to this second UK hunger report: ‘How can we take part in a wider debate about the nature of our society?’

The Professor –    December 2015

 

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “The Hunger Games 2 : Still Blaming the Victims

  1. What a waste of time and effort on a dreadful article, find out the facts of the work that has been done through feeding birkenhead, the amount of people helped, the number of volunteer positions, community support and nee tbis project has. And instead of wating time writing this why not go out and help in your community.

  2. Don’t beat yourself up Emma. If you’ve lived a life beneath the umbrella of public service and you’ve been fortunate enough to become very wealthy because of it, it’s hardly surprising to me that you’ve missed the point. It’s not your fault. Never exposed to being fiscally knackered and never having to worry about climbing the steep walls of your very own personal deep hole created by a mixture of your own bad luck, bad lifestyle decisions and a system that’s intent on keeping you in your deep dug personal economic burial grave, its of no surprise to me that you’ve not grasped the message behind this piece of written work.
    Mind, interestingly you mention volunteers. I find that interesting. Some years ago my wife decided that she had gradually, over a long period of time grown to despise my fat face and so, to get me out of the house and the Ale House where me and the lads would spend hours discussing ‘which women we’d like to kiss’, she made me become a volunteer at a well known and highly respected public service facility that helped the meek, the mild, the fiscally knackered and the downright unlucky in addressing and dealing with their many many problems.
    Within a few hours of my two year tenure I very quickly realised that my fellow volunteers lived in the big house on the hill, they were all comfortably off and they had all decided at one time or another to leave their big house twice a week, journey down the hill and share their time and their wisdom with those that lived at the bottom of the hill in a much smaller and modest dwelling. They did this for themselves. They did it for fun.
    More interestingly, they really didn’t care a jot about communicating with those at the bottom of the hill. They simply wanted to be seen to be mixing with the ones who’ll never get to live alongside them in a big house upon the hill.
    Me? I found it a delight to meet, greet and speak to all those who’d become hungry for success and had tired of the taste of failure. I’d meet them with a smile, give the odd one or two a quid to get the bus home and they all were given a biscuit and they left my company feeling good and happy that they’d met me.
    Sadly, when the meek, the mild, the hungry and the poor didn’t get me, they got one of the others. The ones who lived on the hill. These volunteers, the ones who lived on the hill were cruel and disrespectful to those that would never ever leave rock bloody bottom, they couldn’t care less about these peoples lives and just like Emma, they would not get the point of this piece of literary work offered up by the Leaks.
    I mentioned biscuits didn’t I. Well these biscuits were special biscuits. These biscuits were provided for me and all the others who lived on the hill. They were not intended to be given to those seeking our help and so, after a period of time, those volunteers who lived on the hill who didn’t understand or empathise with the customers or even me for enjoying their company decided that these biscuits were their biscuits and I was being unprofessional and irresponsible for handing out their biscuits to those that were not volunteers and consequently not entitled to eat a biscuit.
    Why did I quit? Because the volunteers I worked alongside saw the poor people as a game. A little task that they’d complete so that once they’d driven themselves back up the hill they’d have something to talk about and the listener, who also lived on the hill would say ‘ain’t you sweet. Ain’t you wonderful. You are remarkable. Why don’t you stand as our next Councillor’.
    This piece Emma, ain’t no parable that requires a great deal of thought and inner interpretation. It’s all very straightforward and you should read it again.

  3. Merry Xmas My Good Lord

    I am still full of evil toxins and on the antibiotics but I did need to write and wish AdderleyDadderlyDooLally “Thy Chamber Potty” “The Shyster” “The Pretend Friend” “Phil the Very Very Deluded Dill” “Ankles” and the rest of the scum bags involved in Wirral “Funny” Bizz Big ISUS and Working Neighbourhoods cover up.

    A very very nervous Xmas and probably an unprosperous 2016.

    I have been reading with glee this morning some correspondence between “Highbrow” and the Eagle Lady and “Highbrow” and a very very anxious insolvency company who is trying unsuccessfully to use Wirral Clowncil slippery tactics.

    I am also cheered My Lordly by the fact missives will be sent to more members of parliament with an interest and creditors such as Inland Revenue.

    Can you tell me My L how does £80,000.00 plus worth of assets go missing leaving just enough to pay the insolvency fees without that AdderleyDadderlyDooLally magic he talks of braggingly to me like the one in the ugh boots.

    My L the big fat lazy welsh sloth, sorry little fat lazy welsh sloth, that is “the Pretend Friend” would say “Highbrow” writing to the bird that is like a vulture, the insolvency head bods and members of parliament with an interest is …one of his favourite excuses you have to follow due process boyo.

    The welsh goat that should be retired would also say there is no point picking the teeth and/or eyes out of a corpse…….oh yes there is Adriana.

    Ooroo

    James

    Much love and best wishes for the festive season to you and yours at Leaky Towers.

    XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

    Wonder if Fartin Lobsterpot has kept his job after helping Uncle Joe dispose of the cretin that is “Phil the Very Very Deluded Dill”?

    Keep up the great work in 2016.

  4. Happy new year to all the commentators. For the lady who does not like my piece: I have been a YMCA room sponsor and Trussell Trust supporter for several years…and the Salvation Army for much longer. On Christmas Eve I delivered a box of food to the CT Mission in Birkenhead and offered to help but, thank God, they had many helpers on tap. What were you doing on Christmas Eve Emma? I will go back again. Let’s get it clear: volunteers in the charity sector are the salt of the earth BUT politicians who use the poor and vulnerable to promote ideological and political agendas are beneath contempt and should burn in hell: E.G. Cameron’s Christmas message about ‘Christian values’…no mention of his benefit cuts and bed room taxes and failing mental health services.

    I would personally like to do more but I am rather busy looking after my learning disabled son and stroke disabled wife.
    The Professor

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s