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

 

Blonde Ambition

1a_Esther McVey painting a door (1)

Following our last Election Special featuring Wirral’s veteran political Svengali Frankenfield and in the interest of political balance Wirral Leaks will this week feature Wirral West MP Ms Esther McVey ( aka McVague,McVile etc;) – who is very much the cheese(cake) to his chalk.

Let’s face it we’d be wasting our time profiling Wallasey MP Angela The Eagle (Hasn’t Landed on Wirral) and Wirral South MP Alison McGormless.They are to the local political scene what Her Ladyship is to rugby league.

For example McGormless – clearly desperate for some pre-election press coverage – recently joined a hapless postman on his round to see what he does…and she found out he posts letters …..and er,sometimes delivers parcels.
McGormless was able to reassure us that during this selfless fact-finding mission the weather was “quite good”. Phew!……the parents and carers of Lyndale School currently facing closure and which sits in her constituency will sleep well tonight knowing their MP has avoided getting wetter than she already is during the course of a puerile PR stunt.

SEE HERE

The difference in profiling the fragrant Ms.McVague is that we are not in a position to deconstruct her personal political ideology which is set out in a series of publications – all we can draw upon is : “If Chloe Can …” her seminal feminist work or “career recipe book”/”bookazine” as she likes to call it .

Put it this way – Simone De Beauvoir it ain’t.

The message of the “bookazine” (that’s a neologism we hope doesn’t make the Oxford English Dictionary) is of course simple and direct: “If Chloe Can….” you can too! Flicking through this literary masterpiece this basically means you can grow up to be another ” Duffy” – remember her? – just follow your dreams,reach for the stars or alternatively face benefit sanctions. SEE HERE

The Esther Bunny

The Esther Bunny

And if Ms McVague isn’t the living embodiment of this credo then we don’t know who is…… however she appears to us to represent what happens when limited talent meets limitless ambition. Where the X-Factor meets welfare reform.

Witness the toe-curling disregard of accepted protocol as she announces on the cutting edge political arena that is the TV programme “Loose Women” that she harbours the ambition to be Prime Minister.  Good luck with that one Esther – but we think that as an ex-TV presenter you’re destined to be forever associated with the showbizzy ,shouty end of politics (or should that be screechy end of politics) – an Anne Widdecombe in waiting – an end of the pier politician – an Edwina Currie who’s cashed her chips. Rather than dream of being PM we think you should follow your destiny ……. straight to reality TV – which is where you will find your natural metier – a new career being voted out rather than being voted in.

EstherChester

Having said all that McVague does seem to have a particular knack of annoying people – recently having been variously described by fellow politicians as “Hard Hearted Hannah” and as a “Washing Machine” (the latter by Speaker of the House John Bercow – who clearly thinks that McVague is more irritating than his wife Sally which I’m sure you’ll agree is quite an achievement ) .

Indeed as her Wirral West constituency has been identified as a target seat by Labour at the next General Election McVague has been under particular fire lately with visits from heavyweights (that’ll be mainly you Tom Watson) and Harriet Harperson in her pink “Woman to Woman” van. “Dearie me…..” sighed Her Ladyship “I’ve heard of a political vehicle but this sounds like a Sapphic Love Bus”. McVague even claims that during a recent visit Labour MP John McDonnell called on West Wirral voters to ” lynch the bitch” !

SEE HERE

Can you imagine if a political opponent had called for Frankenfield to be lynched – it would need a catering size pack of smelling salts to bring him round and there’d be outraged cries about dangerous political subversives and endless articles about how it was not very nice to say rude and nasty things about such a lovely man.

Even this week there was a “Sack McVey” rally held in Hoylake or was it Heswall ? (all 14 protestors and 1 dog didn’t seem to know)

SEE HERE

SACK-ESTHER2

This demo was organised by local TUC firebrand Alec McFuckup and coincided with the release of a strongly worded song “Sack Esther McVey” which includes the touching refrain “The wicked witch of the Wirral’s had her day” .

Considering the animosity that McVague seems to engender in Labour politicians you’d think that Frankenfield would be particularly keen to have a few sly digs – but he’s curiously silent on the subject of McVague. Could it be he has a sneaking admiration for someone so closely associated with policies which he himself espoused in his magnum opus Making Welfare Work (1995). Someone in the know recently described this publication as the blueprint for Iain Duncan Smith’s destruction of the welfare state – check out the Green Paper which Field authored in 1998 if you don’t believe us.

However it seems to us that The Right (Dis)honourable McVague will hitch her rising star to any cause or any policy if it raises her profile. Who remembers that it wasn’t long after she raised the damning Independent Review about Wirral Council at Prime Ministers Questions in February 2012 where she raised concerns about overcharging and intimidation of disabled people that soon thereafter she was appointed Minister for the Disabled before swiftly being promoted to the Department of Employment to work with Duncan-Smith.

It is not known what Minister was tasked by David Cameron to look at the matters raised by McVague and what did that Minister tasked with addressing McVague’s concerns do about her plea that “those responsible be brought to account and never work in Adult Social Services ever again”.

Did McVague ever follow it up or was it just a case of making a name for herself and pleasing her political masters by having a pop at a Labour-controlled Council and then forgetting about it?

Sadly those in the know inform us that because of the redactions in the report it would have been impossible to identify the perpetrators of abuse and consequently it seems that some people who should indeed never work in social care have since gone on to manage care homes on Wirral – care homes where unsurprisingly concerns have been raised about further neglect and abuse of vulnerable people.

We would suggest that the recent spate of care home scandals that have been reported in the local press are not unrelated to the fact that certain abusers were never “brought to account”.

But hey why should that concern McVague as she continues her political ascent ?
Whether that ascent continues following the General Election we shall see – but whatever the outcome we suspect that McVague will simply pick up a copy of “If Chloe Can..” and continue her relentless pursuit of power…..