Posts Tagged ‘Grantham’

What A Surprise! Anti-NHS Thinktank Funded by Tobacco and Fast Food Industries

May 18, 2019

One of the fascinating articles Mike put up yesterday was about an article in the British Medical Journal that reported that Institute of Economic Affairs, a right-wing think tank that funds the Tories and which demands the privatisation of the NHS, is funded by all the industries that actively damage people’s health: tobacco, gambling, alcohol, sugar and fast food. One of the major donors to this secretive think tank is British-American Tobacco. The report noted that the IEA had attacked campaigns against smoking, drinking and the obesity academic, and raised concerns that a future leader of the Tories would side with these industries against the interests of the British people.

Well, as Bill Hicks used to say ironically, ‘Colour me surprised!’

I don’t wish to sneer at the doctors and medical professionals behind this article, and am absolutely fully behind its publication. But I’m not remotely surprised. It’s almost to be expected that a think tank that demands absolute privatisation and deregulation in the interests of complete free trade, should be funded by those industries, which have the most to lose from government regulation. And in the case of the Tories, that has always included tobacco, alcohol and gambling. Way back in the early ’90s under John Major, when Brits were just beginning to get into the habit of binge drinking and the government was considering allowing pubs and nightclubs all day licences, there were concerns about the damaging effects of alcohol. People were demanding greater regulation of the drinks industry. But this was being blocked by the Tories, because so many Tory MPs has links to these companies. This was so marked that Private Eye actually published the names of these MPs, and the positions they held in various drinks companies.

As for gambling, the Labour government after the War tried to crack down on this, but it was the Tories under MacMillan, who legalised the betting shops. Later on, Tony Blair, taking his ideas from them, had plans to expand the British gambling industry further with the opening of ‘super-casinos’, one of which was to be in Blackpool, I believe. But fortunately that never got off the ground. Unfortunately, there has been a massive rise in gambling addiction, despite all the warnings on the the adverts for online casinos.

The Tories have also had a long relationship too with the tobacco industry, resisting calls for bans on tobacco advertising. Private Eye also reported how, after Major lost the election to Blair, former Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke then got a job with British-American Tobacco. As did, I believe, Saint Maggie of Grantham herself. BAT was employing him to open up markets in the former Soviet central Asian republics. The Eye duly satirised him as ‘BATman’, driving around in a car shaped like a giant cigarette, shoving ciggies into people’s, mostly children’s, mouths.

The Institute of Economic Affairs is a particularly nasty outfit that’s been around since the mid-70s. For a long time, I think it was the only think tank of its type pushing extreme free market ideas. A couple of years ago I found a tranche of their booklets in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham. One was on how the state couldn’t manage industry. This looked at four examples of state industrial projects, which it claimed were incompetently run and a waste of money. One was the Anglo-French supersonic airliner, Concorde. The booklet had a point, as many of the industries they pointed to, like British Leyland, were failing badly. Concorde when it started out was a massive white elephant. It was hugely expensive and for some time there were no orders for it. But now it is celebrate as a major aerospace achievement. While the British aircraft industry has decline, the French used the opportunities and expertise they developed on the project to expand their own aerospace industry.

Looking at the booklet, it struck me how selective these examples were. Just four, out of the many other nationalised industries that existed at the time. And I doubt the pamphlet has worn well with age. Ha Joon Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism and John Quiggin’s Zombie Economics have very effectively demolished their shoddy and shopworn free market capitalism, and shown how, rather than encouraging industry and prosperity, it has effectively ruined them. Read these books, and you’ll see just why we need Corbyn, whatever the champions of free market capitalism scream to the contrary.

Oh yes, and ladies, particularly, be warned. This is an anti-feminist organisation. Mike mentions in his article that it has a spokeswoman, Kate Andrews, who turns up regularly on Question Time to push for the privatisation of the NHS. Or rather, its reform, as they don’t want to alarm the populace by being too open about what they want to do. Despite this feminine face, this is an organisation that has very traditional views about gender roles. One of the pamphlets I found had the jaunty title Liberating Women – From Feminism. The booklet was written by women, and I know that some women would prefer to be able to stay home and raise their children rather than go to work. And that’s fine if it’s their choice. But this outfit would like to stop women having a choice. Rather than enabling women, who choose to stay home, to do so, they would actively like to discourage women from pursuing careers.

The IEA really is a grubby organisation, and the sooner it’s discredited everywhere, the better. Like the Tories.

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Health Provision before the NHS

February 16, 2016

I’ve been having a debate here with a critic, who objected to my description of Nye Bevan as the architect of the NHS. His contention appears to be that there was no private healthcare in Britain even before the establishment of the NHS, and that no-one really suffered through the charges that were made for some essentially services, as the poor were already treated free of charge on the Poor Law. I’ve made it very plain to this critic that I believe he has a very rosy view of healthcare before the NHS.

My mother was told by one of her friends, a staunch Tory, that her father was a pharmacist, who also voted Tory. However, at the 1945 election, he called his family together to say that he was voting Labour, because the NHS was needed. He was tired of having to supply drugs on credit, because the working class sick could not pay.

Florence too has bad memories of the state of health provision before the NHS. In her comment to this critic’s reply to my rebuttal of his original comments, she wrote:

I must have missed the response Billellson. I wonder where he has taken his information from, because it does not match my own family experience, whatever the social historians say. Maybe both sides of my family were “unlucky” to have lived in areas where the cover was non-existent.

All I know is that one of my fathers’ brothers was taken ill, aged 7 in the 1920’s, and the family could not afford a doctor, but by the time they realised how ill he was, his appendix had already burst. I think he was taken into a charitable (church?) hospital, but it took nearly a week for him to die horribly in agony from peritonitis. They never got over the loss of a child, especially when they also had a lot of guilt about delaying because of “the cost of the doctor”.

My mother’s family at the same time, were members of the “Saturday Club” where each family paid 6d a week (on Saturday) which paid for a doctor to visit. My mother was struck down with rheumatic fever, and the dr went to her home and diagnosed it, again, she must have been 7, so that was the 1930′ s. They couldn’t afford hospital care, so she was nursed at home by her mother & neighbours for over 6 month, while she was rigid and paralysed.

These were the experiences of the working class before the NHS, and like Harry Price, I can say that the experience haunted both families. I can see the gleam in the eyes of the vultures circling the NHS, and I fear for those who do not have this direct link to the pre-NHS days, knowing that 20 million in the UK already live in poverty, and that a pay per visit system would be intolerable in the 6th richest country, with a health service with funding that is a model that was held up to other countries to follow. However that was the preferred system for both Letwin and Hunt in their publications calling for the end of the NHS 20 years apart, so it seems there has long been continuity and ambition to effectively remove the universal system from the poor. So when the effects of long term hunger and poverty take hold, there will be little between any of us and that early grave, except the ability to pay with money you don’t have.

One final point,(despite the length of this reply, sorry) that Billelleson stated “but nobody was expected to sell their house.”. That was for me the one item that gave his words a hollow ring. Nobody in the working class actually owned their houses. To pay even the Dr’s fee they would have to sell an item of furniture or clothing, or pawn a wedding ring. There were no heirlooms, after all, my great grand-dad died in the workhouse!

Pat Young also describes the horrendous provision of healthcare before the establishment of the NHS in her book Mastering Social Care, published by MacMillan in 1992. She writes

There were some state-provided services prior to 1948. For example, public health, in the form of water and sewage systems, was provided under the Public Health Act of 1848. Services for pregnant women and young children were introduced at the beginning of this century. From 1911, employment-linked insurance provided cover for doctors’ services for people in work. Local authorities ran poor law infirmaries, public hospitals and mental hospitals. Hospitals were also provided by charitable organisations.

However, there was great variations in the standards of care provided by these services, and considerable stigma attached to much of the provision. The insurance system only covered the person in employment and did not extend to the families of workers. The following quotations based on accounts of people living in Sheffield give some indication of the quality of life in the period before 1948.

[In] Attercliffe in Sheffield’s East End which housed the heavy industry of the Don Valley and the workforce which operated it – bronchitis was a way of life. People expected to live with it, suffer from it and eventually die from it, with only their weekly bottle of medicine for relief.

Two women describe their memories as follows:

Bills from general practitioners were always hard to meet … Kay remembered especially a doctor in the Crookesmoor dstrict of Sheffield who employed a debt collector… The effects were particularly severe for working-class women, who due to a policy of not employing married women in Sheffield always tended to fall outside the insurance scheme. ‘Mother never had the doctor.’ ‘You just didn’t go to the doctor until you were on your last legs.’ Kay recalled how her own mother hadn’t gone to the doctor even though she was in bed with asthma. And Jessie likewise how her mother continued to suffer with high blood pressure, even though she knew that tablets were available which could have helped to lessen her condition.

Looking at health from the other side, the extracts below are from a doctor who worked as a GP before the beginning of the National Health Service.
Dr Arnold Elliot remembers

I ran my practice from a small house in Ilford, but most surgeries were lock-up shops in industrial areas. On the whole, most of them were awful, with no running water, heat, lighting or toilets, some with no couches.

I knew one East end doctor who had a cigarette machine in his waiting room. Many doctors had two doors; one for ‘panel’ patients (the insured workers) and one for private patients, who weren’t kept waiting.

Doctors didn’t speak to each other, because they were deadly enemies. They went in for head-hunting the breadwinning panel patient, who would often bring in the rest of his family.

Various private arrangements were set up for his dependants – so-called ‘clubs’-where they paid a small amount a week for a doctor and medicine. For the destitute, there were dispensaries, which engaged the services of a doctor for a small annual payment … Doctors used to dispense their own medicines too. The pharmaceutical firms came round and filled up the big ‘Winchester’ bottles every week. Many of the medicines were placebos; aspirin, for instance, which was available in a red or yellow mixture. You had to give the same colour to a patient every week, and sometimes there’d be trouble when you had a locum in and he gave out the wrong one. It sounds immoral, but that was trade.

From another perspective, Sir George Godber was involved in setting up the National Health Service. In 1942, before the NHS, he surveyed hospitals in Britain. He tells what his survey found.

You must remember hospitals in those days were very different from today. An isolation hospital might only have five beds. There was a hospital for scarlet fever in the Prime Minister’s (Margaret Thatcher’s) home town of Grantham that was housed in a wooden hut on the top of a hill without sewers or water – the water was delivered by cart once a week. The system in 1942 was incapable of delivering modern medicine. There were dilapidated buildings, insanitary conditions on the wards, inadequate space for radiology and laboratory services.

There were casual wards were tramps stayed overnight and even more depressing house wards where elderly residential patients waited to die in the most uncivilised conditions – the night spent in narrow and dark dormitories of 20 to 30 beds and the daytime sitting on hard benches in a different room looking at their feet.

(pp. 255-8)

This to my mind comprehensively disproves the somewhat rosy view that there was, nevertheless, good healthcare provision before the NHS. I therefore consider the subject closed to discussion.

Vox Political on Tory Outcry against RMT Chief for Stating They Should Be Killed for Murdering the Poor

February 3, 2016

Mike has this story over at Vox Political surrounding the outcry the Tories have raised against the comments by the senior assistant general secretary of RMT, Steve Hedley, on a debate on LBC hosted by Shelagh Fogarty: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/03/rmt-chiefs-demand-for-execution-of-tories-for-murdering-sparks-anger-against-him/. Hedley was justifiably outraged by the number of disabled people, who have died due to their welfare cuts. He declared the Tories were murdering them, and that for this they should be taken out and shot.

Mike makes the point that the ensuing outcry is the reason he won’t allow similar demands or recommendations of violence against the Tories on his blog, for the reason that the Tories would use it to drown out the main message – that their wretched welfare reforms are killing the disabled – and use it as an excuse to attack it.

He’s right. When faced with any really tough rhetoric, the Tories immediately claim victimhood and whine, bitch and moan. In their minds, they represent dignified civil discourse against the slovenly manners, fecklessness and hooliganism of the Great Unwashed. And they are always, always unjustly maligned by thuggish opponents. Even when the reverse is true. And their welfare benefits are killing people, and reducing those in genuine need to utter poverty. Mike on Vox Political, Stilloaks, Jayne Linney and other disability bloggers have catalogued the various deaths that have resulted.

I actually wonder how the Tories would react if they were faced with really forthright criticism. Such as, for example, from the pen of Hunter S. Thompson, the journalist and author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Thompson was the inventor of Gonzo journalism, and didn’t mince his words when it came to describing those politicos that aroused his hate and disgust. In his piece on Richard Nixon, he described the former president as ‘so crooked he had screw his pants on in the morning’. He also said that instead of giving him a land burial, they should have buried him at sea, or flushed him into the sewers with the other turds.

And the bile didn’t stop with the Watergate conspirators. He also expressed his utter contempt and loathing of the Oliver North, Pat Buchanan, Admiral Poindexter and the others in the Reagan administration responsible for the Iran/Contra affair. One of them was described as being ‘so crooked it took three Whitehouse aids to screw him into his pants’. He thought they should be shut in a bamboo cage to be poked with sharp sticks, and flogged all the way along Route 66. As for Ed Meese, Reagan’s equally crooked attorney general, he said that he should have been hung upside down from a lamp post.

Maggie Thatcher also disgusted him. In a piece he published, replying to a letter from his illustrator, Ralph Steadman, he called Thatcher a ‘denatured hog’, and said that Steadman’s delinquent son was quite right to smash windows. Any young person who didn’t want to smash windows in Thatcher’s Britain was probably brain-dead.

This is strong language indeed, especially in the American press, which is now very cautious and respectful. In Britain it would result in paroxysms of Tory fury, as any criticism, no matter how small, of the Blessed St Margaret of Grantham is regarded as the vilest blasphemy. The Conservatives – traditionally the party of the Anglican establishment – have no scruples about attacking the Archbishop of Canterbury, or indeed any other clergyman or woman, if they dare to speak out on their dreadful welfare policies. But the sanctity of Maggie Thatcher, the patron saint of monetarism and South American dictators, must be defended with all their might.

Mike’s quite right to be worried that comments urging violence would give them ammunition to ignore and distort what’s actually said on his blog. Their past masters at that. Hedley’s statement that they should be shot gave them all the material they needed to distort the debate. But they are monstrous thugs, whose policies are killing tens of thousands of people, and who can’t stand the kind of criticism their atrocities deserve.

Guy Debord’s Cat on the Tory Party Conference

October 7, 2015

Buddyhell over at Guy Debord’s Cat, has some very pertinent observations on the Tory party conference, beginning with their complete absence of democracy, their ranting smears against Jeremy Corbyn and the Left, Cameron’s recruitment of Blairite Andrew Adonis, and particularly journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer’s outrage at people spitting and throwing eggs at the Tories attending the conference. The Cat’s article begins

If anyone was ever in any doubt as to the Tories’ loathing of democracy, then they need look no further than this latest conference or, indeed, previous conferences. Speaker after speaker mounted the platform to address the conference, all of whom either syruped praise on their leadership or smeared their opponents. Policies are never openly debated or voted upon at Tory Party conferences. The unspoken dictum is, as ever, “we speak and you will listen”. The Conservative Party’s members have little or no say in how their party operates or how policies are decided. It is, for all intents and purposes, a dictatorship. Is it any wonder why Tory governments act to crush democracy in this country when there is so little of it within their own party?

This conference also showed us how far into themselves the Tories have retreated since Jeremy Corbyn’s election to the Labour Party leadership, and the hundreds of thousands who have joined the party since his victory. In contrast, the Conservatives are estimated to have less than 100,000 ageing members. So watching the Tory Party conference was, for me at least, a little like witnessing the last days of the Roman Empire. Degenerate and decadent, they can only look inward and indulge themselves in a little mutual masturbation for a bit of comfort. Indeed, it could be said that the security barrier surrounding the conference centre was the physical manifestation of their bunker mentality.

This is exactly right, and it’s been well-known for decades. I can remember being told about it by members of the Socialist Society back at College. They were outraged at the way the Tories under Thatcher were making much of the division in the Labour ranks over the Militant Tendency, and contrasting it with the supposed tranquil orderliness of their own party. In fact, the Tory party has never been a democracy, and given its history, this should come as no surprise whatsoever. The Tories started out as the party of the Anglican aristocracy. The Anglican Church has since clashed with the Tories several times on important social issues. I can remember Norman Tebbit’s frothing outrage when the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, dared criticised St. Maggie of Grantham on her contempt for the poor. However, the aristocratic attitude of patrician leadership over the masses continues. The major decisions are always made in private behind closed doors. The Cat notes that the Tories are now down to a bare 100,000 members – coincidentally – or not – the numbers the Italian Fascist and Nazi party in Germany claimed they would limit the membership of their parties to in order to make them truly elitist. Part of the reason the Tory party has shrunk so massively is that the rank and file members feel that they are being shoved aside and ignored in favour of rich donors and the party leadership.

Then there’s the little matter of Cameron’s tirade against Corbyn. Corbyn has stated that he wants a united Ireland. This, apparently, is the basis for Cameron’s denunciation of him as ‘friend of terrorists’. This looks very much like a piece of grossly malicious slander.

A lot of people in the Labour party want a united Ireland. One of the reasons for this is that a lot of Labour party members are themselves, or are descended from, working class Irish Roman Catholics. Clare Short was one of these. I can remember an interview with her on Radio 4, in which she talked about her Irish working class roots, and how she had made pilgrimages to the sites deep in the Irish countryside where her descendants were forced to worship secretly when the Roman Catholic church was banned by the British. Short was a very controversial figure, notably for her campaign to ban page 3 of the Sun. She was not, however, to my knowledge a supporter of terrorism. Neither is Corbyn.

Cameron here is trying to use one of the major lies Thatcher used against the Labour party in the 1980s. Some sections of the Labour party aroused extreme controversy for supporting Irish Republicans, including talking to Sinn Fein. Thatcher, by contrast, portrayed herself as resolutely defying the terrorists with her usual posturing of Churchillian patriotism.

It was all a lie.

All the time she was declaring her firmness of resolve never to give in Irish Nationalist terrorists, she was in peace negotiations with them. In fact, the Tories had tried to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the Troubles under Ted Heath, but that collapsed due to the obstinate refusals of the Unionists. And when a peaceful settlement was eventually found, the impetus for it was not the shocking violence and loss of life created by terrorist atrocity after terrorist atrocity from the paramilitaries on both sides of religio-political divide. No, it was purely monetary. It was when the IRA bombed Canary Wharf. Suddenly realising that the IRA could wreck the multi-billion pound financial hub of the City of London, Thatcher and Major finally decided to stop pretending military force was the only solution and talk to the Republicans.

Let’s get this straight: for all the Tories maudlin rhetoric about the victims of the IRA, what they really cared about, what really frightened them, was the IRA might force the bankers and financiers out of the capital, thus dealing a severe blow to the financial sector that they favour so strongly. Human lives don’t count. Elite money does.

As for supporting terrorists, this is another piece of massive hypocrisy. The Cat has already published numerous pieces about the connections between the Ulster Unionist parties and the various Loyalist paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland. Moreover, there is considerable evidence that the British secret state heavily supported the Loyalist paramilitaries, using them to gather intelligence and act as death squads against leading Republicans.

As for spitting on and throwing eggs at politicians, the Cat rebutted Hartley-Brewer’s argument by putting up footage of Edward Heath having eggs thrown at him. There was a flurry of it in the 1980s under Thatcher, mostly directed against Keith Joseph. So much so that it became a joke in the spoof Dear Bill diaries published in Private Eye. As for it being only a feature of the Left, well, not quite. Some of us can still remember the incident when John Prescott punched a young Welsh farmer. The lad had thrown an egg at him, and Prescott responded with his fists. A thuggish, but perfectly understandable reaction.

So, as the Cat’s article shows, the Tory Conference shows the elitist contempt for democracy, and the revival of the kind of lies and smears used by Thatcher. It’s the politics of desperation, although you could be forgiven for thinking that the opposite was true. The Beeb was practically falling over itself yesterday about how exciting and optimistic it all was. The female newsreader on Points West, the Corporation’s regional news programme for Bristol and Somerset, even went and declared that it was ‘bubbly’. She seemed positively overjoyed.

It’s all forced. The fact that Cameron is claiming that Corbyn is a supporter of terrorism, simply because he wants a united Ireland, is proof of that. Behind the smiles is the looming spectre of despair.

The Cat’s article is entitled ‘Tory Party 2015 Conference: Some Thoughts’. Go and read it at https://buddyhell.wordpress.com/2015/10/07/tory-party-conference-2015-some-thoughts/ for an effective deconstruction of the Tories’ bile and hypocrisy.

Panorama on the Rise of Food Banks

March 5, 2014

Monday’s edition of the BBC’s investigative documentary programme, Panorama, covered the massive expansion in food banks across the UK. Filmed in Bristol and Derby, the programme’s host, Darragh McIntyre, spoke to the organisers of the food banks, including a community of Anglican nuns in Bristol, the Sisters of the Church, who provide food to over 2,28 people, the unemployed and destitute forced to use them, and Tory spokesmen defending the government’s policies, including Edwina Currie. The people filmed using food banks including a young couple living in a homeless hostel. The young woman had been referred to the food bank by the staff at her hospital, as there were complications with her pregnancy and they feared that she was not eating enough. The reported stated that many of those being fed by the nuns had drug and alcohol problems. Another Bristolian using the food banks was Steve Hudson, who, although he was unemployed, was not yet on benefit. The man had gone without food for days on end, and there was literally nothing in his fridge except a bit of ketchup and a tin of kidney beans. He had to walk the four hours to the Jobcentre because he had no money for the bus fare to get there. The programme later returned to Hudson. By this time he had got a job, but it hadn’t worked out and he was back on the dole. He was again forced to use food banks as most of his dole money went to paying off the utility and debts. They also spoke to the head of the East Bristol Food Bank, Andy Irwin, which was run in partnership with the Trussell Trust. Three years ago the Trussell Trust had only 50 food banks across the UK. Now they have more than 300. The programme state that the food banks in Bristol feed about 8,000 people. The Trust claims that they supply food to hundreds of thousands of people across Britain, and that since 2012 demand has tripled.

Food Banks Created Through Poverty, Not Scrounging

The programme also reported the Tories claim that the existence of the food banks was responsible for the increasing numbers of people using them. They showed a clip of Ian Duncan Smith in parliament, reading out a statement from a member of staff at the Oxford Food Bank, stating that although food banks do a good job, the people using them were often those, who had asked members of the various welfare agencies, such as their social workers, to refer them. This claim was rebutted by Chris Mould, the chairman of the Trussell Trust, who stated that it was ridiculous as it suggested that the 18,000 members of the various agencies, that had signed referrals for the food banks, were somehow in collusion to rip the system off.

Anglican Bishops Condemn Rise of Food Banks and Government Policy

The programme also talked to one of the 27 Anglican bishops, who had written a letter roundly condemning the rise of poverty and hunger in Britain. This was after they had interviewed David Burrowes MP, the chairman of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, who claimed that the bishops were exaggerating the problem. He stated that although they had the right to address their concerns, they did it in the wrong way and so had been used as ‘pawns in a wider political agenda’. This was rebutted by the bishop of Manchester, David Walker, who said that it was ridiculous that they were being used as part of anyone’s agenda. He quoted Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said that there comes a time when, having fished enough people out of the river, you go up river to see why they’re falling in. And this, said the good bishop, inevitably draws you into politics.

Founder of Bristol Food Bank and Prof Elizabeth Dowler also State Food Banks due to Poverty

They also spoke to Mark Wing, an evangelical Christian, who runs the Matthew Tree in Bristol. This is the seventh food bank he’d opened in the city. When he was asked if Bristol needed seven food banks, he replied that it absolutely was. Wing aims not only to feed people, but also to reform their lives, and so those using the food bank are expected to show their bank accounts. They also interviewed Professor Elizabeth Dowler, the author of the government’s report Household Food Security in the UK. She too rebutted the claims that the explosion in the number of food banks was due to the number of people using them. She stated that it was simply because there were many more people in need. She pointed to the rise in food prices coupled with wages remaining the same or falling as a reason for the increasing numbers of people forced to use them.

Derbyshire County Council Funding Food Banks, Criticised by Edwina Currie

The programme mentioned the government’s view that the best way out of poverty was through work, and their statement that unemployment was falling. However, the programme pointed out that official figures show that 9.8 million people were living in relative poverty, that is, they had an income below 60 per cent of the British average. They also spoke to Julie Hirst, the Public Health Specialist on Derbyshire County Council. Previously the council had been concerned about healthy eating. Now they were worried about ‘food poverty’ – that people were not eating at all. As a result the county was investing £126,000 pound for its public health budget into food banks. They then invited one of the critics of food banks, Edwina Currie, to one run by a church pastor, Christian Thorpe, who church feeds 60 people a week. Currie was polite, but made her disapproval of the whole affair very clear. Shown the stores of food at the bank, she immediately picked at some of the items, asking whether they should really be giving food like it to the hungry. She objected to food banks, because they weren’t teaching people to live within their means, plan for a rainy day and not get into debt. Pastor Thorpe stated that they were indeed working with other agencies to teach people responsibility. Currie then stated that she felt food banks were ‘a bit of a trap’, and said that there wasn’t a need for food banks. She said that there should be more help for people with problems, but said that she didn’t believe there was food poverty. It was all due to people making the wrong choices. People, according to Currie, were not making the right, responsible choice because they knew they could get free food. Back in Bristol, Andy Irwin rebutted Currie’s remarks. 23 per cent of the people they saw, the largest single group of users, were people who had problems with their benefit, such as it being stopped. This was confirmed by the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. The government, however, denied that there was any link between their reforms and the increasing numbers of people forced to look for free food. They repeated the line that their reforms were encouraging the unemployed to find work.

People Forced to Use Food Banks Through Sanctions

The programme also spoke to Ian Hoswell, a man who had been sanctioned by the Jobcentre and had his benefit stopped for three months after he missed three interviews. McIntyre reported that for breaking the rules, you could have your benefit stopped for the minimum of a month to the maximum of three years. He also reported that the DWP had said that the conditions were made clear to claimants, and that they could apply for hardship payments and loans. Hoswell had applied for a hardship loan, but as you don’t get this for a fortnight, he had been forced to sell his CDs in order to eat. He was forced to go to the Matthew Tree for food because the £46 odd hardship payment left very little left over after he had paid his bills and also bought cigarettes. An increasing number of people are in Hoswell’s position. The programme cited government statistics that last year 875,000 people were sanctioned. They interviewed the founder of the Matthew Tree, Mark Goodway, who said that the people they saw were those who had no money. He felt that, while it could be debated whether the sanctioned claimants should have the money, they shouldn’t be starved while this was done. Back in London, Burrowes admitted that he realised that people went to food banks because they had no money, and that for many it was because they had been sanctioned, but the government was working to supply local authorities with funds for hardship payments.

McIntyre reported the ‘shocking statistic’ that in 11 months, over 133,000 sanctions had been overturned on appeal. This was almost 400 every day. It can, however, take weeks to overturn the DWP’s decision, during which time the sanctioned claimants were left with little or no money. He spoke to Dr David Webster, of Glasgow University, who has investigated and strongly criticised the immense number of people sanctioned by the government. He stated that there would be many more sanctions overturned if more people appealed. He also stated that part of the problem was the bureaucratic procedure, which people had to negotiate to overturn their sanctions, during which time they had little or no money. He stated baldly that people who started poor, would be driven into complete destitution. He talked to Susan Harkins, a woman with a partner and two young children. They had been forced onto benefit after her husband became to ill to do his job, and she lost hers. They were wrongly sanctioned, and placed on a low income of about £63 a week due to a clerical error. She stated that this meant that she and her husband had gone for days at a time in order to feed their children. They eventually managed to get the sanctioned overturned, but by that time they had been on an extremely low income for three months. She stated that her in opinion, such sanctions were simply a way for the government to save money.

Government Sanction Targets

In support of this statement, McIntyre showed the wall chart showing savings from sanctions, that was on display at a Jobcentre in Grantham last year. According to this, one three-month sanction would save £932. They spoke to Charles Law, of the Public and Commercial Services Union. Law stated that the government tells their members that there wasn’t a target, but then expects them to do the same as a cluster of other job centres over a week or month. He stated what was obvious: this was a target.

Needless to say, this was denied by the government, who said that the wall chart was only an isolated incident, which did not reflect policy, and that there were no targets for sanctions. Most of the decisions were correct, and the appeals process was an important part of the systems safeguards.

Part-Time Workers also Using Food Banks

McIntyre also reported that it wasn’t just the unemployed, who were forced to use food banks. He spoke to another Bristolian, Lisa Hall, who lived in one of the city’s suburbs. She worked in McDonalds, and had been forced to go to a food bank after going for days without food. Although she took home £900 a month, she was left with only a tenner a week after paying bills and debts. Her children had left home, and so with two empty bedrooms she had been hit by the government’s ‘bedroom tax’. They asked her the obvious question: why didn’t she move. She replied strongly that she didn’t want to, and explained at length that it was her home. She had managed to get another job, delivering pizzas, that kept her working sometimes till four in the morning. This meant she was earning enough not to need the food bank.

Food Banks funded by One Third of All Councils

McIntyre reported the government’s statement that food banks were not part of the welfare system. The lines were, however, increasingly blurred. In IDS’ own constituency of Chingford in London, the two councils which comprised it were spending £70,000 a year on food banks. The film-makers had contacted every council in the country, and 140 of them – a third – had confirmed that they were funding food banks. In the last two years, £2.9 million had been devoted to combating food poverty in the UK.

The Government’s Statement on Food Banks, but No Interview Given

The Trussell Trust’s Chris Mould stated that the concerns that food banks were becoming a part of the welfare state were valid, and that they should be tackled by politicians. Elizabeth Dowler of Warwick University declared that they were ‘an inadequate plaster over a gaping wound’ and the fact that they were being presented as a solution was ‘deeply immoral’. McIntyre said that they had tried to get someone from the cabinet to talk about their investigation into food banks, and had been shunted from pillar to post. The Department for Work and Pensions referred them to the Cabinet Office, and the Cabinet Office referred them back to the DWP. They were then referred back to the Prime Minister’s own press team at 10 Downing Street. They were not, however, given an interview. The government simply issued a statement that local authorities were now responsible for giving emergency help, and that they were being given additional funding to pay for it. It was giving help to families with the cost of living, and that thanks to its reforms three million households would be better off.

Do We Want People to Have to Survive on Food Hand-Outs?

The programme ended with Bishop David Walker saying that a clear statement from the government was needed whether or not food banks were part of the system, and if they were, how they could be improved. They reported some good news with the people they had interviewed using the food banks. Steve Hudson had now found work at a bar in Bristol’s city centre, while Lisa now had a full time job with B&Q. McIntyre ended with the statement that there was no doubt food banks are here to stay, and that they have helped very many people. He then asked the question, ‘Do we want to live in a society where people survive on food hand outs?’

Here’s the video

It can also be seen on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKVPwdNVb4s. The video is on a channel by someone called Theworkprogramme, who has posted a number of other documentaries and excerpts also tackling poverty in contemporary Britain.

It was a very, very good documentary, and did show the immense hardship experience by people due to the government’s welfare reforms. For that reason, I expect that it has already attracted the ire of the Tory faithful, who believe that the Beeb is composed entirely of liberals, Leftists and Commies dedicated to destroying British values. I do have some criticisms, however.

Firstly, I don’t trust the government statistics showing that unemployment is falling. Mike’s devoted a lot of time on his blog, as have a number of other Left-wingers on theirs, showing that these figures are the result of manipulation and falsification. The government’s figures only deal with those, who have been unemployed for under a year and are on a particular type of benefit. Those, who have been unemployed for longer and placed on the Work Programme are not counted as unemployed.

Then there’s the government’s statement that hardship payments are available for those, who have been sanctioned. This is another falsehood. While it may have been true when the documentary was made, the hardship payments are now being withdrawn. See Johnny Void’s pieces on this. Moreover, they were another benefit, about which claimants were not told by the Jobcentre staff.

As for help being available for families, this is being cut all the time. Mike and the other blogger have also extensively demolished the government’s claims that their reforms will make three million people better off. The fact that no-one from the government wanted to be interviewed seems to demonstrate that the government knows this is a lie, and really don’t want to have to face any intensive questioning on this issue.

As for the question of whether we want a society where people have to survive on food hand-outs, my guess is that the government does. The unemployed in several American states are given food stamps, rather than a welfare cheque, and it seems to me that food banks are being used in the same way here. It’s a way of punishing and humiliating the poor for their own poverty, exactly as it was intended to be.

As you might expect, I was also resoundingly unimpressed by Edwina Currie. She clearly was there simply to parrot the government’s line that poverty was all due to people’s own wrong choices. This is the attitude of the American Conservatives towards the grinding poverty that exists in the land of the free. One of the contributors to Lobster in one of its articles mentioned how it never ceases to amaze him about the way American deluded themselves about the cause of poverty there. He had been in a commercial conference in one of the American cities. During the conference, there was a report on the local news that 50,000 local citizens were homeless. When he asked one of the American attending the conference about how that could possibly occur, he was blandly told that they had all chosen to be homeless. Her comments also showed the strong influence of social Darwinism and 19th century notions of the deserving and undeserving poor, as well as a doctrinaire adherence to the party line that there was no link between the government’s reforms and poverty. It was also evident from the outset that she was not going to give the food bank a fair hearing by the way she picked around some of the articles and pointedly asked whether the bank should be giving such foods – like biscuits – to the poor and starving.

But then, my impression is that for all her Oxbridge education, Edwina has never been the sharpest knife in the kitchen cabinet. I’ve mentioned before how she looked bewildered when she was booed on Clive Anderson’s show on Channel 4 after making sharp comments about pensioners This was along the lines of ‘that’ll teach them to wrap up’, after he had asked her about her remark when in government telling them to wrap up warm when Major’s administration cut the cold weather payment for the elderly. She also made the mistake of locking horns with Ian Hislop a decade or so ago on Have I Got News For You. She was talking about how she had one a court case against someone for libel. She turned on the editor of Lord Gnome’s much-sued organ, and said, ‘Aren’t you glad I didn’t sue you?’ To this Hislop replied, ‘Aren’t you glad, my dear.’ I will give her some credit, however. Unlike IDS, Cameron, McVey or anyone else from the government, she did actually turn up and speak on camera. The others just seem to have hidden in the cabinet office and issued a press release in the hope it would all go away.

Unfortunately, it won’t. The poverty and starvation the government is wilfully creating is here to stay, and as long as it does, it should be criticised and challenged, along with the government, whose punitive cruelty creates it.