Posts Tagged ‘Poverty’

‘I’ Newspaper: Some Wages Lower than in 2008

December 14, 2018

Today’s I, for 14th December 2018, has a little piece on page 2 reporting that in some areas of the UK wages are a third lower than they were a decade ago. The article reads

Wages are still a third lower in some parts of the UK than they were a decade ago, according to the Trades Union Congress. Its research suggests that the average worker has lost 11,800 pounds in real earnings since 2008. The biggest declines were in parts of London, Surrey, North Yorkshire and North Wales.

I’m not remotely surprised. Yesterday, Mike put up a piece on his blog laughing at Dominic Raab, who had scored a massive own goal by showing how wages had fallen and still not risen to their previous level under the Tories. It was one of the best pieces of political advertising that Corbyn and Labour could have wished for. But it also raises the question of how Raab could be so stupid that he thought such statistics were something to boast about.

Raab did, because he, and by implication, much of the Tory party, are so out of touch that they know no better. Raab and the others in his wretched party are very middle and upper middle class types, usually from senior management in industry, and particularly the financial sector. All the people they meet come from that same, very narrow social group. And that group welcomes low wages because it means higher profits for them. Plus the fact that the Tories have always promoted their low wage policy since the days of Thatcher by saying that wage restraint is necessary to combat inflation.

They don’t know, and aren’t really interested in knowing people from the less elevated sections of society, who are hit hard by this policy and find it difficult to cope. And so Raab and his fellow profiteers assume that low wages are such a self-evident good, that no-one will ever object if he puts up a graph showing how they’re still low. Because no-one they know, or consider worth knowing, has ever told them otherwise.

I can remember how there was a scandal about low wages back in the early 1990s under John Major. Incomes for some had risen, but those of the poorest sections of society had fallen. The Tories’ response, as satirised in Private Eye, was that someone had to be left behind. I’ve no doubt this attitude still persists. We’ve seen Tory politicos respond more recently to complaints of increasing poverty by arguing that this has nevertheless created Britain’s strong economy (sic). Well, it’s a strong economy that benefits only the super-rich one per cent.

Raab and his cronies are a disgusting, out of touch, predatory and complacent elite. Get them out!

The Ultimate Origin of the Coalitions Punitive Attitude to the Poor: Richard M Nixon

January 22, 2014

I mentioned in an earlier post this week that I’ve been reading Anthony Marcus’ book Where Have All the Homeless Gone. It’s a fascinating book by an American anthropologist, who did his doctoral research amongst a group of 55 homeless Black American men. Much of the book is about the way the American welfare policies towards the homeless failed because of the particular ideological construction of ‘the homeless’. He notes that up until the great depression of the 1920s, studies of homelessness in America were confined to Skid Row, the poor, low rent areas of American cities populated by single room occupancy hotels, homosexuals, transvestites, prostitutes and other marginal groups. During the 1930s academic studies of homelessness expanded to include the migrant poor, forced by the Depression to move from the mid-west to California to find work, like the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath. He argues that all American studies of homelessness adopted a geographical approach to their subject. The homeless and poor occupied particular areas away from urban centres of culture. This view broke down in the 1980s, when the homeless increasingly began to appear outside their ghettos in prosperous residential and commercial areas.

The book also critiques the ‘cultures of poverty’ approach introduced by Harrington, a member of the Catholic Workers and the author of The Other America, one of the great liberal studies of poverty in the US. Marcus states that Roosevelt’s reliance on the Southern Dixiecrats for support within the Democrat party meant that Black Americans were largely excluded from the New Deal. This instead concentrated on White, unionised Americans in regular work. Harrington attempted to correct this at the beginning of the 1960s with The Other America. Part of his purpose in writing the book was to shame mainstream America with the portrait of the grinding poverty that existed in most powerful and wealthiest nation, and move their compassion into the adoption of policies that would raise them out of poverty and integrate them into mainstream America. Harrington was one of the people Lyndon Johnson appointed to his ‘poverty taskforce’ when attempting to construct the Great Society.

Marcus is critical of Harrington because Harrington’s book led to the view that his ‘Other America’ was somehow deviant from the mainstream in that it did not share its values. The book stated that the citizens of this America were without history and beyond progress. Marcus earlier discusses the division of the poor by 19th century Liberals into the categories of the ‘deserving poor’ and paupers. The deserving poor were the poor, who shared mainstream values and had simply fallen into poverty through no fault of their own. Paupers were the undeserving poor, whose poverty was their own fault through their lack of proper morals. These were poor through drunkenness, idleness, profligacy and other vices. This attitude the subsequently entered the scholarship about the ‘other America’ described by Harrington. Marcus notes that no two of the sociologists and anthropologists researching this ‘other America’ agreed on who they were, and the difference between them and mainstream America was merely assumed, rather than demonstrated. Rather than address the question of how their poverty was created by American society, these scholars were instead concerned with identifying who they were. Harrington’s idea that there was a distinct ‘culture of poverty’ was taken over by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a liberal Harvard sociologist, who adopted a Weberian approach to poverty. Moynihan became Nixon’s advisor on poverty and homelessness. Marcus states that, although Nixon launched a number of welfare initiatives aimed at erasing poverty, these were based on the idea of gradually weaning the poor off them. It was under Moynihan and Nixon that the various categories and derogatory terms for the undeserving poor developed, and punitive measures, like Food Stamps, introduced, which were intended to make the experience of welfare as humiliating as possible.

The ‘cultures of poverty’ view that people are poor, through their own fault entered British discussions of the origins of poverty and the role of the welfare state with Margaret Thatcher. It has now become a key part of the Coalitions’ own welfare policies. Many other commenters, like Jaynelinney, Johnny Void, Mike at Vox Political, and the Angry Yorkshireman, have posted about the use of psychological techniques by the notorious Nudge unit at Tory Central Office, which are intended to get the poor to blame themselves for their poverty, rather than the inequalities of a vicious and exploitative system. These bloggers, and many others, have noted the way much of the Coalitions’ policies have been inspired and guided by Social Darwinism, the survival of the economic fittest. Marcus confirms this view, as he states in a footnote to the chapter on poverty studies in America that it may be significant that as Marxism, the main ideological opponent of Social Darwinism in the 19th century, has waned, so Social Darwinism has re-emerged and grown stronger.

And so we in Britain ultimately have Richard Nixon to thank for the bullying and punitive approach to welfare adopted by Thatcher and the Coalition. Perhaps its time someone did the same to Cameron, Osborne, Clegg and particularly IDS and Esther McVey and impeached them for their high crimes and misdemeanours.

Resisting Cameron’s Contempt for Parliament: Books Giving a Historical Perspective on British Democracy and Constitution

January 17, 2014

This evening I’ve reblogged Mike’s piece over at Vox Political commenting on the Coalition’s response for parliament’s call for an inquiry into the alarming rise of poverty in the UK. Cameron has ignored it, despite the fact that it was passed by a majority of 127 to 2. Mike and the commenters to his blog have justifiably viewed this as the death of democracy, the day when parliament’s ability to the hold the government of the day to account was finally suppressed. At the moment this isn’t quite true, but it does not bode well for the future. Tony Blair’s tenure as prime minister was harshly attacked by the Conservative press for its very presidential style. The Tories particularly objected to the way Blair ignored parliament when it suited him, quite apart from his reform of the House of Lords. The Conservatives saw him as a real danger to the British constitution and our ancient liberties, and there were a number of books by right-wing authors and journalists proclaiming this very clearly on their covers. Cameron is continuing and possibly accelerating this process and the transformation of the post of prime minister into something like the American presidency, and in so doing running over the constitutional checks to the power of the prime minister.

One of Mike’s commenters has said that for people to be able to challenge this gradual accumulation of power by the prime minister, without recourse to or check by parliament, they need to be informed of how parliament actually works. I haven’t quite been able to find a book I bought a while ago on parliament. I have been able to find a number of books, which give an important historical insight into the development of democracy and the extremely long struggle for a truly representative, democratic parliament. Here are the books I recommend:

Eric J. Evans, The Forging of the Modern State: Early Industrial Britain 1783-1870
(London: Longman 1983)

Forging Modern State

This is a general history of Britain. I’ve selected it here because of its chapters on the constitutional changes which vastly increased the electorate in the 19th century. These were the Great Reform Act of 1833, and then Disraeli’s further expansion of the franchise in 1870, and the agitation and popular movements that demanded them, such as the Chartists. These show just how hard won the vote was, though it wasn’t until 1918 that every adult in Britain had the vote. The 1870 electoral reform enfranchised most, but certainly not all, working class men, and still excluded women from the franchise.

The book also describes the other major events and crises of that part of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including the establishment of something like a public educational system in Britain, the enfranchisement of religious Dissenters so that they could participate in politics, the repeal of the Corn Laws, industrialisation, the Factory Acts, and poverty. The 19th century is very much a part of political discourse today by both the Left and Right because it was the age in which modern Britain really took shape, and the debate over ‘Victorian Values’ introduced by Maggie Thatcher. Evan’s book as an overview of Britain in the period offers valuable information on that crucial period.

John Miller: The Glorious Revolution (London: Longman 1983)

Glorious Revolution

This was an other vital period in the creation of British parliamentary democracy. It was when the Roman Catholic, Stuart king, James II, was overthrown and the crown given instead to William of Orange. It is obviously an immensely controversial topic in Northern Ireland, because of the way it cemented the exclusion of the Roman Catholics from power, which was held by a very narrow, Protestant elite. Back in 1988, the year of its tricentennial, Margaret Thatcher’s government deliberately chose not to celebrate it because of its highly divisive legacy in Ulster. It’s importance to British democracy lies in the fact that it gave real power to parliament. True, Britain was still a monarchy, not a republic, but its kings and queens now ruled by the consent of parliament. Furthermore, William of Orange was forced to reassure his British subject that he would not override parliament and the traditional constitutional checks and liberties by issuing a Bill of Rights. This became one of the founding documents of the British Constitution during the 18th and early 19th century.

J.W. Allen, A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century (London: Methuen)

16th Century Politics

This was first published nearly a century ago in 1928. Nevertheless, it’s still a very useful book. The 16th century was the period when politicians, theologians and philosophers across Europe began to inquire into the origins of their countries’ constitutions, and debate the nature of political power. It was an age of absolute monarchy, when it was considered that the king had total power and whose subjects had no right to resist him. This view was attacked by both Protestant and Roman Catholic political theorists, who developed the idea of popular sovereignty. St. Augustine had introduced into Christianity the ancient Greek theory of the idea of the social contract. The theory states that right at the beginning of human society, people came together to elect a leader, who would rule in order to protect their lives and property. As well as claiming a divine right to rule, medieval kings also claimed the right to rule as the people’s representative, given power through this original contract between the primordial ruler and his people. Under theologians and philosophers like the Spanish Jesuit, Suarez, this became the basis for a true theory of national sovereignty. Just as kings owed their power to the will of the people, so the people had the right to depose those kings, who ruled tyrannically.

These are just three of the books I’ve found useful in presenting the history and development of some of the aspects of modern British theories of constitutional government and parliamentary democracy. I intend to post about a few others as well, which I hope will keep people informed about our democracy’s origins, how precious it is, and how it must be defended from those modern politicos, like Cameron, who seem intent on overthrowing it.

Another Site of Interest: Londonfoodbank

November 30, 2013

My post on the stack of cards for the Samaritans on the desk of one of the interviewing staff at the Job Centre has been reblogged on Londonfoodbank. I’m glad they liked it and thought it was worth posting at their site. Londonfoodbank is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s about a food bank in London, and the people, who are forced to use them. Naturally, these people are given pseudonyms to protect their identity. In many cases, it seems that’s all they have left after Cameron, Osborne, IDS, McVey and the whole shabby lot of them have stripped them of their income and dignity. Among the few stories I’ve been able to look at so far are those of a woman, whose income mostly goes on paying her energy bills from NPower. This lady states that she once went without food for eleven days. Another woman was forced to raise money by selling her furniture. Others have trudged miles to them through London with their voucher to collect food. Londonfoodbank have also published a post giving their comments on the supposed recovery claimed by Osborne. In short, it isn’t visible from where they stand, and they have only seen more desperate people coming through their doors.

Londonfoodbank is at ‘’. Go to it to see the real situation of the poor and starving in this country from the people at the frontline of fending off the starvation caused by Cameron’s policies.

In Memoriam for the Victims of ATOS and IDS’ DWP

November 26, 2013

This video was posted by Stilloaks in the comments to Johnny Void’s piece on the death of the Bristol woman, Jacqueline Harris. Mrs Harris had a serious back condition and lack of mobility in her wrist. she also had only partial sight. Despite this, ATOS decided after a two minute interview that she was fit for work. Her benefits were duly stopped. In despair, this lady took her own life. The question that determined her fate was ‘Did you come here by bus?’

She isn’t the only tragic victim of a cruel and malignant system. Many others have been driven to do the same, though odiously IDS will not release the true figures. This video shows some of the others, who’ve also committed suicide due to benefits cuts. These include not just those, who have suffered from ATOS, but also victims of the bedroom tax, and the poverty inflicted through the current levels of benefit payments. Most horrifically, one of them was a young woman, who killed both herself and the baby in her arms.

Several of these victims are definitely what is known in law as ‘vulnerable adults’. Apart from the physically disabled, they also include several with mental health problems, such as depression and schizophrenia. A couple were walking 12 miles a day to collect free vegetables due to cuts to their benefit. Another woman could not afford to heat her home, and lived on tinned custard.

To paraphrase the Doctor to the Daleks in the episode, ‘Asylum of the Daleks’: And I thought IDS had run out of ways to make me sick’.

Here’s the video.

I’ve reblogged Johnny Void’s article, and support every word he says about the case. I’d say that this was another death IDS has on his conscience, but he clearly hasn’t got one. There should be no more excuses from IDS or the rest of the Coalition. ATOS needs to be closed down now.

UN bedroom tax report reveals truth about Tories

September 13, 2013

In this article, published on Mike’s blog before his post on the Commissioner’s report, Mike comments on the Tories’ rage at the UN Commissioner’s attack on the Bedroom Tax. Using the text of the report itself, Mike refutes Shapps’ criticisms, exposing them for the lies they are, and the petulance and hypocrisy that lies underneath them.

Mike also found this piece on BBC News, in which Ms. Rolnik herself completely refutes Shapps’ lies.

Mike Sivier's blog

What a spoilt little brat Grant Shapps has shown himself to be.

After the United Nations’ special investigator on housing told the Coalition government it should scrap the bedroom tax, describing the policy’s effect on vulnerable citizens as “shocking”, he threw a hissy fit.

He claimed that Raquel Rolnik had been biased from the start and had not met any ministers or officials, and said he would be writing to protest to the UN secretary general.

Why would an investigator, who has come to this country to see for herself the actual effect of a government policy, waste any time listening to ministers who want to overwrite her report with their own agenda?

Ms Rolnik is perfectly capable of accessing the reams of material that has already been written by the government about the bedroom tax – or spare room subsidy, as Mr Shapps (if that’s what he’s calling…

View original post 800 more words

The UN Housing Inspector’s Report on the Bedroom Tax

September 13, 2013

My brother, over at Vox Political, has posted up the report of the UN Commissioner, Raquel Rolnik, who came here to investigate the Bedroom Tax. She was deeply critical. After acknowledging the help given to her by government departments and agencies, and praising the UK for its considerable achievements in social policy, she remarks that

‘Some of my main preliminary findings indicate signs of retrogression in the enjoyment of the right to adequate housing. It is not clear that every effort has been made to protect the most vulnerable from the impacts of retrogression, indeed much of the testimony I heard suggests they are bearing the brunt. Housing deprivation is worsening in the United Kingdom. Increasingly, people appear to be facing difficulties to accessing adequate, affordable, well located and secure housing. The numbers of people on waiting lists for social housing have risen, with reports indicating waits of several years to obtain a suitable house.’…

‘Especially worrisome in this package is the so-called “bedroom tax”, or the spare bedroom under occupancy penalty. It came into force on 1 April 2013, without having been previously piloted. It essentially means a reduction in the amount of benefit paid to claimants if the property they are renting from the social housing sector is considered under occupied. The Government has argued that this policy reduces dependency and will make available a stock of under occupied homes.’

‘Fiscal austerity measures include budget cuts in local Government expenditure, as well as significant reduction on the grants available for housing associations to provide social and affordable homes. This implies that social landlords will be required to reach out to the private financial markets in order to fund their building activities. As a consequence they will be pressured to increase their profit-making activities, potentially being forced to increase rent and reduce the stock made available to social renters.’

She goes on to describe the response she has had from people with disabilities and the poor, who are finding it very difficult to cope with the tax.

‘I would like to refer now to the package of welfare reform and its impact on a number of human rights, but especially on the right to adequate housing, such as for those seeking to live independent and dignified lives with physical and mental disabilities. The so-called bedroom tax is possibly the most visible of the measures. In only a few months of its implementation the serious impacts on very vulnerable people have already been felt and the fear of future impacts are a source of great stress and anxiety.

Of the many testimonies I have heard, let me say that I have been deeply touched by persons with physical and mental disabilities who have felt targeted instead of protected; of the grandmothers who are carers of their children and grandchildren but are now feeling they are forced to move away from their life-long homes due to a spare bedroom or to run the risk of facing arrears; of the single parents who will not have space for their children when they come to visit; of the many people who are increasingly having to choose between food and paying the penalty. Those who are impacted by this policy were not necessarily the most vulnerable a few months ago, but they were on the margins, facing fragility and housing stress, with little extra income to respond to this situation and already barely coping with their expenses.’

She is also concerned that devolution of housing policies to local councils in Northern Ireland could lead to increased sectarianism in the province, and discrimination against Roman Catholics. Another problem she raises is the lack of suitable sits for Gypsy camps.

Her report discusses the legislation and economic thinking behind the governments policies, such as the bias in British housing policy towards home-ownership, rather than rented accommodation. In her conclusion, she recommends

‘First, and foremost, I would suggest that the so-called bedroom tax be suspended immediately and be fully re-evaluated in light of the evidence of its impacts on the right to adequate housing and general well-being of many vulnerable individuals.
Secondly, I would recommend that the Government puts in place a system of regulation for the private rent sector, including clear criteria about affordability, access to information and security of tenure.
Thirdly, I would encourage a renewal of the Government’s commitment to significantly increasing the social housing stock and a more balanced public funding for the stimulation of supply of social and affordable housing which responds to the needs.’

Predictably, this has produced an angry response from the Tories’ chairman, Grant Shapps, which Mike also covers and demolishes in this and other articles.

Channel 4’s Benefit Britain and the Expansion of the Welfare State after 1948

August 14, 2013

Last night Channel 4 broadcast their latest contribution to the ‘poverty porn’ programming genre, Benefits Britain. This showed a group of modern welfare claimants attempting to live as they would have done on the benefits available in 1948. The perceptive and extremely well-informed Scriptonite Daily blog has already strongly criticised the programme for presenting welfare claimants yet again as idle scroungers, who, under the modern benefits system, ‘have never had it so good’ in Supermac’s phrase.

I didn’t watch the programme on the grounds that I had a fair idea that this was the way they would present their subject. I am also completely unsurprised by the fact that the claimants on the programme found the 1948 welfare system very had. It was, and researchers and social workers from the 1950s found that often horrific poverty still existed. The existing system was inadequate, and they demanded that action should be taken expand the system to support those, who had not been helped by the 1948 provisions.

One of those campaigning for the system’s reform was the social worker, Audrey Harvey, who had worked in the East End of London since 1955. In her 1960 Fabian Tract, Casualties of the Welfare State, she presented the case that poverty still existed. She attacked the attitude of the middle classes that too much was being done for the working class, and noted that working class people were most concerned with having independence, rather than reliance on the welfare state. She also presented the case that the tax system disproportionately affected the working classes, rather than the rich. These arguments are still valid today, now that Cameron and his henchmen are keen to destroy the welfare state, and grinding poverty is increasing. Here is part of her pamphlet addressing these issues:

What is Wrong?

That we have a divided society, which is rapidly becoming more sharply so, is painfully obvious …

This may be partly due to loss of contact between people of different education and employment, different resources and ways of living; partly, too, to an over-estimation – encouraged by both the big political parties – of the extent to which working people have benefited by the reforms. At any rate reaction has set in, bringing with it pressure to chip bits off the services; while among the armchair critics of the Welfare State it is axiomatic that ‘they’ – meaning roughly the working class – ‘get too much done for them nowadays’ while ‘we’ have to foot the bill.

This idea overlooks the fact that only about 4 per cent of the population do not use the State services at all and do not draw family allowances, pensions or insurance benefits or apply for grants for further education of their children at the State-subsidised universities. It neglects the fact, too, that it is chiefly the middle classes who have benefited from the provision of free medical services and entitlement to a full retirement pension after only ten years of contributions…

But while it is obvious that taxation, and particularly indirect taxation, often hits the poor harder than the well-to-do- as do National Insurance contributions – these are not the only payments which State-dependent families may have to make for essential services…

There are assessed charges for the home help service and the school meals service unless inability can be provded; and assessed charges for the care of children in children’s homes and ay nurseries; and for badly-off people not receiving assistance, there is the whole range of health service charges, from £3 for a surgical boot to £2 for a doctor’s report needed for an accident claim. Again and again ‘they’ are still forced to plead poverty…

Something for Nothing?

This is not to suggest that the principle of paying for certain special services is necessarily a wrong one or that it is resented. The outstanding quality of the people I have met in the course of my job is independence. There is a pronounced loathing among families of low income of anything that smacks of charity, and the number of those trying to get something for nothing is, in actual experience, very small indeed. This is also the experience of the National Assistance Board. Its report for 1957 stated that only 65 men on assistance were prosecuted for neglecting to work when able to do so, and that there were only 750 prosecutions for fraud out of a total of over 1 1/2 million people (excluding dependents) then receiving assistance…

Going on Assistance

…In 1958 the National Assistance Board had to make 1,119,000 weekly allowances to supplement inadequate pension and benefit rates, and this represented no less than 68 per cent of all allowances in payment.

We know, therefore, that over a million people in this Welfare State were living below subsistence level for this reason alone, and were granted assistance. We also know that for 780,000 of all assisted people the minimum rates of assistance were considered by the Board to be insufficient … since this was the number of discretionary allowances made … for extra fuel, special diet and other requirements, in addition to which 152,000 single payments for shoes, clothing and bedding had to be provided for people in the most extreme need.

These figures do not precisely tally with the axiom that ‘poverty has been abolished’. But if we can feel little complacency about the numbers of the poor or the extent of their relief … we can feel even less about the incalculable number in bitter need who di not even apply for help …

Why is there so much aversion from seeking its help?… Even if the officers are kind and tactful, as they often are, the applicant is, in fact, pleading poverty; and since that poverty must be checked, he must be visited at home and asked questions which, to the sensitive, are often embarrassing, and which may involve relatives and other people living in the house;.

The price of application is, therefore, a surrender of personal privacy and a strong deterrent is the fear that, even when this price is paid, assistance may not be forthcoming…

We have been deluded into thinking not only that we have already achieved a Welfare State … but this it is second to none. Our National Health Service is still unrivalled, but in other matters we are falling behind. The Scandinavian countries are ahead of us in providing better old people’s homes and up-to-date hospitals; New Zealand enables young families to buy their own houses by advancing Family Allowances. France does not invariably deny a family allowance to the first child of a family as we do; Germany gives better insurance coverage in illness and is spending half as much again on social security as we are …’

There have been many changes to the welfare system since then. Many of the welfare payments that directly benefited the middle classes, or rather, the lower middle classes, have been abolished, like student grants and the payment of tuition fees. This has created the ‘squeezed middle class’, who find themselves increasingly impoverished through taxation and denied the remaining welfare benefits available to the working class. The result has been to drive something of a wedge between the two classes, as the lower middle class becomes increasingly resentful of working class privilege. Looking at the above extract, and Audrey Harvey’s comments that the middle classes benefited the most from the welfare state, It does seem to me that this gap in welfare provision between the working and lower middle classes seems to have been deliberately engineered. That way the Tories can always claim they’re responding to public concern by the voters, or at least the middle class readers of the Daily Mail.

Despite the changes to the benefit system, the core arguments remain the same. There are people, who don’t like claiming welfare. Social security fraud is much less than the Conservatives and their friends in the Right-wing press have claimed. The essential point remains the same: the reason why the benefits system was expanded after 1948 was that this was genuinely inadequate in combatting the real poverty that existed in post-War Britain.

Moreover, thanks to the Coalition, poverty in Britain is actually increasing. What we need are fewer programmes purporting to show how generous modern welfare provision, and more that show how the Coalition’s policies and cuts are actually making it more widespread. Perhaps we should have a few programmes in which the poorest claimants are shown living on the more generous allowances of the past, and the difference this makes in their lives. I suspect, however, that such a programme would never be made. It would be attacked as another example of Left-wing media bias. It would also conflict with the think-tanks and received opinion of the media movers and shakers that guide public programming and dictate public attitudes to these matters.

Also from 1995: Tories Reject Report on Poverty in Wales as ‘Communist Propaganda’

August 12, 2013

Just below the article on Peter Lilley’s commissioning of the American private disability insurance firm, Unum, to assist in their slashing of disability benefit in the 16th July 1995 issue of Private Eye was another piece. This reported the rejection of an officially commissioned report into Welsh rural poverty by the junior Welsh Minister, Rod Richards, simply because it told him something he didn’t want to hear. Foot’s piece went:

For Richards or Poorer

When civil servants in Wales heard that a survey on English rural life was being carried out by a team headed by Professor Paul Cloke of University College, Lampeter, Wales, they decided to ask the professor if he would do a similar job for rural Wales.

The professor obliged. He and his team sent out 1,000 questionnaires with exactly the same questions they had sent to 3,000 people in England. The answers were analysed and the report compiled in exactly the same way. The three sponsoring bodies – the Welsh Office, the Welsh Development Agency and the Development Board for Rural Wales – worked closely with Cloke’s team, and when the report was produced last year the Welsh Office indicated that it would soon be published by the government, as the English report had been.

They reckoned without Rod “The Rod” Richards MP, the eccentric junior Welsh minister who learned his politics in the intelligence services. Richards was outraged when he read the report’s very mild conclusion that 30 per cent of the people of rural Wales are living in poverty.

The report wasn’t published and the Welsh Office politely says: “We weren’t happy with the research.” Officials there are embarrassed by the truth – that Rod Richards regarded the whole exercise as communist propaganda.’

It’s almost like the stereotypical image of a Conservative – a fierce reactionary decrying anything that doesn’t present capitalism as absolutely perfect as ‘communist propaganda’. Faced with ministers like this, it’s no surprise that an increasing number of Welsh people want devolution.

Rod Richards

Rod Richards in 1995. The protector of the Welsh peasantry against exploitation in Communist propaganda.

The Roman de La Rose and the Right to Beg in the Middle Ages

July 21, 2013

In the Middle Ages, as today, there was considerable debate concerning who constituted the deserving poor. There was no state provision of poor relief, and so the poor were reduced to begging and the charity dispensed by the churches and monasteries. There was a criminal underworld of fake beggars, and so writers and theologians thus discussed, who the people, who truly deserved charity were, and who thus had the right to earn money from begging. This debate is part of the Roman de la Rose by Jean de Meung, one of the great works of French medieval literature. One of the characters, False-Seeming, severely condemns begging by the able-bodied, who would otherwise be able to support themselves by working. False-Seeming does, however, present a list of the type of people, who should be allowed to beg. The list appears to have been derived from that of the thirteenth century Paris teacher, William of St. Amour. The list states

‘If the man is such an animal that he has no knowledge of any trade and doesn’t want to remain ignorant, he can take to begging until he knows how to perform some trade by which he may legitimately earn his living without begging.

Or if he cannot work because of a sickness he has, or because of old age or dotage, he may turn to begging.

Or if by chance he has become accustomed by his upbringing to live very delicately, good men commonly should then have pity on him and, through friendship, allow him to beg for his bread rather than let him perish of hunger.

Or if he has the knowledge, the wish and the ability to work, and is ready to work well, but does not immediately find someone who may want to give him work at anything that he can do or is accustomed to do, then he may certainly obtain his needs by begging.

Or if he has the wages of his labour, but cannot live on them adequately on this earth, then he may indeed set out to ask for his bread and from day to day go about everywhere, obtaining what he lacks.

Or if he wants to undertake some knightly deed to defend the faith, either with alms, or by cultivation of his mind, or by some other suitable concern, and if he is weighed down by poverty, he may certainly, as I have said before, beg until he can work to obtain his needs…

In all these and similar cases, if you find any further cases that are reasonable, in addition to those that I have given you here, the man who wants to live by beggary may do so, and in no other cases, if the man from St. Amour does not live’.

(The Romance of the Rose, Charles Dahlberg trans., (Princeton 1971) 200-1).

With the exception of the case of the man, who has been brought up delicately, and the knight, these are all cases that apply today. Unfortunately, there were also the medieval equivalents of Atos and the present Tory government to tell them that they shouldn’t get any money because they were scroungers. Nevertheless this demonstrates that as far back as the Middle Ages, theologians and secular writers were prepared to defend the rights of the poor to charitable relief and support.


Andrew McCall, The Medieval Underworld (Stroud: Sutton 2004)