Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

A crying shame.

THIRTEEN years ago a country which had 4million or so children living in poverty announced it would do something about it.

Their leaders, just two years after being elected in a landslide, vowed to stop children growing up cold and hungry, failing at school, and being trapped in poverty their whole lives.

In fact, said the leaders, they'd wipe the problem out by 2020.

It was a great idea, rather let down by the fact it took them four years to agree how to measure poverty, nine years to get around to planning legislation, and another 18 months before the laws were agreed and came into force.

Thirteen years on, 3.6m children are still growing up poor and hungry in that country. It's predicted to hit 4.2m in the next four years - a third of all their children. Things are so bad that for the first time ever Save the Children has announced a new fundraising campaign to buy them blankets and food.

Only we're not talking about somewhere gloomy and grim in Africa. This is Britain in 2012.

This is a country in which one charity alone is launching three new food banks every week. Two fifths of their clients have had their benefits temporarily stopped. On our radios and televisions are parents saying they can't afford bread, so feed their children on crackers instead. Meanwhile the poor are offered £5,000 loans at interest rates of 2,000 per cent.

It's not all down to being workshy: half of all children who grow up hungry have at least one working parent. They're not hungry because mum or dad is lazy, but because mum or dad isn't earning enough to pay for bread and electricity in the same week.

So what are we doing about it?

Well, crisis loans for people suddenly in trouble have been cut. So if you leave a violent partner, lose your job, or are suddenly bereaved your local council is more likely to send you to a charity food bank than help you out with the rent for a week or two.

The Office of Fair Trading has refused to cap the charges of doorstep lenders, as this would reduce competition and heaven forfend that loan sharks should cease to predate on the poor.

Oh, and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions who has a legal responsibility to say how he will reduce child poverty reckons the real problem is that despite spending four years talking about this already, we measure it wrong.

At the same time childcare costs have risen three per cent to an average of £100 a week - forcing many parents out of work and onto benefits. Droughts in the US and Russia has pushed the price of wheat up by 28 per cent, corn by 26 per cent and soya by 18 per cent. Aside from the cost of staples like bread, this increases the cost of animal feed and thus the price of meat and eggs.

In Britain the wholesale price of carrots has shot up 44 per cent in a year thanks to the wet summer. Potatoes are a third more expensive than last year, with tomatoes and onions close behind. So the cost of a meat stew - for centuries a cost-effective and healthy staple of the humblest diet - has risen more than caviar or champagne.

Because we live in a time and a country where you can always see a BMW or Mercedes, where there's lots of shops selling £80 football strips and there seems to have been plenty of people able to spend hundreds on tickets for the Olympics, it's easy to assume that starvation is no longer a problem.

For most of us, it's not. We spend more on food and interest rates and complain about the price of electricity, but have no need to worry that Bob Geldof or Bono might turn up on our front doorstep whining about how awful it is to be poor.

But millions of families do. Eighty per cent of poor parents borrow money to pay for food. One in 10 goes hungry so their children do not. Today 450,000 of those 3.6m children won't get a hot meal.

Those families argue more, struggle more, are less happy, and more likely to break up. Those children are six times more likely to leave school without qualifications. They will die, on average, eight years earlier than children raised with enough food to eat.

In medieval times we put the poor in the stocks, whipped them, branded them with a 'V' for vagrant, gave them two years jail, or hanged them if they were persistently unable to find work. Later we put them in workhouses which we made as unpleasant as possible in the belief this would stop people relying on them.

These days, we wait for them to die.

For centuries people have thought the best way to stop people being poor was to make it unenjoyable. That didn't work, because it wasn't much fun to start with.

The main cause of poverty is not having any money. Therefore the main solution must be to make sure everyone has enough of the stuff. A job that pays a wage, a wage that pays the bills, and bills that don't rocket every quarter.

And if lots of us don't have those things, then the one big, important thing we really lack is having someone in charge who can make sure we get them.

People will say prices always rise, civilisations always fall. And children don't always grow up. That's how it's always been, for thousands of years, all over the planet.

But it's a crying shame that it happens today in the eighth richest country in the world.

You want more?


jmedwards said...

> The main cause of poverty is not having any money. Therefore the main solution must be to make sure everyone has enough of the stuff. A job that pays a wage, a wage that pays the bills, and bills that don't rocket every quarter.

Doesn't the way poverty is measured in the UK mean that poverty will never be eradicated?

Anonymous said...

After losing my (reasonably) well paid job (thanks dishface) I took a job at a store owned by a multi-billion dollar profit company. This job paid minimum wage. 40 hours a week earned at takehome pay of £900 a month (you still pay income tax on minimum wage because its obviously too much money for you to be trusted with). tax benefits topped up my slave wages to £1300.

After mortgage, council tax and bills (no booze or fags) we were left with £40 *a week* to feed a family of three. Less than the cost of a bottle of wine in one of dishface's favourite restaurants.

Last winter, the temperature in the house fell to 11c for the whole of December and January.

The government were subsidising my wages to the tune of £400 a month whilst the store I worked in made a profit of £3,000 a day (£300 per staff member per day) thanks to being able to pay minimum wage to its staff.

We were not feckless, didn't waste our money on drugs or booze and I worked damn hard yet still didn't have enough money to heat the house and feed the family.

Yet there are people campaigning to cut the minimum wage.

We need a working wage in this country.

Chris Gilmour said...

Do you realise that the RSS feed for this blog has adverts for loans with 1700% APR rates?

Foxy said...

They're generated by a Google bot depending on the words I use on the page. Wouldn't it be apt if my writing about them meant they had to pay this site revenue?

Ian said...

Very interesting article and it certainly made me think hard about a few things. I accept the facts and something has to be done, but how do you ensure the money is getting to the right families as therer are too many people who abuse the system in this country and it does affect those who believe they already pay too much in tax against their hard earned cash.

Anonymous said...

Then make a starting point a living wage. If a single wage earner is working 40 hours a week then that wage should be enough for a family of three to live on without the need for tax credits or income support.

Make working pay.

Anonymous said...

The pictures of Osborne laughing at the Paralympics as the crowd bood him indicates that he delights in the misery his policies inflict on the poor and weaker members of Society. He is a malevolent chancellor.

Paddy said...

We don't need a working wage - we need a living wage. It's not about making benefits so low that people will starve, it's about ensuring that those such as the poster above are paid a level where they can live with more dignity than is the case

I worked at a boozer in the 90's that paid foreign staff minimum wage, but locals more, because they saw it in their interest to have a local flavour behind the bar, so the regulars would stay.

But I saw how crap it was to rely on minimum wage and do anything other than work. The only guy that thought it was ok that was South African and could send money home and benefit from the massive differential between Sterling and the Rand in those days.

This is all about perspective of the legislature. If there was more representation from genuine working class people, perhaps there would be more understanding of the challenges of living on minimum wage than is currently the case

As someone that works in PR, whilst there are some journalists that are from working class backgrounds, the proportion seems to drop every year. I'm in my early thirties and most of my peers in journalism are either privately educated, or "connected"

If the "commentariat" was more attuned to the needs those on lower wages (or no wages), then perhaps the wider public might feel more sympathy, and an increased min wage might be a political necessity?

Alex Greene said...

They are all malevolent. Foxy's previous post summed it up eloquently and succinctly.

Andy said...

I lost working tax credit because it turns out you now have to work 30 hours to get them and as I was part-time for health reasons this wasn't valid! What sort of Government is this? Now I'm unemployed! Thanks Dishface and Gideon, I seriously owe you one!

jmedwards said...

How do you do that without costing existing jobs? The higher the minimum wage is set, it will at least slow down the rate at which new jobs will open up, and at worse will cost jobs.

The Kraken said...

It's a complete and utter fucking disgrace, Foxy, and I wrote about this here a few months ago:

How Cameron sleeps at night is beyond me. Him and his toff-shagging fucktards really do reduce me to tears.

Bercher said...

I'm poor according to the stats, but I don't drink, have any holidays, smoke, my clothes last me years, thank god I have the internet. I work hard at my dreams, they might come true one day. I keep clean, I know what the causes of poverty are. Relative to some world poverty I am rich, but not here in the UK. The real power belongs to the people who are able to shift huge amounts of money from places, and pay little tax. New worldwide legislation needs to come in, it would take international co-operation, that will be tough to enforce. It would take a moral code, that's unlikely.

Anonymous said...

This is a dangerous line of thought. The minimum wage was relatively cost free when introduced (in a growing economy) but were it introduced or rapidly increased now it would cut the number of low end jobs very quickly.

Visit America, where major firms and minor concerns employ thousands of people on a very low wage which we just don't see here any more. Far more waitresses, barstaff and even super market greeters. It's not ideal but when combined with the tax benefits our government provides (and your post alludes to) it could be better than people sitting on the dole.

Poverty makes me sad but that is not an excuse to get angry and misdiagnose. Money is a measure of value and not earning it is a signal that you're not filling a niche that society values. We should always look to build ladders out of poverty but people must do the climbing themselves (the disabled excluded).

We expect our government to do too much. They cannot. Every pound they spend is a trade off, society's good against the market's. It is a fine balance before one starts hurting the other and they both sink.

Patrick Neylan said...

Statistical blah.
"Thirteen years on, 3.6m children are still growing up poor..."
Define "poor".

Thirteen years on, 3.6m children are still growing up poor and hungry..."
Define "hungry".

Most of the commenters here blame the government, yet the government during most of the period under consideration was Labour, and the article you link to shows that the numbers below the poverty line are falling under the Tories. Never mind! Blame the Tories!

Crackers instead of bread? Sainsbury's (for example) sells its cheapest crackers for £1.20 per kilo. Its cheapest bread is 90p a kilo - 25% cheaper. You're too poor to buy something cheap, so you buy something more expensive instead? There's a word for that, and it isn't "poor".

"Eighty per cent of poor parents borrow money to pay for food. One in 10 goes hungry so their children do not."
Or so they tell you. I'm a single parent, struggling on what most people would call a comfortable income, and if someone asks me why I struggle I certainly won't admit that it's my fecklessness, selfishness, laziness or refusal to cut down on booze, fags or cable TV - all of which I somehow find the money to fund. But I won't tell the researchers that.

It fills up column inches. But it doesn't really tell us anything.

Pete said...

People are working for less than a living wage because their employers say the business doesn't make enough to pay a living wage. The taxpayer funds the employee to bring them up to a bare-minimum survival level, thus subsidising the business. Why not address the problem at its root and have the taxpayer give money directly to the business? Must be more efficient (one business instead of several/many employees) so cheaper - and more honest.

mettledoxy said...

"Crackers instead of bread? Sainsbury's (for example) sells its cheapest crackers for £1.20 per kilo."

Yes, because I'm sure the poor of this nation all shop at Sainsbury's. If you're going to use an example to deconstruct Foxy's arguments, at least have the decency to pick a realistic one like ASDA - their ownbrand crackers are 36p a packet.

Also, using anecdata is inherently false. Just because you live your life a certain way, it doesn't make the statistics in this article any less true.

JuliaM said...

Can't feed 'em? Don't breed 'em!

Amanda Kendal said...

I'll tell you what's a "dangerous line of thought": accepting that the current situation is even remotely moral, ethical or acceptable.

How dare we be in a situation where the shits that run big businesses, making millions of profits, pay less than a decent wage to employees, leaving the taxpayer to pick up the tab – in other words, to subsidise those bloody big profits, on which they probably won't pay the proper amount of tax either, because they'll dodge that by creative accounting.

What a completely messed-up situation when people like you say that's okay – and it's okay for the poster you responded to spend the winter without proper heating, because at least they're not on the street. Because that's what you're saying.

You really believe that that is acceptable in a rich and supposedly civilised nation in the 21st century? Really?

Anonymous said...

I'd imagine that crackers last longer than bread (use by dates).

Anonymous said...

Can see both sides here. There is virtually no true poverty in this country today. And any that may exist is *in general* due to terrible parenting.

That's not to say there aren't people struggling to get by, there clearly are. This is why it is more important than ever to clamp down on the tossers bleeding the system and making life hard for the genuine needy. The cheats are taking 2 or 3 slices of the pie and when a starving person comes along there is nothing left.

Tories or no Tories, there is only so much money in the pot. It will only go so far.

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