Sunday, February 23, 2014

UK now face a real hunger problem

When people used to speak of hunger as an issue they used to mean faraway places in the Third World. In  the 21st century we are speaking about hunger in Britain, right here right now, the age of "relative poverty", when those who are officially deemed poor are not actually destitute and strving but have less than everyone else. There is now rise and rise of genuine hunger in the UK. Vincent Nichols, the new Catholic cardinal, branded the way the welfare system functions "a disgrace", while 27 Anglican bishops and 16 other Christian leaders blamed the government's benefits changes for a "national crisis" of hunger.

Leaked internal documents from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have shown that it is tabling a proposal to charge people who challenge a decision to strip them of their benefits. There is no mention of refunds for those who manage to win their appeals. That's right, some of the poorest in our society could be forced to put up and shut up, even when a government department is at fault. In the last year, nearly a million people had their benefits stopped and of those who appealed against the decision at independent tribunals, 58% won their case. The DWP's own figures show that only 0.5% of those claiming incapacity benefit do so fraudulently, yet the company it placed in charge of carrying out its work capability assessments, Atos Healthcare, judged a third of claimants to be fit to work. The rhetoric behind the government's welfare policy focuses narrowly on those dishonestly claiming benefits, even though such fraud accounts for less than 1% of the money paid out. To punish that tiny  minority, hundreds of thousands of people – poor not because they're lazy but because of low wages, zero-hours jobs or rising food costs – are going hungry.

The government's reply is that it "is wrong to penalize those who work hard and do the right thing while rewarding those who can work, but don't", an implied assumption that the only people going hungry are those who have opted for idleness as a lifestyle choice, who could work but don't fancy it. This assumption is false. The majority of poor households include at least one person who works. Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, explained: "People who are using food banks are not scroungers who are cynically trying to work the system. They are drawn from the 6 million working poor in this country, people who are struggling to make ends meet in low paid or bitty employment." He should know for many of the more than 400 food banks run by the Trussell Trust operate in church halls.

Now we have the health professionals speaking out against the real situation of actual hunger in the country. Thousands of people with HIV have been left struggling in poverty by the Government's welfare reforms – with some unable to afford the basic food they need to fight their condition. The situation is now so critical that in some cases doctors are having to prescribe food supplements to ensure that patients' medication works. HIV experts described the situation as "truly alarming", saying it was "nothing short of a disgrace" that seriously ill patients in modern Britain were having their treatments compromised by hunger. HIV medication can be less effective if taken without food. About 70 to 80 per cent of all treatments for HIV have to be taken with a meal. There's one treatment that has to be taken with a 400-calorie meal. There is evidence that, if you take it on an empty stomach, it is less effective.

A national hardship fund for people with HIV/Aids, run by the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), registered a 63 per cent increase last year in those needing emergency help because their benefits had been stopped. Just under half of all those given help needed it specifically because they could not afford food. Changes to sickness benefits introduced by the coalition – alongside other welfare reforms such as the bedroom tax – have left many HIV patients significantly worse off. Stringent criteria for employment support allowance, assessed by the notorious Atos, means that many have been moved off sickness benefits altogether. The replacement of the disability living allowance with the personal independence payment is also affecting growing numbers.

Paul Ward, THT's chief executive, said: "What we've seen is that progressively more people have had their cases reviewed and, as a consequence, are no longer entitled to benefits at all. For many people with HIV, this isn't a question of not having enough money to go to the cinema or buy some clothes. It means they have not got enough money to eat properly. For those who are very unwell, it means they struggle to make appointments simply because they don't have money for the bus fare.”


ajohnstone said...

Through the social media we received this comment.

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "UK now face a real hunger problem":

I shared this, and got this reply back?! You may wish to post this/comment. YFS.

Let me break this article down for you, because I fucking hate the Independent...

The entire thing is based on one THT statistic, the 63% rise from 919 people to 1497 people on benefits, living with HIV who applied for an emergency grant. "Just under half of [whom] needed [help] because they could not afford food." A direct quote from the article.

Which means somewhere under 748 people are struggling specifically with food. The remaining 1497 are just struggling, their HIV medication is free, and the food isn’t the issue, so what they’re struggling with isn’t made clear. This is what the actual figure alluded to by the top of the article, the Thousands of people with HIV have been left struggling in poverty by the Government's welfare reforms” not thousands, not even two thousand, “with some unable to afford basic food” less than 748 - because the other 1008 people mentioned by the THT aren’t on benefits, remember?

This article, on how the Government’s welfare reforms are discriminatory is actually referring to a fractional 0.001% of the population as a basis for its argument.

It fails to mention of these people’s right to work. I know people who suffer with HIV, it’s manageable. They have full lives totally unimpeded by their condition. They have steady careers.

Alright, Mr Ian Walker’s health “plummeted” a nice vague term, but the journalist conveniently sidesteps his current health, one can only assume that he has recovered, so why is he not at work? There are plenty of people who are significantly worse off than Mr Ian Walker I bet, I want to know why he can't make a weeks worth of food supplied by a food bank last a week. Why he thinks sleeping for two days is better than finding work, and he can't set aside a few ££ for some cheap veg to sustain him for longer.

Karen from Bristol makes no mention of her struggle to find a job, just that she struggles to live on less than £100 a week. But she openly admits to buying crap “because it’s cheap”. Crap food isn’t cheap, it’s processed pre-prepared ready meals that appear cheap but are almost always more expensive than fresh seasonal ingredients and store cupboard staples. I daresay, if she chose her meals more economically and learned to cook for herself, and she has the time, she’d not only be able to eat better but be healthier too and better off financially.

This is just a nonsense article, full of holes and based on one pitiful statistic, backed up by expert opinion that doesn't address the real issues here. Instead, HIV is used as a stepping stone to launch more anti-welfare cut rhetoric and this isn’t news. Welfare is a mess, Why? Because the people trusted with its security allowed it to fall into disarray at the hands of abusers, many of whom are the same people now complaining that it's not enough

ajohnstone said...

Indeed perhaps the Independent can be criticised for hyping up a report from a lobby group but the complainant can also be criticised for not addressing the real problem and passing the buck by blaming the victim. There is little progress from accusing someone of bad cooking skills as there was in the 19thc when poverty was blamed on drink. It took prohibition in America to put that to rest when we saw little difference in poverty rates when it was introduced.

The blog used other sources to back up its title and other welfare statistics to show that going without food is indeed a growing problem.

Darn these old folk blaming their hypothermia on fuel poverty, don't they know they can put on an extra coat, make soup, and do exercises to keep warm ...why do they blame the energy companies instead of taking responsibility themselves...and anyway , they get a extra money from the welfare system , so why are they complaining in the first place...We can all find a scapegoat and avoid condemning the cause which the complainant tries to do by actually not discussing the cause of poverty capitalism. And if there is a fault with the blog post it was the presumption of that real link between the two and not highlighting it.