Tory legacy: attendance at food banks has doubled due to the Conservatives’ handling of Covid-19.
How is Fat Boris Johnson going to justify his silly campaign to make people eat more healthily when so many of us are getting money from food banks, or buying the cheapest (and therefore least healthy) available because we can’t afford anything else?
A new report by the Food Standards Agency has revealed that the Covid-19 crisis – and the Conservative government’s decisions relating to it – have caused a huge increase in referrals to food banks.
Because the Tories couldn’t be bothered to ensure the financial security of the population at large, one-tenth of the UK’s poorest people are now using foodbanks, with huge numbers of people skipping meals.
Malnutrition and obesity are rife as people have been forced to cut out healthy foods in favour of “basic sustenance” diets.
People actually voted to inflict this on their fellow UK citizens and their children.
The FSA’s research tells us that the number of people in food insecurity in the UK – experiencing hunger, unable to secure food of sufficient quality and quantity to enable good health and social participation, and cutting down on food because of a lack of money – has doubled due to the Covid crisis. And it was high in the first place.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, around 16 per cent of adults experienced it – around 7.8 million people.
The government that the people elected last December has used the Covid crisis to double this figure. Now, around 15.6 million adults are in food insecurity.
So when the FSA says 10 per cent of respondents visited a food bank in June, this represents more than 1.5 million people.
And we know food banks have been struggling to find stock in the face of this demand, at a time when everybody has lost money apart from the super-rich (most of whom couldn’t care less about you).
The survey found that 23 per cent of people aged 16-24 had been forced to access food through a charity or food bank – but no figures were provided to show how many people that figure represents.
The only other group experiencing as much food insecurity was households with a child.
So the Tories have ensured that poor children are starving – even after having been knocked back in their plan to deny free school meals to poor kids during the holidays by footballer Marcus Rashford’s high-profile shaming.
If you are still in doubt that these findings are evidence of a Tory war against the poor, consider this, from the Guardian article about the FSA findings:
For the better off, Covid-19 has for many provided nutritional benefits, the FSA noted, with its tracker survey showing more people cooking at home from scratch using healthy ingredients rather than having takeaways or buying processed meals, as well as enjoying more family meals together.
These benefits were largely denied to people in food insecurity, whose diet narrowed sharply and was biased towards cheap carbohydrates like rice and pasta. One man, the FSA study found, “ate mostly tinned peas on toast; another woman mostly bread.” Many showed “early signs” of malnutrition. Others put on weight.
Many people … reported regularly eating food beyond its use-by date … Over a quarter said they drank milk that was past its use-by date. “Stretching out” food in this way put them at risk of food poisoning.
So the rich have become healthier while the poor are in danger of being poisoned.
This is due to decisions made by your Conservative government, which they say were necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
And they are inflicting it on people they persuaded into voting for them.
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Kwashiorkor: The so-called “swollen belly disease” used to be a staple of news reports from countries facing starvation. Now the Conservatives have ensured that it is on the rise in the UK.
See the picture, above? Once upon a time, when British people saw images like that, they were being asked to reach into their wallets and help starvation-hit people in developing countries. Now the country in danger is the UK.
Due to Conservative government policies, malnutrition – the principle cause of the “swollen belly disease” kwashiorkor – has tripled in the UK since 2009. According to the Mirror, the government tried to sneak the figures out last week, while MPs were on holiday, but they have been picked up by eagle-eyed journalists.
Malnutrition cases treated by the NHS have risen from 2,893 to 8,537 since that year. Kwashiorkor is caused by a lack of protein and is almost always fatal if left untreated, or if treatment starts too late.
The Department of Health has said it is committed to training staff so the early signs can be spotted and treatment put in place.
That’s not the point!
The issue is the fact that the Tories have allowed this disease to arise in the first place.
As readers are no doubt tired of reading by now, the UK is the fifth-largest economy in the world. There is enough cash here to ensure that nobody goes without.
But the Tories have rigged the system so most of the money goes to people who are already rich, while the benefit and healthcare systems – that should save the people they have impoverished – have also been starved of the resources they need.
The Telegraph has said the vast majority of the increased admissions involve elderly patients, with malnutrition only diagnosed after they were admitted to hospital for other reasons, such as a fall.
That paper quoted charities who said the figures were “shocking,” with vulnerable people being left to starve for want of help at home or in care homes.
Yet a majority of pensioners still, it seems, religiously vote Conservative – despite the fact that Tory policies are threatening them with early death.
According to Welfare Weekly, the UK’s largest food bank network, Trussell Trust, provided a record 1.6 million three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019, a 19 per cent increase on the previous year. This included more than half a million children.
The charity blamed Universal Credit for leaving households without the financial means to feed themselves adequately.
And figures released on August 23 revealed that the NHS is spending only £3 a day on meals for each patient. How much nutrition are they going to get with that?
It seems clear that the Conservatives are failing vulnerable people across the spectrum, from children right through to pensioners – and justifying it with mealy-mouthed excuses.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
This is a 64-year-old man from Birkenhead whose experience of Universal Credit left him so malnourished he weighed just six stone when he was finally rescued and taken to hospital [Image from Pride’s Purge, using material from Terry Craven’s Facebook page].
This is the reality of Conservative politics – they simultaneously make serious problems worse while deliberately reducing the nation’s ability to combat them.
So once again we are hearing that the so-called “Victorian” diseases are on the rise. More than 800 people in the northeast of England were admitted to hospital with diseases including gout, tuberculosis, malnutrition, whooping cough, measles, scurvy, typhoid, scarlet fever, diphtheria, mumps, rickets, cholera, and vitamin D deficiency during the 2017-18 financial year.
Many are linked with malnutrition and they are called “Victorian” diseases because they were most common during the poverty-ridden years of the 19th century.
The current epidemic has been linked with the Conservative government’s abuse of the benefits system, as enacted through Universal Credit.
To provide an idea of how that link can be made, let’s look at the case of Harry Dent, who cannot read, write or use a computer. He was moved onto Universal Credit and immediately fell into debt because he did not understand the housing benefit element was paid direct to him, to pass on to his landlord – and in monthly, rather than fortnightly instalments. Nobody told him.
He tried to get his finances under control by taking out a £750 advance on his benefit – but is now having to pay it back, meaning he has even less money on which to survive. He has been left with £50 per week to pay his bills and buy food, leaving him with the classic dilemma of choosing between heating and eating.
While he has attended a food bank, he lives under the spectre of malnutrition.
He says Universal Credit discriminates against people with learning difficulties as claimants must be able to use a computer, read, write, have an email account, remember passwords and remember appointments.
And his mental health has suffered as a result of being put onto the harmful “benefit” – claiming he sometimes feels like “jumping off a bridge”.
You may remember Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd saying only one or two people have ever fallen into serious difficulty because of Universal Credit. Well, Harry’s is just one of the many stories that have come to public attention in the last week. You can read more of his story here.
So we have a system that intentionally puts people in danger of malnutrition, and of falling prey to the “Victorian” illnesses listed above. It might be possible to deal with this if the health service was fully-staffed, with well-trained and capable nurses.
Shame we’re being starved of that resource by the same “benefit”, isn’t it?
Trainee nurses lose hundreds of pounds when they claim Universal Credit because, under the new system, their student loans are classed as income. Read the facts here.
It means many trainee nurses are unable to complete their studies – depriving the health service of their skills. Perhaps it’s one reason the health service in England is hiring only one person for every 400 jobs advertised.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is said to have advised students to avoid claiming Universal Credit until they absolutely have to – until it is rolled out in their home area.
But despite Amber Rudd having paused the rollout recently, this is not a solution to the problem.
It seems malnutrition, “Victorian” diseases and the lack of nurses to help treat them are all part of the same problem – a problem called Conservative government.
The numbers aren’t huge at the moment, but they are significant – between 2010 and 2014, malnutrition in Salford rose from 43 cases to 85.
The longer we have a Conservative government, the worse it is going to get.
This Blog predicted the problem all the way back in December 2012, when I wrote: “In the UK, there are currently 13 million people living below the poverty line [including] working people, whose income does not cover their costs; the unemployed, who are finding they do not have enough money to buy food due to the vicious and unwarranted benefit cuts thrust upon them… and of course the homeless, a sector of society that is due to grow exponentially, again due to the many cuts inflicted by the bloodthirsty Conservatives.
“As a consequence of the rise in poverty, overseen and orchestrated by Mr Cameron and his lieutenant Iain Duncan Smith in the Department for Work and Pensions, the classic poverty-related diseases of rickets and tuberculosis are on the increase. In 2012, the Conservatives have achieved their aim to revive the Dickensian Christmas.”
Almost a year later, the UK’s chief medical officer announced the formal return of rickets. One may presume that the disease, while present, did not exist in great enough numbers prior to this but, thanks to the policies of David Cameron, Theresa May and the Tories, that had changed.
This time, I wrote: “Can there be any doubt that this rise in cases has been brought about, not just by children sitting at home playing video games rather than going out in the sunlight, as some would have us believe, but because increasing numbers of children are having to make do with increasingly poor food, as Cameron’s policies hammer down on wages and benefits and force working class people and the unemployed to buy cheaper groceries with lower nutritional value?
“The Tory wage-crushing policy has been ignorant in the extreme… as it has created an extra burden on the NHS. Preventative measures ‘could save the economy billions’.”
More than three decades of neoliberal political rule had had a devastating effect on the nation’s children, I wrote. While our mortality rate for 0-14 year olds was among the best in Europe during the 1980s, it was now among the worst, with five more children dying every day than in the best-performing country, Sweden.
The highest death rates were in deprived areas – in the northwest, northern cities and some of London’s poorer boroughs, with 21.1 deaths per 100,000 people under 17.
I also wrote that the then-government seemed hell-bent on ensuring that predictions of a rise in tuberculosis would come true as well, with its plan to tackle the phantom problem of “health tourism” (see how long that little nonsense has been floating around?) deterring temporary migrants from seeking treatment when they first fell ill.
By October last year, the list of ‘Victorian’ diseases re-surfacing in the UK had increased to include gout, TB, measles, scurvy, rickets and whooping cough.
Social security researcher and commenter – and stalwart friend of This Blog – Samuel Miller called on local authorities to investigate the return of these diseases.
He told us: “There is growing evidence that the draconian welfare reforms are irreparably damaging the mental and physical health of benefit claimants. Health figures recently revealed a 50% increase in the number of people admitted to hospital with malnutrition over the past four years, and a return of Victorian diseases linked to poverty such as gout, TB, measles, scurvy, rickets, and whooping cough are a barometer of failure and neglect,” – and referred to a list of articles which may be found here.
And now Salford council has answered the request, telling us what we all knew – and what we all feared.
Back in 2014, I wrote something that, while accurate then, seems even more true now, so I make no apology for repeating it here:
In the Bible, Jesus is quoted as saying, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not” – meaning he did not want his disciples to stop youngsters from hearing his teachings.
That saying may now be re-worked to fit the philosophy of Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt to read: “Suffer, little children – for you have a Conservative government.”
The number of malnutrition cases in Salford has doubled – with many of the victims children.
Victorian illnesses such as rickets and beriberi – thought to be long eradicated – are on the rise due to food poverty according to a shocking new report.
The number of people being admitted to hospital with the condition doubled over a four year period.
Although health conditions are often a primary cause, Salford council leaders believes that poverty is also to blame.
‘Poverty is causing vulnerable people … to go hungry and undernourished,’ shadow health secretary says [Image: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images].
This is a perennial – one of those stories that comes back to haunt us every year.
When I covered it last year, we were being told that 43 hospital trusts had recorded more than 2,000 malnutrition cases, we were told that parents were going hungry in order to feed their children.
But there are more than 43 NHS trusts and, if we take the figures at face value, then the average hospital stay of 22 or 23 days means more than 8,200 people may have been treated for malnutrition in 2015-16.
Now the claim is that elderly people are the largest affected group, due to the loss of meals on wheels services in many local authority areas.
Personally, I think this phenomenon deserves far greater scrutiny than the Department of Health seems willing to give it.
Doesn’t anyone find it suspicious that hospital admissions for malnutrition started to rise in the year that Employment and Support Allowance, with its accompanying – and cruel – Work Capability Assessment test, was introduced?
We are seeing a huge rise in malnutrition due to Conservative Government policy, causing a preventable demand for hospital beds and putting a preventable strain on the National Health Service.
Any government worth a bean would take action to halt any increase in malnutrition among its citizens – especially if there was even the slightest suggestion that it was a political policy that had caused it.
The Conservative Party seems to revel in the ill-health it is causing.
You’ll recall that, when the Tories were considering re-defining poverty, their chosen indicators were “entrenched worklessness, family breakdown, problem debt, and drug and alcohol dependency”. Malnutrition was nowhere to be seen on their list and therefore would not have been measured or included in poverty statistics.
But then, it isn’t included in the figures now.
Tory policies have necessitated the loss of meals on wheels services in areas where the local council can no longer afford them. Tory policies have ensured that poor families do not have enough money to pay for a roof over their heads and food for every family member. Tory policies have increased the harshness of ESA decisions while cutting the amount payable.
Tory policies are cutting the number of NHS beds available to patients and the quality of the service they receive.
Can anybody offer a reasonable excuse for their reluctance to change those policies?
The number of hospital beds in England taken up by patients being treated for malnutrition has almost trebled over the last 10 years, in what charities say shows the “genuinely shocking” extent of hunger and poor diet.
Official figures reveal that people with malnutrition accounted for 184,528 hospital bed days last year, a huge rise on 65,048 in 2006-07. The sharp increase is adding to the pressures on hospitals, which are already struggling with record levels of overcrowding.
The Department of Health figures showed that the number of bed days accounted for by someone with a primary or secondary diagnosis of malnutrition rose from 128,361 in 2010-11, the year the coalition came to power, to 184,528 last year – a 61% rise over five years.
Figures are not available for exactly how many patients accounted for the 184,528 bed days last year, but information supplied to Ashworth by the House of Commons library shows that 57% of the patients were women and that 42% were over-65s.
Such patients only account for one in 256 of all hospital bed days, or 0.4% of the 47.3m total, but the financial cost is considerable as each bed costs the NHS an average of £400 a day to staff and given the condition each spell in hospital lasts an average of 22 to 23 days.
Critics have said the upward trend is a result of rising poverty, deep cutbacks in recent years to meals on wheels services for the elderly and inadequate social care support, especially for older people.
Freedom of information requests submitted to local councils in England early last year by the then shadow care minister Liz Kendall found that 220,000 fewer people were receiving meals on wheels in late 2014 than in 2010, a fall of 63%.
Research by the National Association of Care Catering found that only 48% of local councils still provided meals on wheels, compared to 66% in 2014. Only 17% of councils in the north-west of England still do so, and 91% of providers expect the provision to fall further in the next year.
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, unearthed the figures in a response to a recent parliamentary question submitted to the health minister Nicola Blackwood.
“These figures paint a grim picture of Britain under the Conservatives,” he said. “Real poverty is causing vulnerable people, particularly the elderly, to go hungry and undernourished so much so that they end up in hospital.”
Mark Wood: He died of starvation several months after his ESA was stopped without warning by the DWP.
Mark Wood starved to death four months after the then-government sickness benefit assessor, Atos, found him fit for work.
His death was never entered in Department for Work and Pensions death statistics as it did not happen within two weeks of his claim being cut off. So the DWP could deny responsibility, even though he plainly was not fit for work when he was assessed.
Now it seems government policies are deliberately sending thousands of people to die the same way – poverty-stricken malnutrition.
Perhaps ministers think they have found a way to make the deaths look coincidental?
Consider: Government policies make people too poor to eat, so they either starve to death at home like Mr Wood, or they become a burden on an already-overworked National Health Service, forcing it further towards collapse.
If they live, they have helped push the NHS further into difficulty that can be used later to justify a switch to insurance-based private health; if they die, they cease to claim state benefits.
It’s easy to understand that this is how Jeremy Hunt and Damian Green think.
The number of people so malnourished they need hospital treatment has QUADRUPLED in 10 years.
In a shocking indictment of the nation’s food poverty , more than 16,000 cases of malnutrition were reported in hospitals in England last year, an average of 45 every day.
More than 900 of these cases were classed as severe – meaning patients were in danger of starving to death.
But these alarming NHS figures are just the extreme tip of an iceberg of misery and deprivation as GPs treat thousands more poverty-stricken patients for malnutrition.
Campaigners blame spiralling food prices, falling wages and ruthless benefits cuts and sanctions.
Painful deformities of the skeleton such as bowed legs: The return of rickets is another sign that the Conservative Government is regressing Britain to conditions during the primitive Victorian era – or even earlier.
Social security researcher and commenter Samuel Miller thinks they are.
He wants health authorities in the UK to investigate whether the return of diseases linked to poverty – and to the Victorian era – such as gout, TB, measles, scurvy, rickets and whooping cough.
This Writer flagged up the possibility as long ago as October 2013, after the UK’s chief medical officer formally announced the return of rickets.
I wrote: “Can there be any doubt that this rise in cases has been brought about, not just by children sitting at home playing video games rather than going out in the sunlight, as some would have us believe, but because increasing numbers of children are having to make do with increasingly poor food, as Cameron’s policies hammer down on wages and benefits and force working class people and the unemployed to buy cheaper groceries with lower nutritinal value?”
Despite Tory claims that the UK is in better shape than it has been in years, it seems clear that these health issues are getting worse.
Mr Miller writes: “There’s an urgent need for health authorities to investigate whether Ian Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms, and cuts to social services, are responsible for the alarming rise in cases of malnutrition and the return of Victorian diseases.
“There is growing evidence that the draconian welfare reforms are irreparably damaging the mental and physical health of benefit claimants. Health figures recently revealed a 50% increase in the number of people admitted to hospital with malnutrition over the past four years, and a return of Victorian diseases linked to poverty such as gout, TB, measles, scurvy, rickets, and whooping cough are a barometer of failure and neglect.”
According to Russia Today, malnutrition in the UK has increased by 71 per cent since the Coalition came into office in May 2010.
This cannot be a natural progression and must be attributed to the policies of the Conservative Party, aided and abetted by their little yellow friends, the so-called Liberal Democrats.
The gist is that people don’t have enough to eat as cuts become more severe and living costs escalate. Nearly 6,700 people were diagnosed with malnutrition in the last financial year, with Greater Manchester seeing the greatest increase.
Scarlet Fever has more than doubled and Cholera is up no less than 450 per cent.
Andy Burnham, Shadow Health Secretary: He’d rather listen to real doctors than spin doctors.
The title of this article should seem brutally ironic, considering that the Coalition government famously ‘paused’ the passage of the hugely controversial Health and Social Care Act through Parliament in order to perform a ‘listening exercise’ and get the views of the public.
… Then again, maybe not – as the Tories (with the Liberal Democrats trailing behind like puppies) went on to do exactly what they originally wanted, anyway.
Have a look at the motion that went before the House of Commons today:
“That this House is concerned about recent pressure in Accident and Emergency departments and the increase in the number of people attending hospital A&Es since 2009-10; notes a recent report by the Care Quality Commission which found that more than half a million people aged 65 and over were admitted as an emergency to hospital with potentially avoidable conditions in the last year; believes that better integration to improve care in the home or community can relieve pressure on A&E; notes comments made by the Chief Executive of NHS England in oral evidence to the Health Select Committee on 5 November 2013, that the NHS is getting bogged down in a morass of competition law, that this is causing significant cost and that to make integration happen there may need to be legislative change; is further concerned that the competition aspects of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 are causing increased costs in the NHS at a time when there is a shortage of A&E doctors; and calls on the Government to reverse its changes to NHS competition policy that are holding back the integration needed to help solve the A&E crisis and diverting resources which should be better spent on improving patient care.”
Now have a look at the amendment that was passed:
“That this House notes the strong performance of NHS accident and emergency departments this winter; further notes that the average waiting time to be seen in A&E has more than halved since 2010; commends the hard work of NHS staff who are seeing more people and carrying out more operations every year since May 2010; notes that this has been supported by the Government’s decision to protect the NHS budget and to shift resources to frontline patient care, delivering 12,000 more clinical staff and 23,000 fewer administrators; welcomes changes to the GP contract which restore the personal link between doctors and their most vulnerable patients; welcomes the announcement of the Better Care Fund which designates £3.8 billion to join up health and care provision and the Integration Pioneers to provide better care closer to home; believes that clinicians are in the best position to make judgements about the most appropriate care for their patients; notes that rules on tendering are no different to the rules that applied to primary care trusts; and, a year on from the publication of the Francis Report, notes that the NHS is placing an increased emphasis on compassionate care, integration, transparency, safe staffing and patient safety.”
Big difference, isn’t it?
From the wording that won the vote, you would think there was nothing wrong with the health service at all – and you would be totally mistaken.
But this indicates the sort of cuckooland where the Coalition government wants you to live; Jeremy Hunt knows what the problems are – he just won’t acknowledge them. And he doesn’t have to – the media are run by right-wing Tory adherents.
So here, for the benefit of those of you who had work to do and missed the debate, are a few of the salient points.
Principal among them is the fact that ward beds are being ‘blocked’ – in other words, their current occupants are unable to move out, so new patients cannot move in. This is because the current occupants are frail elderly people with no support in place for them to live outside hospital. With no space on wards, accident and emergency departments have nowhere to put their new admissions, meaning they cannot free up their own beds.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had nothing to say about this.
Andy Burnham, who opened proceedings, pointed out the huge increase in admissions to hospital accident and emergency departments – from a rise of 16,000 between 2007 and 2010 to “a staggering” 633,000 in the first three years of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government.
Why the rapid rise? “There has been a rise in people arriving at A and E who have a range of problems linked to their living circumstances, from people who have severe dental pain because they cannot afford to see the dentist, to people who are suffering a breakdown or who are in crisis, to people who cannot afford to keep warm and are suffering a range of cold-related conditions.”
He said almost a million people have waited more than four hours for treatment in the last year, compared with 350,000 in his year as Health Secretary; the statement in the government amendment that waiting times have halved only relates to the time until an initial assessment – not total waiting time. Hospital A and Es have missed the government’s targets in 44 of the last 52 weeks.
Illnesses including hypothermia are on the rise, and the old Victorian ailments of rickets and scurvy are back, due to increased malnutrition.
Hospitals are filling up with the frail elderly, who should never have ended up there or who cannot get the support needed to go home because of a £1.8 billion cut in adult social services and support. This, Mr Burnham said, was “the single most important underlying cause of the A and E crisis”; ward admissions cannot be made because the beds are full. The number of emergency admissions of pensioners has topped 500,000 for the first time.
Ambulances have been held in queues outside A and E, unable to hand over patients to staff because it is full. That has left large swathes of the country — particularly in rural areas — without adequate ambulance cover.
The government is downgrading A and E units across the country into GP-run clinics, while pretending that they are still to be used for accidents and emergencies – in the middle of the A and E crisis.
People in England are reducing the number of drugs they are taking because they cannot afford to buy them. Families are choosing between eating, heating or other essentials, like prescriptions.
Competition rules have been stifling care, Mr Burnham said: “The chief executive of a large NHS trust near here says that he tried to create a partnership with GP practices and social care, but was told by his lawyers that he could not because it was anti-competitive.”
He added: “Two CCGs in Blackpool have been referred to Monitor for failing to send enough patients to a private hospital. The CCG says that there is a good reason for that: patients can be treated better in the community, avoiding costly unnecessary hospital visits. That is not good enough for the new NHS, however, so the CCG has had to hire an administrator to collect thousands of documents, tracking every referral from GPs and spending valuable resources that could have been spent on the front line.”
And the health trust in Bournemouth wanted to merge with neighbouring Poole trust, but competition rules stopped the merger taking place.
Mr Burnham demanded to know: “Since when have we allowed competition lawyers to call the shots instead of clinicians? The Government said that they were going to put GPs in charge. Instead, they have put the market in charge of these decisions and that is completely unjustifiable. The chief executive of Poole hospital said that it cost it more than £6 million in lawyers and paperwork and that without the merger the trust will now have an £8 million deficit.
“The chief executive of NHS England told the Health Committee about the market madness that we now have in the NHS: ‘I think we’ve got a problem, we may need legislative change… What is happening at the moment… we are getting bogged down in a morass of competition law… causing significant cost and frustration for people in the service in making change happen. If that is the case, to make integration happen we will need to change it’ – that is, the law. That is from the chief executive of NHS England.”
The response from current Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt needs to be examined carefully.
He said more than 96 per cent of patients were seen within four hours – but this conforms with Mr Burnham’s remark; they were seen, but not treated.
He tried to rubbish Mr Burnham’s remarks about scurvy by saying there had been only 26 admissions relating to scurvy since 2011 – but this misses the point. How many were there before 2011? This was an illness that had been eradicated in the UK – but is now returning due to Coalition policies that have forced people into malnutrition.
He dodged the issue of competition rules strangling the NHS, by saying that these rules were in place before the Health and Social Care Act was passed. In that case, asked Mr Burnham, “Why did the government legislate?” No answer.
As stated at the top of this article. he did not answer the question of the frail elderly blocking hospital beds at all.
The vote was won by the government because it has the majority of MPs and can therefore have its own way in any division, unless the vote is free (unwhipped) or a major rebellion takes place among its own members.
But anyone considering the difference between the Labour Party’s motion and the government’s amendment can see that there is a serious problem of perception going on here.
Or, as Andy Burnham put it: “This Secretary of State … seems to spend more time paying attention to spin doctors than he does to real doctors.”
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Calls for a ‘commission of inquiry’ into the impact of the government’s changes to social security entitlements on poverty have won overwhelming support from Parliament.
The motion by Labour’s Michael Meacher was passed with a massive majority of 123 votes; only two people – David Nuttall and Jacob Rees-Mogg – voted against it.
The debate enjoyed cross-party support, having been secured by Mr Meacher with Sir Peter Bottomley (Conservative) and John Hemming (Liberal Democrat).
Introducing the motion, Mr Meacher said: “It is clear that something terrible is happening across the face of Britain. We are seeing the return of absolute poverty, which has not existed in this country since the Victorian age more than a century ago. Absolute poverty is when people do not have the money to pay for even their most basic needs.”
He said the evidence was all around:
There are at least 345 food banks and, according to the Trussell Trust, emergency food aid was given to 350,000 households for at least three days in the last year.
The Red Cross is setting up centres to help the destitute, just as it does in developing countries.
Even in prosperous areas like London, more than a quarter of the population is living in poverty.
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, for the first time, the number of people in working families who are living in poverty, at 6.7 million, is greater than the number of people in workless and retired families who are living in poverty, at 6.3 million.
Child poverty will rise from 2.5 million to 3.2 million during this Parliament, around 24 per cent of children in the UK. By 2020, if the rise is not stopped, it will increase to four million – around 30 per cent of children in the UK.
The use of sanctions depriving people of all their benefits for several weeks at a time, had increased by 126 per cent since 2010 and 120 disabled people who had been receiving jobseeker’s allowance had been given a three-year fixed duration sanction in the previous year.
There are now more than 2,000 families who have been placed in emergency bed-and-breakfast accommodation after losing their homes.
The per cent rise in the overall homelessness figures last year included nearly 9,000 families with children, which is the equivalent of one family losing their home every 15 minutes.
A third of families spent less than £20 a week on food and that the average spend on food per person per day was precisely £2.10. That is a third less than those families were able to afford three months before that.
The proportion of households that had to make debt repayments of more than £40 a week had doubled and the average level of debt was £2,250.
A third of families had council tax debt.
2.7 million people had lost out through the Government’s changes to council tax benefit – many of them disabled people, veterans and some of the most vulnerable in our communities.
Households were having to spend 16 per cent more on gas and electricity.
There are 2.5 million people who have been unemployed for the best part of two years, and there were 562,000 vacancies when the debate took place (Monday), so four out of five of those who are unemployed simply cannot get a job whatever they do.
Cuts to local authorities mean many home care visits are limited to 15 minutes.
The 10 per cent of local authorities that are the most deprived in the country face cuts six times higher than those faced by the 10 per cent that are the most affluent.
60 per cent of benefit cuts fall on those who are in work.
Mr Meacher said the biggest cause of absolute poverty was the huge rise in sanctioning, often for trivial reasons such as turning up five minutes late for a job interview or the Work Programme:
A dyslexic person lost his Jobseekers Allowance because his condition meant that in one fortnightly period he applied for nine jobs, not 10. He was trying to pay his way and already had work, but it provided only an extremely low income.
The jobcentre didn’t record that a claimant had informed them that he was in hospital when he was due to attend an appointment and he was sanctioned.
A claimant went to a job interview instead of signing on at the jobcentre because the appointments clashed – and was sanctioned.
A claimant had to look after their mother who was severely disabled and very ill – and was sanctioned.
A Job Centre sent the letter informing a claimant of an interview to their previous address, despite having been told about the move. The claimant was sanctioned.
A claimant was refused a job because she was in a women’s refuge, fleeing domestic violence and in the process of relocating, but I was still sanctioned.
Mr Meacher also quoted what he called a classic: “I didn’t do enough to find work in between finding work and starting the job.”
The latest DWP figures suggest that more than one million people have been sanctioned in the past 15 months and deprived of all benefit and all income. “Given that the penalties are out of all proportion to the triviality of many of the infringements, and given that, as I have said, four out of five people cannot get a job whatever they do, the use of sanctioning on this scale, with the result of utter destitution, is — one struggles for words — brutalising and profoundly unjust,” said Mr Meacher.
Other reasons for the rise in absolute poverty included:
Delays in benefit payments.
The fact that it is impossible for many poor and vulnerable people to comply with new rules – for example a jobseeker who asked to downsize to a smaller flat who was told he must pay two weeks’ full rent upfront before getting housing benefit. He does not have the funds to do so and is stuck in a situation where his benefits will not cover his outgoings due to the Bedroom Tax.
The Bedroom Tax, which applies to around 667,000 households, and two-thirds of those affected are disabled. More than 90 per cent of those affected do not have smaller social housing to move into.
The Benefit Cap, imposed on a further 33,000 households.
Mistakes by the authorities; up to 40,000 working-age tenants in social housing may have been improperly subjected to the Bedroom Tax because of DWP error (although Iain Duncan Smith claims a maximum of 5,000).
Mr Meacher said: “The Chancellor’s policy of keeping 2.5 million people unemployed makes it impossible for them to find work, even if there were employers who would be willing to take them, and the 40 per cent success rate of appeals shows how unfair the whole process is.”
Responding to a comment from David TC Davies (Conservative) that those who are not looking for work must realise there will be consequences, particularly when a million people have been able to come to the UK from eastern Europe and find work, Mr Meacher said, “Those who come to this country are more likely to be employed and take out less in benefits than many of the indigenous population.”
He asked: “Is all this brutality towards the poor really necessary? Is there any justification in intensifying the misery, as the Chancellor clearly intends, by winding up the social fund and, particularly, by imposing another £25 billion of cuts in the next Parliament, half of that from working-age benefits?
“After £80 billion of public spending cuts, with about £23 billion of cuts in this Parliament so far, the deficit has been reduced only at a glacial pace, from £118 billion in 2011 to £115 billion in 2012 and £111 billion in 2013. Frankly, the Chancellor is like one of those first world war generals who urged his men forward, over the top, in order to recover 300 yards of bombed-out ground, but lost 20,000 men in the process. How can it be justified to carry on imposing abject and unnecessary destitution on such a huge scale when the benefits in terms of deficit reduction are so small as to be almost derisory?”
Suggested alternatives to the punitive austerity programme of cuts came thick and fast during the debate. Challenged to explain what Labour’s Front Bench meant by saying they would be tougher on welfare than the Tories, Mr Meacher said: “As the shadow Chancellor has made clear on many occasions, is that we need public investment. We need to get jobs and growth. That is the alternative way: public investment in jobs, industry, infrastructure and exports to grow the real economy, not the financial froth, because that would cut the deficit far faster than the Chancellor’s beloved austerity.”
He asked: “How about the ultra-rich — Britain’s 1,000 richest citizens — contributing just a bit? Their current remuneration — I am talking about a fraction of the top 1 per cent — is £86,000 a week, which is 185 times the average wage. They received a windfall of more than £2,000 a week from the five per cent cut in the higher rate of income tax, and their wealth was recently estimated by The Sunday Times at nearly half a trillion pounds. Let us remember that we are talking about 1,000 people. Their asset gains since the 2009 crash have been calculated by the same source at about £190 billion.
“These persons, loaded with the riches of Midas, might perhaps be prevailed upon to contribute a minute fraction of their wealth in an acute national emergency, when one-sixth of the workforce earns less than the living wage and when one million people who cannot get a job are being deprived of all income by sanctioning and thereby being left utterly destitute.
“Charging the ultra-rich’s asset gains since 2009 to capital gains tax would raise more than the £25 billion that the Chancellor purports to need. I submit that it would introduce some semblance of democracy and social justice in this country if the Chancellor paid attention to this debate and thought deeply about what he is doing to our country and its people.”
Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley, Lab) suggested that the Government might save a lot more if its members “showed the same energy and enthusiasm for getting those who evade their taxes and run to tax havens as they do for going after the poor, the sick and people on the dole”.
Against this, David TC Davies offered insults and distortions of the facts, quoting the Daily Mail as though it provided an accurate account of current events: “Members of the shadow Cabinet might need a boxing referee to sort out their disputes at the moment, as we read today in the Daily Mail.”
He said: “We took office with a deficit of £160 billion and a debt that was rising rapidly to £1 trillion. That was after years of overspending in good times, as well as in bad, by Labour, a cheap money supply and lax banking regulation under the former Government.” Labour’s spending, up until the financial crisis, was always less than that of the previous Conservative administration; Gordon Brown and Tony Blair both ran a lower deficit than John Major and Margaret Thatcher, and at one point actually achieved a surplus, which is something that the Conservatives had not managed in the previous 18 years. While Mr Davies here complained about the “lax banking regulation”, Conservatives supported it at the time and in fact demanded more DE-regulation, which would have made the financial crisis worse when it happened.
“We had disastrous economic decisions, such as that to sell gold at a fraction of its real rate,” said Mr Davies. Yes – the UK lost around £9 billion. But compare that with the disastrous economic decision by George Osborne to impose more than £80 billion worth of cuts to achieve a £7 billion cut in the national deficit. The UK has lost £73 billion there, over a three-year period.
And Mr Davies said: “Worst of all and most seriously, we had a welfare system that allowed people to get into a trap of welfare dependency, leaving them on the dole for many years, but at the same time filling the consequent gap in employment by allowing mass and uncontrolled immigration into this country, which completely undercut British workers.” The first assertion is simply untrue; the second is a legacy of previous Conservative administrations that agreed to the free movement of EU member citizens, meaning that, when the eastern European countries joined in 2004, citizens migrated to the UK in the hope of a better life. Labour has admitted it should have negotiated for a delay in free movement until the economies of those countries had improved, making such migration less likely, but the situation was created before Labour took office.
Challenged on the Coalition’s record, Mr Davies fell back on the Tories’ current trick question, which is to counter any criticism by asking: “Is he suggesting that we are not doing enough to pay down the national debt? Is he suggesting that we should cut further and faster? If so, and if we had the support of other Opposition Members, that is exactly what the Government could do and, indeed, possibly should do. I look forward to seeing that support for getting the deficit down.” This disingenuous nonsense was batted away by Labour’s Hugh Bayley, who said “investing in the economy, creating jobs and thereby getting people off welfare and into work” was the way forward.
Mr Davies’ Conservative colleague Jeremy Lefroy took a different view, agreeing that increasing numbers of people are finding it impossible to make ends meet, and that job creation and apprenticeships were a better way out of poverty than changing the social security system alone. He agreed that sanctions were applied to his constituents “in a rather arbitrary manner”. He spoke against George Osborne’s suggested plan to remove housing benefits from people aged under 25, saying this “would have a drastic impact on young people who need to live away from home and who have no support from their families”. He spoke in favour of councils increasing their housing stock. And he admitted that disabled people faced severe problems when unfairly transferred from ESA to JSA: “A lady in my constituency says, ‘I am simply not fit for work, but by signing on for JSA I have to say that I am available and fit for work.’ She does not want to tell a lie.”
Steve Rotheram (Liverpool Walton, Labour) spoke powerfully about the effect of being on benefits: “Lots of people in my city are on benefits for the very first time. Far from being in clover — it beggars belief what we read in the right-wing press — they are struggling to make ends meet, and the problem that thousands of Liverpudlians are facing is new to them. For many, the idea that they might miss a rent payment is totally alien. They have not done that in the past 20 years, but since May 2010, their individual household incomes have been on such a downward trajectory that they now find themselves in rent arrears, seeking advice on debt management and unable to afford the daily cost of travel, food and energy. Figures suggest that 40 per cent of the adult population in Liverpool are struggling with serious debt problems.”
And he said poverty had health implications, too: “David Taylor-Robinson of the University of Liverpool and his fellow academics have highlighted the doubling of malnutrition-related hospital admissions nationally since 2008.”
John Hemming (Birmingham Yardley, LD) raised concerns about “the interrelationship between the welfare cap and victims of domestic violence, and whether there are situations that need more attention. I believe that people can get discretionary housing payment to leave a violent home, but it is important that we ensure that there is a route out of domestic violence for women. I am worried about that issue, just as I am about some wrongful sanctioning that I have seen. That does not help at all, because it undermines the whole process.” He also called for “a substantial increase in the minimum wage, because as the economy is improving the Government should look at that, rather than maintain things as they are”.
The vote gave huge endorsement to the call for an independent inquiry into poverty under the Coalition.
But with an election just 15 months away, how long will we have to wait for it to report?
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