The trouble with food banks… July 23, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics.
Jonathan Freedland had an useful article in the Guardian a week or two back about fairness in British politics. He points to the different treatment of G4S which has admitted ‘overcharging’ on tagging criminals thereby raking in tens of millions from the public purse, while a man was jailed for six months for stealing a couple of bottles of water during last Summer’s riots. As he says, if we were caught taking stuff we would not be let off simply because we promised to pay it back.
And as he says in all this the term equality is now apparently unusable. A telling shift in the discourse. But in the course of the piece he said this:
On Thursday it was the turn of the Treasury select committee as it questioned George Osborne. The key interrogator was the Labour MP Teresa Pearce, who extracted from the chancellor the admission that he had never been to a food bank and did not know that what pushed people to use them most was a delay in receiving the benefits on which they depend – highly relevant given his plans to make the newly laid-off wait longer for help.
Q268 Teresa Pearce: On the seven-day waiting period, where people are going to lose a week’s rent, did you do an impact assessment on that particular measure?
George Osborne: We do an impact assessment in the sense that the whole thing is subject to an equality assessment, including-
Teresa Pearce: On that particular measure?
George Osborne: That measure was subject to an equality impact assessment, like all other measures.
Q269 Teresa Pearce: Did it show any evidence of increased rent arrears for housing associations and local authorities?
George Osborne: What the package as a whole demonstrates is that it will help people get into work, which is the best route out of poverty.
Q270 Teresa Pearce: So you have no analysis of the possibility of increased rent arrears. You have made no forecast of that.
George Osborne: We are confident that this measure will help people into work. People with debt problems can be best assisted by being in work.
Q271 Teresa Pearce: This is almost increased conditionality, in a way.
George Osborne: It is an element of conditionality.
Q272 Teresa Pearce: But the Welfare Reform Act has already brought in extra conditionality, increased sanctions and increased interventions. Is this measure being brought in because you think all those things did not work?
George Osborne: No, it is a further step in reforming welfare. I do not think we have reached an end point in reforming welfare. This will come to Parliament and there will be votes, certainly on secondary legislation. If people-such as yourself-do not support this measure, they will be free to vote against it.
Teresa Pearce: I am sure we will, but, until we have-
George Osborne: I am glad you have made that clear, because no one else in your party has.
Q273 Teresa Pearce: Until we have all the information, how can we know? Only this week it became clear that people will have their housing benefit cut and not just their jobseeker’s allowance. It is very difficult to make a decision as to whether you support something or not until we have all the detail.
I will move on. Chancellor, have you ever been to a food bank?
George Osborne: No, I have not visited a food bank.
Q274 Teresa Pearce: Do you know the main reason for people being referred to a food bank?
George Osborne: Food bank use has gone up-
Teresa Pearce: There are a number of reasons. Do you know the most common reason?
George Osborne: Food bank use went up tenfold under the previous Government. One of the things this Government did was to ask job centres to better advertise food banks, which make a very strong contribution to our community, because they are voluntary outlets.
Q275 Teresa Pearce: Clearly you do not know, so I will tell you. The main reason for referral to a food bank is benefit delay. If you are not going to get your benefit at all-not just a delay, but you just do not get it for a week, including your rent-this will increase people being referred to food banks, will it not?
George Osborne: I do not accept that link. We took a conscious decision to advertise the use of food banks at job centres. I know that this is a common feature of questions from Labour MPs. They seem to forget that use of food banks went up tenfold under the previous-
Q276 Teresa Pearce: Has it gone down since?
George Osborne: No. Use of the food banks has continued, partly because we are-
Teresa Pearce: Continued to rise.
George Osborne: Because we have actually-
Q277 Teresa Pearce: How many times a year can somebody go to a food bank?
Chair: Could you just answer the previous question? Why has it gone up? Then you can come on to the next one.
George Osborne: One of the reasons for the increased use of food banks is that people have been made aware of the food bank service through local job centres. I do not see that as a bad thing. It is a good thing that those services are advertised at job centres.
Q278 Teresa Pearce: It is a good thing that people can go to that place of last resort to feed themselves, I agree, but they can only go three times in a year. A family can be referred to a food bank only three times a year. If food bank usage is going up, it is not that people are using them more, it is that more people are using them.
George Osborne: More people might be using them because more people are aware of them, because job centres are making people aware of them.
Q279 Teresa Pearce: But more people have a need.
There’s a breathtaking lack of knowledge displayed there on the part of Osborne. He simply does not know salient details in relation to public policy issues that he is absolutely certain – it is clear from the transcript – will work the way he wants.
And that being the case what certainty can he bring to this at all? None is the answer. It’s all supposition, ideology unconstrained by actuality, and ultimately rhetoric. All that would be fine were it not for the very real impacts it has on actual people.
And while Osborne is but an extreme example, although increasingly less so, this is a pernicious dynamic evident in this polity and further afield. The detachment from the actual living and working or not working conditions of broad numbers of people is now so great that it has reached a level of abstraction perhaps not seen since before the introduction of the mass franchise. And that’s a thought in itself. It’s easy to say that there is social mixing, but it remains all too easy for individuals and groups to shut themselves off, deliberately or otherwise, from other groups and their situation. And when that is supported by socio-political attitudes and beliefs as to supposed motivations for unemployment… well the problems are self-evident.
Osborne doesn’t know that people can only go to a food-bank three times a year and therefore if usage is increasing it’s not because the same people are returning more often but because there are more people going? He bloody well should know.