“Hunger stalks this country” Studies of the damage caused by Benefit Cuts

A really good study of rising hunger in the UK is the Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger and Food Poverty in Britain This was set up by the Anglican Church as an impartial cross party inquiry composed of 2 Conservative MPs a Conservative Baroness, 2 Labour MPs and a Bishop.

This simple but devastating fact that hunger stalks this country should confront each of the main political parties with a most basic and fundamental political challenge”

There is another webpage presenting the Evidence it gathered from surveys and studies of poverty in the UK. Not only were the poorest 10% buying less food, they had to cut back on vegetables fruit and meat. According to DEFRA:

“between 2007 and 2010, households in the lowest income decile (the 10% with the lowest incomes) on average bought less food rather than ‘trade down’.*

The energy content of the food they bought fell by 8.7% between 2007 and 2010, as the poorest households tended to cut back on bread, cereals, biscuits, cake, beef, fruit and vegetables.”

To got an idea of what is considered as a basic minimum diet in the UK, the Food Poverty Inquiry turned to research by the Poverty and Social Exclusion (PSE) project. This looked at what ordinary people considered the bare basics, rather than more optimistic goals dieticians want us to aspire to. This showed that:

”Over 90% of respondents agreed that for children this means: three meals a day; fresh fruit and vegetables every day; and meat, fish or a vegetarian equivalent at least once a day.

For adults, over 75% of respondents agreed this means: two meals a day; fresh fruit and vegetables every day; and meat, fish or a vegetarian equivalent every other day.”

With this as a basic minimum, research showed that:

 “Well over half a million children (4%) live in families who cannot afford to feed them properly.
Over three and a half million adults (8%) cannot afford to eat properly.
In nearly all of the households where there are children going without one or more of the food items*, adults in the household are cutting back on their own food.”

The UK Low Income Diet and Nutrition Survey, published in 2007, looked similarly at these issues:

39% of respondents said they sometimes worried about running out of food because of money;
22% reported skipping meals; and
5% reported sometimes not eating for whole day because of money.”

Malnutrition, especially in childhood is known to have long term health implications, not just for the children going without enough food, but affecting the health of their own children and grandchildren. The penny pinching of the Coalition Government, supposedly for the sake of future generations, though actually to give tax breaks to the rich, are going to do long term damage to the health of those future generation and end up costing them even more in health care and lost productivity through sickness.

Britain isn't eating 4 million

Deaths and suicides following benefit cuts

After a Freedom of Information request by the Disability News Service the DWP has admitted it carried out “60 peer reviews following the death of a customer” between February 2012 and November 2014. After the DWP repeatedly denying it had carried out any, and claiming it ignores benefit related deaths, the 60 it investigated (and denied responsibility for) are probably the tip of the iceberg.

We are unlikely to get any real figures without a thorough Parliamentary Inquiry. Why we do have are the Newspaper reports of people who died or ended their own lives after their benefits were cut. You will find harrowing 6 pages of these accounts here:

Update: The Mirror reports: More than 80 suicide cases directly linked to Coalition cuts claim disability campaigners. The Black Triangle group found more than 80 cases since 2010 and believe even more will suffer and die if David Cameron wins the election.

The Black Triangle campaign lists 69 names of the dead here.

From the Disability News Service (Aug 15, 2014):  UK is first country to face UN inquiry into disability rights violations…These investigations are conducted “confidentially”, so the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) – which is carrying out the inquiry – has refused to confirm or deny that the UK is being investigated. But a recording has emerged [watch from one hour and four minutes] of a former CRPD member revealing that the inquiry has been launched.

What teachers find in their classrooms 

The Teacher’s Union NASUWT carried out a survey of  almost 2,500 teachers: The impact of financial pressures on children and young people. You can read a summary of there findings here: Coalition’s social and economic policies are damaging children’s education

“In total, 2,452 teachers responded to the survey about their experiences over the last year.
Results included:
▪ 78% said pupils are lacking energy and concentration as a result of eating poorly;
▪ 69% of teachers have seen pupils coming to school hungry
▪ 80% said pupils were arriving to school in clothes inappropriate for the weather conditions;
▪ 24% said they had brought in food for hungry pupils themselves and 62% said they had lent or given pupils school equipment;
▪ 56% said they had seen their school give food to pupils.
When asked about how financial pressures affect pupils, 72% said they were more likely to be absent from school, 65% said they were less able to concentrate in lessons, 60% said they caused behaviour problems and 40% said they felt alienated and disaffected.”

Some of the News reports on the NASUWT study:

The Guardian: Children living in Victorian conditions, say teachers
“around a third (32%) of those polled saying they had seen pupils who arrived or left school halfway through a term because they were forced to leave their homes.
The Independent: Union warns that many pupils now arrive at school too hungry to learn
“Pupils are coming to classes exhausted from living in cramped and inadequate housing or unwell because their parents cannot take time off to allow them to recuperate at home.”
ITV News: Teachers: Children are living in ‘Victorian conditions’ are being ‘blighted and degraded by poverty and homelessness’
“80% have witnessed youngsters turning up in clothes that are inappropriate for the weather and similar proportions reported children arriving in unwashed or damaged and frayed clothing. In addition, over three in four (78%) said they have seen pupils without appropriate footwear.”
The International Business TimesUK children living in ‘Victorian conditions’ because of austerity, say teachers
Poverty and homelessness take a physical and emotional toll on children. They often cannot concentrate when they are in school because they are tired and hungry, have no space to do homework and have to travel long distances to get to school from temporary accommodation. They are likely to suffer more ill health and absenteeism.

 Education and health are the most important keys for people escaping poverty. Instead of encouraging families into work, as the Coalition claims, the damage they are causing to children’s education and long term health are trapping families in a cycle of poverty.

Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions

This is a joint report from a group of 4 different denominations and the charity Church Action on Poverty:

punishing minor mistakes extremely harshly is core to the sanctions system. Our society would not tolerate a system where people in employment were subject to such a harsh regime – how can it be reasonable to impose it upon those who are without work?”

Rethink sanctions Mental health

“New data indicates that over one hundred people a day who have been recognised as unfit for work due to mental ill-health are sanctioned. Other groups such as the physically ill, lone parents, homeless people, care leavers and others are also disproportionately affected. These are the people the benefit system is supposed to support – it is simply unacceptable to dismiss their needs on the grounds that they have failed to play by what may for them be unachievable rules.”

approximately 100,000 children were affected by sanctions in 2013/14.”

“a total of almost 7,000,000 weeks of sanctions were imposed in the year 2013-14; up from 1-1,500,000 weeks per year during the previous decade.”

Update: The true number of people with mental health problems being sanctioned may be much higher. The 100 a day figure is an average going back to 2009, and as you can see from the graph, the numbers being sanctioned are climbing steeply. Speaking about the latest figures from March 2014, Insidehousing says:

“In March last year – the last month for which data is available – about 4,500 people with mental health problems on Employment and Support Allowance were sanctioned. The 100 a day figure was an average from data stretching back to January 2009 and took into account overturned decisions, which the 4,500 figure does not.”

That is 214 people with mental health problems a day being sanctioned and it only covers those on ESA not the ones on JSA where 275 time the number of sanctions are applied.

Footnote

* Why aren’t the poorest trading down? In the evidence document Professor Martin Caraher, City University London suggested one explanation.

“Households saved an average of 4% between 2007 and 2010 by trading down to cheaper products. This was accompanied by a change in shopping patterns with many switching to retailers such as Aldi and Lidl. While trading down to cheaper products has helped many people offset some of the food price rises, low-income households have not managed to trade down [as much], possibly as they were already buying cheaper products or shopping in these outlets. “

That is certainly part of the explanation, I think there are other reasons many of the poor may not be able to trade down. The ONS survey showns that 70% of the poorest households don’t own a car, so driving to Aldi or Lidl isn’t an option.

Even before ‘trading down’ became popular, people living in the poorest areas didn’t have access to big supermarkets with their wide range of fresh foods  and the Supermarkets’ cheap value brands. This is part of ‘the poverty premium’, where the poor pay more for food and basic services like gas electricity and basic household items.

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