27 December 2017

Poverty in the UK - not new and not going away (Wilberg on Wednesday)

Editors introduction

The UK is allegedly a rich country.  If wealth is judged by the obscene profits extracted from underpaid workers, then yes it is.  If wealth is a measure of the disposable income of the Workers of the nation and of those who cannot find employment, the story is very different. 

Take these two items as examples of poverty in the UK.

Firstly from the newspaper, Independent:

NHS doctors are to begin prescribing food to patients as part of a drive to tackle the hunger and malnutrition suffered by people living in poverty.

Vouchers for fruit and vegetables will be offered by GPs in a number of practices as part of a drive to increase “social prescribing”.

Dr Michael Dixon, NHS England’s clinical champion for social prescribing, said he wants every GP to offer a more holistic approach to tackling issues like hunger and diet-related disease.

“Our role does extend beyond drugs and procedures,” he said. “We should be making sure people are properly fed, safe and have houses that aren’t damp.

“I hope it also has an engineering role in terms of creating a local community where people are more knowledgeable about good food and able to cook it.”

The move has emerged as The Independent is running a Christmas campaign aimed at providing children in poverty with healthy food and helping to slash food waste.

The Department of Health, with NHS England and Public Health England, has made £4m available to encourage third party and voluntary organisations to set up social prescribing programmes, in part, to reduce pressure on overstretched NHS services.

Three GP practices in Lambeth, south London, will launch a pilot scheme next year to offer food vouchers on prescription, while other schemes combatting issues like loneliness, obesity and stress already offer patients referrals to gardening clubs or cooking lessons.

Rosie Oglesby, national director of food poverty charity Feeding Britain, said social prescriptions had an important role to play in preventing malnutrition that could save the NHS millions each year.

“Malnutrition is a huge issue. Interventions like social prescribing can help to tackle the problem earlier on, and prevent people ending up in desperate situations,” she said.

“Tackling hunger and malnutrition is not just about making sure people have full stomachs, but about making sure they can eat well and get the nutrition they need.”

The scheme in Lambeth, which will be funded by the Alexandra Rose charity, will allow doctors to issue physical scripts to patients to the value of £1 that can be redeemed at market stalls in the local area.

Secondly from the website, OffGuardian:

Today we think of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as a cosy piece of traditional seasonal fare, replete with steaming puds and roasted goose and comfortably easy lessons about not being stingy at Crimbo. But when Dickens wrote his novella in 1843 he was delivering a far more serious – and possibly freshly relevant – warning about the moral bankruptcy of a society that destroys human lives in pursuit of profit

It’s a fact not much considered, but Das Kapital and A Christmas Carol were both written in the same city, in the same decade – just five years apart.

To those familiar only with the numerous adaptations of Dickens’ tale it might seem absurd to look for any point of connection between these two books. What can a feel-good tale of middle class redemption have to do with a study of the class struggle? But this question only begs to be asked because a lot of the real meaning behind the writing of A Christmas Carol has always been missing from the general perception of this work.

As conceived in 1843, Dickens’ short novel was not simply a personal morality tale. It was a raw and impassioned warning to his fellow bourgeois Victorians of the collective responsibility human beings have for one another and the potential danger existing in exactly the social forces Marx would soon be dissecting. Dickens was worried about the rampant injustices in his society, not simply out of a sense of empathy and outrage, but out of fear. He was convinced the grotesque imbalances of wealth and power that endured at the time of his writing might end up tearing the fabric of society apart.

The 1840s, known as the “hungry forties” were years of financial confusion, recession, poverty and unrest throughout much of the developed world. In the USA the boom of 1836 was followed by the “panic of 1837”. The United Kingdom adopted free trade, abolishing most duties & tariffs. There was a railway boom and bust, the Bank Charter Act of 1844, and then a panic in 1847. There was the Irish “potato famine” or “Great Hunger”, when people died of starvation while Anglo-Irish landowners exported the food that would have saved them. In 1846, after heavy lobbying, the Corn Laws were repealed, signalling the end of any protection for domestic producers.

Social injustice was becoming unhinged and self-defeating in its extremity. In 1834 the Malthusian New Poor Law had dehumanised and institutionalised poverty. The law forced anyone needing welfare to enter a workhouse and refusal to do so meant starvation. The new wave of workhouses produced as a result of the Act were places of nightmare, more closely resembling concentration camps than refuges for the needy. Families were forcibly separated, parents assumed to have relinquished all rights over and responsibilities for their children. Segregation by age and gender was enforced. Personal belongings and clothing was confiscated until discharge.

Editors comment

We live in dark times. Child poverty is rife.  When we look back to Victorian times we view those days as a period of misery which we have thankfully escaped.  We have not escaped it, the propaganda of the State has become slicker and the distractions more efficient.

Capitalism hasn't become more human, it has become a better actor, and its crimes have become so commonplace that they have become experienced as somehow 'normal'.  Now that is a post Christmas sobering thought...

No comments: