Sunday, 13 October 2013

The political elite squabble while the poor go hungry.

The Red Cross is to start collecting donations of food to distribute to needy families across the UK this winter; something it hasn’t done since the darkest days of World War Two.

The Geneva based charity will work with FareShare and the Trussell Trust to distribute donations through food banks across the country from late November as part of a Europe wide programme to support people his hard by austerity measures.

Belka Geleta told the Independent, the newspaper that broke the story in the UK, ‘We fully understand that governments need to save money, we strongly advise against indiscriminate cuts in health and welfare as it may cost more in the long run.’

Juliet Mountford, the head of the Red Cross UK Service Department said the charity was responding to ‘strong evidence of an increased need for support on food and poverty issues.’

Reacting to the news Chris Jones, UK poverty director for Oxfam told the Independent he was ‘genuinely shocked’ that the situation had become so serious. Maria Eagle, Labour shadow Environment Secretary said this was a ‘warning about the growing number of families facing a lack of nutritious food in Britain’, she went on to say it was a ‘wake up call to David Cameron over his failure to tackle the cost of living crisis.’

Senior figures in the Tory Party have previously tried to dismiss suggestions of a ‘crisis’ relating to the rising cost of living. In June Lord Freud claimed in June that families using food banks were just after a free meal; last month Michael Gove said they simply couldn’t manage their money properly.

On Friday a spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions said there was ‘no robust evidence that welfare reforms are linked to increased use of food banks’ and that the government would be supporting vulnerable people with cold weather payments and the winter fuel allowance.

The Red Cross is sending food aid to people living in the UK, that’s a sentence I thought I’d never write; mostly because it is something I thought would never happen. We’re a ‘big’ country, we’ve got a seat on the UN Security Council, we had the Olympics here last year; we send aid to other people dammit!

Amongst the detritus on my desk is a small pile of cuttings from the local newspaper that prove the above assertions wrong. Two thousand more people are in rent arrears this year than last thanks to benefit cuts, council tenants are being forced into the private rental sector due to the ‘bedroom tax’, levels of mental illness are rising as people struggle to cope with the stress caused by financial problems; the list goes on.

Maria Eagle is right, this should be a massive wake up call, not just to David Cameron though; the whole political class should have a collective migraine from the racket made by the alarm bells ringing. They haven’t though; they’ve been far too busy doing anything but notice the lives of the poor imploding.

Busy doing things like taking part in the seemingly endless squabbling over the Leveson Report. Rather than using the more than adequate laws already on the statute books to regulate the behaviour of the press they want to lavish time and effort on writing yet more for clever lawyers to manipulate in the interests of wealthy people.

Busy doing things like getting all hot and bothered about the tedious charade of the cabinet reshuffles. In brief David Cameron has brought in a few people from ‘humble’ backgrounds to show us he isn’t a toff; Ed Milliband has purged the last few Blairites to show he’s his own man, no really he is. The public remain largely indifferent because they know noting has really changed, the same clique of hapless careerists are still in charge of both parties.

Busy doing noting in fact; noting that connects meaningfully with the concerns of the public anyway, in place of political debate we’re given playground name calling; in place of an alternative vision of how the country might be run the opposition offers us vague promises that their cuts will be somehow ‘nicer’ than Tory ones. If the situation wasn’t so dire it would be comical.

The complacent political elite think they have largely got away with things, this isn’t Greece, our riots back in 2011 were a damp squib. Faced with hardship the British tend to grumble and get on with things telling themselves this is the ‘Blitz spirit’, quite mistakenly since in 1940 the country burned with the desire to fight back and had a leader capable of inspiring its people to do so; fat chance of the latter from any of today’s party leaders.

If things have got so bad that the Red Cross has to step in to help people our own government either can’t or won’t help then something serious has changed. There is a real risk that apathy could turn to anger.

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