Ignoring desperate poverty by focusing on working poor

The Guardian Oct 2013 – ‘Labour will be tougher than Tories on benefits, promises new welfare chief’ – The article (see link below) was commenting on the views of Rachel Reeves MP; she’s now Labour’s Shadow Chancellor –

www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/oct/12/labour-benefits-tories-labour-rachel-reeves-welfare

I must admit I’ve had a big downer on Reeves ever since October 2013 because, in my view, desperate poverty, which neither Labour nor Tories are willing to address, is actually just as much if not more so within the ignored part of our population, the non-working poor.

The reason Labour and Tories ignore the non-working poor is that they’re significantly less likely to vote. Yes I know that’s an appalling situation but it is how our antiquated political system works. Presently, pretty much the only focus of both our main parties is on the working-class right-wingers as they’re seen as key to who wins swing/marginal constituencies. If you don’t live in a swing/marginal seat where that section of the electorate holds sway then the politicians of Labour and the Tories really aren’t bothered what you think.

I realise that measuring poverty is often difficult but my own test of it growing across the UK is the need for foodbanks. Launched in the year 2000, Salisbury Foodbank was the first Trussell Trust foodbank in the UK. I think there are around 1,200 of their food banks these days. So to my mind poverty is growing and our two major political parties pay lip service to tackling it.

The solution is pretty clear to me, it’s Universal Basic Income (UBI). I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it. The only good news on this front is that the Welsh Government has said it will conduct pilots to try to develop a formula – payments and taxation – to find a workable form of UBI. We’ll see, it could be a kicking the can down the road exercise but at least they’ve listened.

Maghull – A community survey by the churches of the Town

I attended a meeting a couple of days ago where members of the church community from Maghull, led by Maghull Baptist Church, gave interested local councillors a briefing on the survey they had conducted within the past year about community views on various matters.

The survey, which 380 people had responded to in detail, covered a wide range of matters – social, economic, crime, environmental, community facilities etc. and I think it fair to say that there were no really big surprises in the results presented to us. However, it was fascinating to hear a perspective from the religious community (and I say that as an atheist) about their engagement with the Maghull community.

One very interesting aspect for me was with regard to debt, housing and food bank issues that came out of the survey. To me these 3 things are linked and I would like to see some further in depth work done on them by Sefton Council in particular because of our straightened economic times.

Food banks are now a regular feature of media comment and they are being set up across the UK to assist folks who are really struggling to feed themselves and their families but trying to find out what the underlying need is for them, at least in my part of Sefton Borough, is like pulling teeth. I have asked Sefton Council on a few occasions to let me have some stats as to the need for, referrals to, take up etc. for food bank use in the 3 wards that make up the East Parishes part of the Borough but so far with nothing coming back to me.

However, this churches survey, which was conducted in one part of Maghull rather than across the wider community showed that of the 380 respondents 3 (1%) had made use of a food bank, 1 of debt counselling and 2 of housing advice. At face value these are all lower figures than I would have expected to see bearing in mind that the area of Maghull selected would be the one with the lowest average incomes in general terms. BUT when you look at the more detailed figures things seem to be different in that an additional 4% would use a food bank and 12% may use one.

My point here is that this is matter for which we need better data so to fully understand what is going on. The fact that the Council does not seem to know and that it took local churches to provide some stats does not fill me with a great deal of confidence in the Council.

Is it really the case that up to 17% of the 380 people surveyed may at some point need to use a Food bank because if you add up the 1% who have used one to the 4% who would use one and the 12% who might use one that is the figure you come to?

And this is in the context of Maghull and the East Parishes part of the Borough not yet having a formal operating food bank in terms of one of the Trusell Trust type that is now the generally accepted format for them. One is being set up though by the local churches who have obviously been acting as a more informal food outlet for those on hard times as the religious community has indeed done for generations. Despite being an atheist I a have often admired and supported the Salvation Army in their work to help those who have the least in our society.

So, what did I learn from the presentation by the churches? I suppose I learned that we still don’t know enough about poverty in our communities, even in relatively affluent ones like Maghull and that is not exactly something to be proud of is it.