Wealthy and privileged folk, the gentry of the time, sit on richly upholstered leather chairs and howl
in laughter as the plight of the poor and the hungry are described.
As tales are told of hungry people fighting each other for cheap food those privileged folk joke and
smile, mock and cry aloud in joy.
As old soldiers are left to beg these most honourable gentlemen and ladies are richly amused, such
fun they are having.
But this was not a Dickens novel. This was not some Victorian social commentary.
This was the 21st century. The 18th of December 2013 and this was the houses of Parliament.
Watching politics in the UK and the world at large is a truly depressing thing. You must work hard
to avoid becoming jaded, to begin to treat the cruelty and evil that you see day by day as somehow
But even with all the darkness I see around me from time to time something comes along that
lowers the bar even more.
An event that lowers the image of politics even further.
Modern British politics has long since left the gutter and is digging its way past the sewers and into
That far too many of our political leaders simply do not care about the victims of the casual cruelty
that is so much of government policy these days is not new.
But to sit and watch Members of Parliament tell stories of people fighting over discounted food and
to listen to the laughter coming from the other side of the house is something new even to me.
The fact that they are actually amused by this suffering, the fact that they are driven to laughter by
hungry people fighting each other for food to feed their children, that is something new.
This is a new low for a system that strives to lower itself year after year.
But this was just a handful of Tory and Lib Dem Mps, most of them including the ministers had long
since left the debate.
This was just the twenty or so Government MPs that turned up, the vast majority were missing, they
clearly had better things to do with a Thursday afternoon that take part in a debate about why a
million or more people in the United Kingdom are going hungry.
It’s not as if 296 of those missing MPs voted against an official investigation into the raid growth in
the number of food bank users.
It’s not as if every Government Minister with responsibility for this situation got up and walked out
after IDS hid behind his current attack puppy and left her to give the official Government response
which included such highlights as:
It’s the other side’s fault so blame them for whatever suffering we are causing.
More people in Germany or Canada use food banks so it’s ok that a million plus people in the
UK go hungry
Getting people in work solves all problems (But no comment on how upwards of a quarter
of all people “In Work” are using food banks and charities or claiming benefits to bring their income
up to a liveable level).
More people turning to food banks is a good thing.
It is positive that people are reaching out to support other people.
In the UK it is right that more people are going to food banks because times are tough.
It’s not as if half of this countries MPs, the same men and women who are keeping so silent on a
Pay rise that is the same as what they consider to be the liveable wage and who claim expenses
that for the vast majority are higher than the national average wage on top of their MP’s
salaries are blocking an investigation into why a million or more people who do not take home
£100,000 a year or more when you add salary, expenses and perks together are going cap in hand
to a charity or to friends or neighbours to ask for help.
It’s not as if upwards of a million people in one of the richest nations on this planet, faces filled
with shame as they go, must ask a food bank of charity for not just food by toilet paper and sanitary
Oh Wait. It is exactly like that.
We hear statistics and lies, lies and more lies, numbers plucked at random and used to make the
Yes Food bank use went up tenfold under the labour government and it has only been doubling or in
recent years tripling under the Coalition.
But look at the numbers behind those increases.
In 2005/6 The Trussell Trust on its own had 2,814 people going to it for food.
In 2009/10 the number was 40,899.
More than a tenfold increase, a fourteen fold increase.
But how about these numbers:
2009/10 The Trussell Trust on its own had 40,898 people going to it for food.
2012/13 the number was 346,992
So far this year they have already gone past the 500,000 mark and we haven’t even had the worst
of the winter.
The coalition for all its claims that this is a Labour problem have managed to achieve a significant
increase in food bank users.
Over a four year period labour sat and watched food bank use increased fourteen fold.
Over a four year period the Tories and Lib Dems have sat and watched food bank use increased a
mere eight fold.
But claiming this is trickery of the basest kind. Oh it’s not the Tories fault, Labour let food bank use
grow from a few thousand people to forty thousand people, blame them not us.
Sorry but there is a huge difference between a Government that had 40,000 people going hungry
and a government that has not only got more than 500,000 people going hungry (upwards of a
million by the end of the winter) but has also not just refused to look at the problem, not just
actively made the problem worse, not just actively walked out of any attempt to discuss the
BUT LAUGHED AT THOSE GOING HUNGRY.
I often draw comparisons between the events and attitudes of far too many of our political class
to the attitudes in the time of Dickens.
So here is a bit more, some Dickensian history.
In 1834 a law was passed by Parliament, the Law declared that all parishes must be combined to
form regional unions and that each union would them become responsible for the provision of food,
clothing and shelter for the growing numbers of poor people who had been displaced by events such
as the loss of jobs to industrialisation.
All other forms of support such as church aid and soup kitchens were actually made illegal.
In order to recoup the costs of this aid to the poor, the union had the legal right to make those people
it was feeding work in a variety of occupations in order to earn income that went straight to the union.
These were the Workhouses where the poor could receive a bare minimum of food and shelter in
return for working often hazardous jobs.
There were reports at the time that the real reason behind this was a growing concern amongst the
middle and upper class tax payers and intellectuals of the day.
There was reported to be a real suspicion amongst the middle and upper classes that they were paying the
poor to be lazy and avoid work.
So food and clothing and charity was outlawed by the Government of the day and in came the
workhouses where corruption and cruelty became so widespread that many turned to prostitution or
crime rather than become trapped inside one.
In fact those in need were deliberately treated in the harshest fashion possible by many, to ensure
that only a minimum of the most desperate would risk the cruelty they were sure to receive in return
for a few bowls of gruel and a roof over their heads.
The Poor Law Commission was set to oversee these workhouses from its offices in Somerset house in
London and between 1834 and 1841 set many of the rules that determined the operation of the
workhouses. In 1841 these rules came to be ratified by parliament rather than simply agreed by the
However there are countless reports of corruption in the system and of the ways be which the
Commission avoided parliamentary oversight of its activities.
These included events such as the Andover Workhouse scandal where residents had been found to be
eating the flesh of the dead to try and survive.
Any of that sound familiar?
How about this:
In February, Olivier De Schutter, a senior United Nations official charged with ensuring governments
honour their obligation to safeguard their citizen's Right to food, warned the UK's government
against leaving too much responsibility for aiding Britain's hungry to the voluntary sector.
In October, the Red cross announced it will start providing hunger relief in Britain for the first time
since World War II.
In December 2013, a group of Doctors and academics wrote to the British Medical Journal, noting recent
developments like a doubling in the number of malnutrition cases received by hospitals, and asserting that
hunger in the UK had reached the level of a "public health emergency".
In August 2012, writer Richard Seymour wrote that while it never became mainstream, the old 18th-century
view that the hungry are morally responsible for their plight returned and in the UK it influenced the policy
of the Conservative - Liberal coalition from 2010 onwards
Any of that sound familiar?
So here we are. Food poverty, Fuel Poverty, General Poverty and suffering all around us.
A government that is constantly reporting that the poor and the needy have no one to blame
A Government that constantly tells us that those on benefits are lazy, feckless, workshy and actively
avoiding getting a job so they can live the life of luxury on £70 a week. That the Government is paying
the poor to be lazy and avoid work.
A Government that employs organisations such as ATOS and directs them to ensure that those in need
are deliberately treated in the harshest fashion possible, to ensure that only a minimum of the most
desperate would risk the cruelty they were sure to receive in return for a few bowls of gruel and a
roof over their heads.
Any of that sound familiar?
When the Government, when the Coalition, when the Tories and the Lib Dems that are currently
running this country or when Labour were in office a few years ago needed money it was always
possible to find a few billion here or a few tens of billions there to start a war or bomb some middle
eastern country into chaos and anarchy.
We are still looking at £50 Billion or more (a lot more) on a railway)
We are being told that the Billions, tens of billions of pounds spent in Afghanistan has led to
“Mission Accomplished”. Though what exactly the Approx £40 billion has accomplished other than
more violence, less rights for women, higher drug production, more theocracy, more terror, more
death and more destruction is very hard to see.
We are paying Billions into the EU including a food fund specifically to feed those who are going
hungry (a multi billion Euro fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived) but then refusing to access
any of that money when it is offered back to us to aid our own most deprived people. The reason
for refusing this, “It believes that measures of this type are better and more efficiently delivered by
individual member states through their own social programmes”,that would presumably be the same
programs that are being butchered by the Government to reduce costs.
We are told that those who are so poor that they need to use food banks need to learn how to properly
manage their own finances because it is a simple matter to pay your food bills and fuel bills and rents and
mortgages when you have no money if only you were not too stupid (Thank you Mr Gove).
But most of all. Worst of all. The thing that stands out clearly.
A few days before Christmas.
In the year 2013.
In the twenty first century.
In a wealthy western nation.
In a civilised Nation.
MPs in the houses of Parliament laughing because they were so amused at starving people fighting
over scraps of food.
There is an election soon.
Remember this day.
Remember the laughter.
Remember the Jokes.
Do your Duty as a citizen of the United Kindom, use your right to vote.
Vote this Scum out of office.