Birkenhead Labour MP, and ‘poverty tsar’ to the Coalition government, Frank Field, has written to the Prime Minister with some questions about food banks. Mr Field claims he is ‘gobsmacked’ by the need to ask such questions, and that he, and other MP’s, were ‘taken by surprise’ by the rapid growth in the use of food banks.
I am gobsmacked by Mr Field’s cheek. If any one person can be said to be responsible for shifting the ideological climate in support of the government’s welfare ‘reforms’ it is the former anti-poverty campaigner, Frank Field. And it is those reforms, supported by Mr Field, which are causing the increasingly desperate food bank queues.
So here are some answers to Mr Field’s (pompous and illiterate) questions:
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES THAT INFLUENCE WHY FAMILIES BECOME HUNGRY?
- benefit sanctions, especially since Mr Cameron’s ‘stricter benefit regime’ (SBR) was introduced on 1.11.12;
- Social Fund abolition - all emergency help from the DWP was deliberately ended in April, without replacement;
- endless delays in processing benefit claims, caused by cuts in the DWP and a culture there which priorities sanctions over paying people their legal entitlement;
- the bedroom tax;
- abolition of Council Tax Benefit and its replacement by reduced local council tax support - in Birkenhead even the poorest householders are being required to pay at least 22% of their council tax, however low their income;
- cuts to Working tax Credit and Housing Benefit, coupled with falling real wages, all affecting working families;
- below inflation uprating of most benefits when inflation for basic items like food and fuel is increasing more than general inflation;
- ATOS medicals resulting in disabled people losing all their income overnight - losses to be extended with mandatory reconsideration from 28.10.13.
The effect of all these changes was widely and correctly predicted by everyone who, like you Mr Field, knows about the welfare system. Yet NOT ONCE did you raise your voice while these changes were introduced.
Incidentally you should learn to write English properly.
WHAT IMMEDIATE FOOD SUPPORT EXISTS AND FOR HOW LONG IS IT REQUIRED?
What exists are largely Church run food banks, increasingly overwhelmed. You claim to be a Christian, Mr Field so you should know the injunction in Deuteronomy 15:
7 If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother:
8 But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth.
Why then did you not object, Mr Field, as a Christian MP, when abolition of the Social Fund was announced in June 2010? You must have known that Crisis Loans from the Social Fund were the only way many of your constituents survived and that food banks were the only replacement on offer.
And food banks try to restrict their supplies to a limited period; unfortunately benefit delays and sanctions are not so limited. People need help with food for as long as they have no money.
HOW DOES THE ISSUE OF DEBT INFLUENCE THIS DEMAND?
The ‘issue of debt’ doesn’t influence food bank demand at all. Debt does. You pay your rent shortfall, thanks to HB cuts, you pay your council tax, thanks to CTB abolition, you pay your inflated fuel bills, you repay your payday lender, you repay your Social Fund loan, you pay your bedroom tax. Then you have no money left for food. Not complicated.
WHAT PART OF BUDGETARY AND HOUSEHOLD SKILLS CAN BE IMPROVED TO HELP TACKLE THIS PROBLEM?
No part, you sanctimonious slimeball. When you benefit is stopped by an ATOS medical, or sanctioned because you were 10 minutes late to sign on you have no money. What part of ‘no money’ don’t you understand Mr Field? And when you do still have some money it’s precisely your budgeting skills that drive you to the food bank. You pay your bills first. Then you use your household skills to make a four day food bank donation last a week.
HOW DIFFICULT IS IT NOW TO LIVE ON BENEFITS IN TERMS OF THEIR BEING A RELIABLE SOURCE OF INCOME?
Since most means tested benefits can be and are sanctioned, suspended or stopped without notice at any time I think you know the answer to this one. Since every one of these things happens as a matter of deliberate government policy - your government Mr Field since you agreed to provide them political cover in your role as ‘poverty tsar’ - I think you know WHY benefits are not a reliable source of income as well.
HOW CAN THE GOVERNMENT’S WORK PROGRAMME BE IMPROVED TO BETTER SUPPORT FAMILIES IN FOOD POVERTY?
It can’t. Are you really so naive, Mr Field? The private companies who run the Work Programme are not in the business of helping poor families or anyone else. They are in the business of milking the government for every drop of money they can. They are an organised, government approved, institution for benefit fraud. They do not remotely help people find work - they rely on people doing that for themselves, as they do; whereupon the Work Programme contractors claim their payments for something not of their doing at all.
WHY DOES IT APPEAR THAT THE STATUTORY SERVICES ARE LARGELY INACTIVE IN THE FACE OF HUNGER?
Because the government has deliberately caused that hunger, removed all the services that were provided to prevent it, and drowned out the voices of anyone who tried to point this out in a concerted chorus of class hatred and contempt for poor people from their press. Your government, Mr Field.
Frank Field, for anyone who doesn’t know, has been MP for Birkenhead, one of the poorest areas of the country, since 1979. Before that he was Director of both the Child Poverty Action Group and the Low Pay Unit. While MP he set up the Birkenhead Resource Unit, primarily to take up benefit issues for his constituents (the Unit failed after the collapse of Barings Bank since it was funded by the Barings Foundation charity). The BRU employed bright campaigning lawyers like Nick Warren and Phil Shiner to take on cases against the DHSS (as it then was) and earned Mr Field an undeserved reputation as a good constituency MP. (I took on some of the BRU cases when it closed, to give my credentials here).
Mr Field in short knows full well that benefits have never been generous, that families struggle in low paid work. Unfortunately Mr Field, over the years, alone in his Hamilton Square flat, came to hate and despise the people of Birkenhead, who had elected him as a campaigning MP who was on their side. I have if front of me a book Mr Field wrote in 1989 - “Losing Out - the Emergence of Britain’s Underclass” in which the contempt practically drips of the pages with talk, however qualified, of the ‘pathologies of the underclass’. He was a pioneer in the process of demonising and pathologising people who claim benefits which has risen to new heights under the Coalition government.
More recently Mr Field has been campaigning again. Crusading against the welfare reform that are creating child poverty on a level not seen for generations? Nope. His recent activities include:
- a report, for the coalition government, blaming poverty on bad parenting, demanding more state control of working class families with young children, and replacing benefit increases for children with more funding for Sure Start and the like. Not one of the proposals have been adopted (except the benefit cuts);
- claiming that Universal Credit will be a disaster. OK: he got that right. But why: because claiming benefits ‘rots the soul’ according to Mr Field. That’s unfortunate for disabled people and others who have no choice but to claim benefit, like me, like many of his constituents. (Be warned, Mr Field can smell our rotten souls). He’s not entirely wrong of course. Being poor, unemployed, disabled, badly housed does not do anyone any good. But for Mr Field the problem is not the poverty, the unemployment, the disability or the bad housing; the problem is the benefits and ‘benefit dependency’;
- claiming that too much social housing goes to immigrants. The high minded, austere Mr Field is as capable as the rest of his peers of passing on gobbets from the racist gutter;
- advocating extensions to the ‘right to buy’. Apparently this will solve the housing shortage; I won’t even try to fathom out why. It’s probably better for people’s souls to be homeowners or something;
- complaining that the Labour Party is dominated by by Scots. Oh, FFS.
Now, it seems, Mr Field has belatedly realised that much of the genuine campaigning work he did as a young man, and others did for him as an MP, is being systematically undone by the Coalition’s war on welfare. He is trying, ever so cautiously and politely, to distance himself with this letter.
Too late, Mr Field, much too late. You have done your work for the ruling class and had your reward. They don’t need you any more. Nor do the people of Birkenhead. Resign, die, do what you will, but don’t befoul politics any more by turning your self disgust against the people in poverty you once used to work for.