The idea of “big society” looms as large over this government as Big Brother did over 1984. The big question is how is this idea different to previous Conservative thinking on the subject? As prime minister from 1979 to 1990, Mrs Thatcher told us there was no such thing as society. She said the state was inefficient as a service provider; that public expenditure inhibited wealth creation and created dependency, and that we should turn instead to the market.
She aimed to cut public expenditure. She reduced welfare benefits and stigmatized people receiving them as dependent and scroungers. She called for an expansion of self-help and voluntarism. Her critics said that she weakened UK economic performance, increased economic inequality and reduced social mobility. They argued that her reforms increased social divisions, undermined social cohesion and had particularly damaging effects on the regions, Scotland and Wales and their manufacturing industries.
She actually massively increased public expenditure on welfare benefits through increasing unemployment. Her reduction of expenditure on the health service seriously undermined its performance and meant that being seen as looking after the NHS has become a watchword ever since for any leader who wishes to be elected and remain in power.
By contrast, David Cameron has argued for “big society” as core to his policy approach and political belief. He believes that the state is inefficient as a service provider; that public expenditure inhibits wealth creation and creates dependency and we should instead turn to the market.
He has aimed to cut public expenditure. He has reduced welfare benefits and stigmatized people receiving them as dependent and scroungers. He has called for an expansion of self-help and voluntarism. He has presided over the weakening of UK economic performance. His period in office has witnessed the extension of economic inequality and reduced social mobility. His reforms have come in for criticism for increasing social divisions, undermining social cohesion and for having particularly damaging effects on the regions, Scotland and Wales and their manufacturing industries.
He is set on reducing public expenditure on welfare benefits, but rising unemployment through the loss of public and private sector jobs is likely to increase the welfare bill. There are widespread fears that his reorganisation of and reduction of expenditure on the NHS will seriously undermine its performance when people are used to seeing looking after the NHS as a watchword for any leader who wishes to be elected and remain in power.
So what is the difference between devaluing and discounting society and talking it up – between no society and “big society”? So far it’s difficult to see even a sliver of space between them, barring the direction of spin. Both seem to come with the same baggage. Why then should we expect the results of present policy with its talk of “big society” to be any different or any more successful than earlier talk of no society? This looks like a worrying case where history may be repeating itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as even worse.
During the pass few weeks my team just like other team Labour have been on the doorsteps there have been many people who are very low and middle incomes have been reporting to us that they have been penalized by both the Bedroom and Council taxes and some faced with evictions thanks to this coalition government whilst the cost of living have increased and some have to depend very heavily on food parcels.
I’m sure that many would have read in the national press of people being force out of their rented accommodation by privately owned landlords who have increased the rent. This because some councils has not built enough properties which is causing a major problems to the local population as people have been
throughout the London region has been forced to move to places like Birmingham and Manchester.
It’s beggars believe this has split families and some have lost their local support network in their communities thanks to Thatcherism which this coalition are hell bent on carrying on under the guise of Big Society coupled by benefit caps. Mark my words this will come back to haunt this coalition but do they really care about communities in today’s world which I’m sure that most can answer.
Ever since Thatcher talked about there is no such thing as society this coalition has the very cheek to rebrand it as the Big Society and to top it off the further cheek of Lord Tebbit words during the 1980s “On Yer Bike which has come back to haunt this coalition under Iain Duncan Smith, Employment Minister, George Osbourne and David Cameron.
It beggars belief when I read or hear poorer people saying that they would rather vote for a conservative right leaning party than vote for a left leaning one. Conservatives are only ever interested in making rich people richer and it always is on the backs of the rest of us who are unfortunate not to have wealth, but we endure, we fly the fucking flags like idiots thinking all politicians are the same so why bother changing them in the first place right? Wrong, right leaning politicians wouldn’t have brought you the benefits of which you all take for granted and we would be either working for virtually nothing and for longer, no weekends, no annual holidays, no sick leave to name but a few, all brought to you by the sweat of those who gave a fuck and fought for it, sometimes paying with their lives. So before you all think seriously about voting for a rich mans party, think long and hard,do I enjoy these breaks or would you rather live to work?
So its no surprise to the many that religious leaders and faith groups have called on the government to take action to tackle a “national crisis” of rising hunger and food poverty, as latest figures suggest more than a million Britons have been helped by food banks in the past year.
More than 40 Anglican bishops and 600 church leaders have signed a letter, calling on David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband to tackle the causes of food poverty, including low wages, rising food prices and an inadequate welfare benefit safety net.
The letter said the period running up to Easter had been a time of “sorrowful and deep reflection” for people of all faiths on what it calls the terrible rise in hunger in Britain, and urged society to “begin rising to the challenge of this national crisis”.
The document, signed by 45 of the UK’s Anglican 59 bishops, including those from Durham, Southwark, Bath and Wells, St Albans, Coventry and Edinburgh, although not by the Archbishops of Canterbury or York – calls on the main parties to engage with and support the findings of a newly created all-party parliamentary inquiry into the causes of food poverty and hunger.
The religious leaders continue: “Hope is not an idle force. Hope drives us to act. It drives us to tackle the growing hunger in our midst. It calls on each of us, and government too, to act to make sure that work pays, that food markets support sustainable and healthy diets, and that the welfare system provides a robust last line of defence against hunger.”
The letter coincides with the release of data by the Trussell Trust, the UK’s biggest food bank network, which reveals that more than 900,000 people received food parcels in 2013-14, a 163% increase.
It is the second time in two months that church leaders have courted political controversy by publicly urging ministers to take action on food poverty, and reflects widespread feeling among faith groups involved in poverty projects that the government has failed to grasp the extent of the hardship faced by low-income families. In February, 27 bishops wrote to the Daily Mirror saying that Cameron had a moral duty to act on the growing number going hungry.
The archbishop of Wales, Barry Morgan, said the new initiative demonstrated frustration that ministers had not responded properly to that letter. “What we are saying to the government is … can you at least acknowledge that there is a real problem here?” He added: “It’s incredible that in a country as relatively wealthy as ours, where we talk of economic recovery, there are still people who have to depend on food handouts to feed their families.”
The Trussell Trust said its figures represented “just the tip of the iceberg” of food poverty and demonstrated that many British citizens on low incomes, especially those reliant on benefits, were finding it harder to make ends meet. Over half of its food parcels went to people facing welfare cuts or delays in benefit payments, it said, in a direct challenge to ministers who have steadfastly refused to accept that there is any link between cuts to social security and the explosion in food bank use.
Chris Mould, chairman of the trust, said: “It’s been extremely tough for a lot of people, with parents not eating properly in order to feed their children and more people than ever experiencing seemingly unfair and harsh benefits sanctions.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said the Trussell figures were potentially misleading because it was unclear whether they had double-counted people who had made repeat visits to food banks. The spokesperson said: “We’re spending £94bn a year on working age benefits so that the welfare system provides a safety net to millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed so they can meet their basic needs.The truth is that the employment rate is the highest it’s been for five years and our reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities by promoting work and helping people to lift themselves out of poverty.”
The Trussell figures showed 913,138 people – including 330,205 children – were the beneficiaries of its food parcels in 2013-14, up from 346,992 in 2012-13. The main reason people came to the food banks for help was as a result of people being left impoverished by welfare changes, cuts and delays, it said.
Its figures understated the likely level of people going hungry, it added, because they did not include thousands of people helped by non-Trussell food banks and soup kitchens, those who had no access to a food bank, those too ashamed to turn to charity food, or those who were coping by going without food or buying less.
A separate survey of 130 Trussell food banks found that 83% reported that “sanctioning” – when job centres stop benefit payments to claimants for at least a month as a punishment for breaches of benefit conditions such a missing a job interview – was causing rising numbers to turn to charity food. Trussell, a Christian charity, currently oversees 404 food banks.
Other drivers of food bank demand were incomes failing to keep pace with rising living costs, low pay, and under-employment. Trussell said in addition to providing food parcels it was also providing essentials like washing powder, nappies and hygiene products to struggling families.
Other signatories to the bishops’ letter, organised by the End Hunger Fast campaign, include representatives of all the main christian denominations, including catholics, methodists, baptists, and quakers, as well as groupings such as the Evangelical Alliance. There are no Muslim signatories to the letter but a number of mosque and community-based faith projects are now active providing food aid.
A separate letter signed by 33 Jewish religious leaders calling on the prime minister to take action to ensure that no UK families go hungry will be published on Thursday tomorrow. Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, senior rabbi to the Movement for Reform Judaism, said synagogues and Jewish welfare organisations were seeing first-hand evidence of food poverty.
Well done for Maria Eagle, the shadow environment secretary, said the Trussell figures told the “shocking truth” of Britain’s cost-of-living crisis. “Instead of hiding behind the Tory myth that says the increase in food banks is driving demand, it is time ministers got a grip and took this issue seriously.