George Osborne has bread. Lots of it. His salary, as MP and Chancellor, is £145K annually. His inherited wealth from the family wallpaper company is estimated at about five million. He was a member of the Bullingdon Club at Oxford, for rich boys who don’t have to think about the cost of vandalism, drink, or drugs, and aside from a few stopgap jobs the first year after he graduated in 1992, he’s never worked a day outside the Conservative Party in his life.
Osborne, in case you’d forgotten, is the kind of upper-class man who thinks that he can buy a standard class ticket and take a first class seat.
But all Osborne has for us is stones.
Since 12th December 2012, over a hundred thousand people have signed a petition calling for:
A Cumulative Impact Assessment of all cuts and changes affecting sick & disabled people, their families and carers, and a free vote on repeal of the Welfare Reform Act.
An immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association.
Consultation between the Depts of Health & Education to improve support into work for sick & disabled people, and an end to forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits.
There will be a debate: the Tories and LibDems would naturally prefer it should happen in Westminster Hall, out of sight and out of mind, while properly such a big issue should happen in the House of Commons. It should cover questions such as – why, when mortality rates appeared to be rising among the elderly for the first time in years, was the reaction of the government to cease to publish the data that would tell us if this was an annual blip or a steady trend?
And then there’s the other petition. This one has no political rights (and also, fairly, is easier to sign and less stringently checked than the official government petition): it’s just tweeted as #JacksPetition, launched by Jack Monroe.
I know what it’s like to turn the fridge off because it’s empty anyway. To unscrew the lightbulbs to alleviate the temptation of turning them on. I spent countless mornings sitting across the breakfast table from my son, envious of his small portion of cereal mashed with a little bit of water, or his slice of toast with jam. “Where’s Mummy’s breakfast?” he used to ask. Mummy wasn’t hungry. Mummy hadn’t been hungry the previous night either, and I used to wonder how long it would take him to notice that Mummy wasn’t very hungry at all any more.
I was referred to my local foodbank for help by a Sure Start children’s centre, after staff noticed that my son and I always had seconds and thirds of the free lunch they provided.
This Christmas, my son and I will have food on the table. But 60,000 others won’t. It’s not just the festive season – 350,000 people received three-days emergency food from foodbanks between April and September this year. Yet supposedly the economy is recovering, and banker’s bonuses are back?
As of time of blogging, two days after the petition was launched, it’s got 94,558 supporters, and still rising at a rate that would make it likely that it would match the Cumulative Impact Assessment (#WOWpetition) by the weekend. The Backbench Committee meeting to decide the location of the debate meets Tuesday 10th December: Ekklesia has published a sample letter that you could send to your MP.
[Update: Labour have announced that food bank use and hunger in the UK will be the topic of debate on the 18th December Opposition Day in the Commons. Should be noted that this is not a debate on WOWPetition, which should be guaranteed by David Cameron.]
The British Red Cross are distributing food parcels in the UK this winter for the first time since WWII: and the Independent reports that food poverty may have reached the level of a public health emergency:
In a letter to the British Medical Journal, a group of doctors and senior academics from the Medical Research Council and two leading universities said that the effect of Government policies on vulnerable people’s ability to afford food needed to be “urgently” monitored.
A surge in the number of people requiring emergency food aid, a decrease in the amount of calories consumed by British families, and a doubling of the number of malnutrition cases seen at English hospitals represent “all the signs of a public health emergency that could go unrecognised until it is too late to take preventative action,” they write.
Meantime, George Osborne is today making his much-leaked Autumn Statement. Puffles writes on the poisonous politics of reducing unemployment (and the trials of a system where a political statement can be leaked by snippets and widely discussed on social media before a politician actually says anything).
But what Osborne has to say is nothing to do with hunger, or any of the real issues facing so many people who have been harmed by the Tory/LibDem cuts.
No, George Osborne observes, richly content with how things are:
“The hard work of the British people is paying off and we will not squander their efforts.”