Seasons greetings to you all.
After the turkey and trimmings and pressie giving splurge is over I want to draw your attention to a couple of issues.
Housing and Food.
First up housing.
At this time of year housing occupies my mind more than a little. Not the state of houses, not the number of bedrooms but the lack of them. More specifically how many of our fellow countrymen (and women) don’t actually have access to one to call their own. Homelessness (and its mate Rooflessness) are terrible issues for anyone to face. My surgeries are most often taken up with housing and homelessness cases.
We need to build more houses, I hear (and say) all too often. We need suitable houses not just little enclaves of executive housing for the doing-quite-well-keep-us-away-from-the-poor types but real attempts to build houses to meet the needs of our people. You know, not chicken coop sized rows and rows of battery houses but well designed and community building houses.
In Fife (Where I live and am a Cooncillor), we have more than 11000 on housing waiting lists. Part of our manifesto (at the local elections) was to build 2700 new homes over the next 5 years. A start but not a cure. Add to this the need to bring 60% of our houses up to Scottish Housing Quality Standards and you get an idea of the scale of the problem. Affordable housing (an awful term) has overtones of poorer quality (though this isn’t necessarily true) and isn’t viewed in a positive light. Councils need to build up their stocks quickly and take some of the heat out of the private let market. A market that has gotten huge benefits from the shortage in supply.
Fewer people are ‘roughing it’ but that doesn’t tell the whole story of those in Scatter flats and temporary accommodation. With no home to call your own the displacement and disconnection from society increases. Add to this those without homes often have many issues (no money and dependencies to name but two) that make fitting into and contributing to communities difficult.
Overarching these current problems lie the haphazard and poorly thought out (and implemented) welfare / housing benefit changes to follow soon. The uncertainty of a roof over their heads will be horrendous.
The march of the makers needs to be in the direction of council housing and bucket loads of it.
An announcement today to spend £4.5m bringing empty private houses back into use by the SNP Administration at Holyrood will, it is hoped, bring 400 private homes back into the affordable sector on the proviso that they are made available for 5 years to rent. Okay as far as it goes but a gimmick of a policy when the housing budgets to local authorities were slashed. something must be done media driven policy.
Anyway, I digress, housing and the homeless occupy my thoughts at this time of year particularly and hope they’ll intrude on yours too!
(Shelter website with many, many things to share)
More specifically the lack of it. I spent a very productive hour today with representatives from local churches and the YMCA discussing foodbanks and the setting up of one to cover Glenrothes. The need is there and currently being met by volunteer groups who’ll need a big help if the requirements keep increasing (and the stats suggest they will).
Demand for food support (ie food parcels) has gone up by a third in the last year.
Far too many are being failed by DWP and a benefits system based not on need but on efficiency and cuts. Telling people in need to appeal and the money will be back dated is really helpful especially when you are skint. Crisis support to feed people is a growth area (if only the economy was eh?) and foodbanks are springing up all over the land. A sure sign of a failing economic policy (and plan McB isn’t much better).
The Trussell Trust (http://www.trusselltrust.org/) are raising the profile of this need in the media and on TV. I am pleased they are doing so much because I hope it will shame the DWP and IDS into thinking again about the impact of their reforms (cuts agenda with a new badge). Savaging the weakest is neither fair nor acceptable.
By the way, many of the 200 000 or so who will be helped by foodbanks this coming year will be working. Read that again. Working and unable to buy enough food. Not on benefits, working. Makes you wonder about wage levels doesn’t it?
SO when the turkey sandwiches are served up today, and you groan not turkey again, spare a wee moment for those who’ve been visited by the foodbank fairy or those whose roof is borrowed, temporary or simply not there.
Merry Christmas to you all.
I wouldn’t want you to be too cheerful now, would I.
For me it is very simple.
We have a welfare state that is supposed to be a safety net to catch those in need. It isn’t an anti work thing.
My Mother was a divorcee (oh the shame) twice over with three kids and on the social. Absent dad, free school meals and pretty much skimping from week to week. All the hallmarks of the broken home that used to be bandied about as a badge of low expectation. Sadly that broken home would be considered not too bad when compared to the chaos of some families today.
When we (I say we, but really when I was older – being the youngest) were older she went back to work in a factory working night-shift to provide. All good so far. There were jobs in the area. She managed. We got by and she sacrificed her wants to meet our needs. And we never really knew we were poor (people had less then and the world was in black and white, cue hovis music)
Fast forward to today and the situation for many is now a life of benefits with no prospect of that changing any time soon. It isn’t fecklessness or laziness but systematic economic policy failure over the last 40 years. Jobs have moved and changed leaving some areas as vacuums offering very low skill and low paid jobs (if any at all). Many can’t just get on their bike or pull their socks up or strive not shirk. The environment they have to navigate isn’t like that.
There are many issues around employment and poverty but the one thing that gets right to me is the need for foodbanks. I’ll say it again, foodbanks.
Alms for the poor is the medieval equivalent. Bring out the poor to the soup kitchens. Foodbanks show me that the inequality and dysfunction of our society is out of control.
In an economy with a safety net designed to support the vulnerable of our society we find it doesn’t and thousands of people are choosing between heating and eating. Or choosing between feeding themselves or feeding the kids. Intolerable just isn’t strong enough.
All the defecit-blaming, skiver bashing and its-for-your-own-good Austerity does not deflect from the central fact – thousands of people in our country cannot afford food.
CANNOT AFFORD FOOD.
It has now become cause celebre and a club to beat Dave-call-me-dave and his coterie of disconnected millionaires with, of course it might have more weight if the wielder of the club wasn’t a millionaire too.
People who use foodbanks are desperate and the attack on their self-esteem is relentless. Their need is not imaginary or exaggerated. Just imagine, for a moment, that it has all gone wrong and like old mother Hubbard your cupboard is bare. What then? you have a job but have no money and have to soldier on knowing it’s not enough. How would you feel about approaching a foodbank or being referred to one?
So just keep that in mind the next time welfare recipients are cast as living the life of Riley. Some might even be happy with it but most are closing their curtains at night desperate and distraught. It’s both the squeezed middle and the working poor and you cannot tell just by looking.
So here we are, 21st Century, 7th largest economy in the world with a distorted distribution of wealth in our society and we have over 200 000 people being fed through foodbanks. It’s hurting not working. Of course those of us better off won’t need to use foodbanks or be impacted by the changes IDS makes to benefits and we would be forgiven for not realising the tidal wave of misery that will sweep over many of our countrymen (and women).
For me this isn’t political, it is societal. Proof of a society that has ceased to work. My generation was mobilised to feed the world in the 80’s, how sad that this winter we need foodbank networks to feed our own. We have come such a long way, haven’t we.
In the society I want no one goes to bed hungry for want of food, cold for want of energy and scared for a lack of security. Foodbanks ought to be unnecessary but they are not, its time we were all working to make the need for them extinct.
So while punch and Judy go toe-to-toe over the poor, foodbanks will be taking up the slack.
Realpolitik in action.