D’ye see why we get puzzled about food banks?

We’ve the news today that it’s just appalling that a supermarket that runs a collection scheme for food banks should actually indicate, in its stores, which foods might be suitable for purchase to a food bank.

The Co-op has faced criticism on social media after a customer tweeted a picture of an own-brand grocery display touted as ‘ideal for the food bank’.

Dan Paris, a Scottish National Party activist, shared his picture of the promotion and remarked: ‘It’s easy to get used to these things but a shop advertising tinned food as “ideal for the food bank” has floored me.’

It led to a furious response from Twitter users who accused Co-op’s charitable appeal as a scheme for ‘pushing stuff customers won’t buy just to make a profit,’ as one put it.

Umm, what?

In response, Mr Paris explained he is himself a supporter of food banks.

He tweeted: ‘I’m sure this was done this with good intentions but I found it genuinely upsetting that food poverty has been normalised to this extent.

‘Nobody should be asked to buy food for the poor when they’re doing their weekly shop. That’s what the welfare state is for.’

We wouldn’t normally say this, that people should look to La Toynbee for actual information on anything but she did, on the same day, point out this:

As the Church of England report revealed, the most common reason for using food banks is benefit delay and “sanctions”.

The reason that we don’t want food banks to be a part of the welfare state is because they’re a reaction to the incompetence and or malevolence of the welfare state. It’s also worth reminding ourselves that the Trussell Trust says about itself that it started to take an interest in the issue back in 2000. when it was horrified to find out that there were people with no actual food in the house because of incompetence in the paying of benefits. This isn’t a new problem. and it’s not even entirely a problem with the simply incompetence of the State organs. Any system that tries to deal with tens of millions of tax and or benefit accounts simultaneously will screw up from time to time. And the sheer numbers just mean that at any one time some tens of thousands of people at least will be getting screwed. Which is rather why it seems like a very good idea to be using an entirely different system, operating in an entirely different manner, to be dealing with that problem.

All of which is entirely beside the basic moral point at issue here. What the heck’s wrong with private charity? Why does the solution only become sanctified when it is washed through the Holy Church of the taxing offices?

This isn’t a rerun of 1930s poverty

Just a small reminder that whatever you see being shouted over in The Guardian and other points left this really is not a rerun of the levels of poverty seen in the 1930s. It’s possible that it’s a rerun of the inequality of those days (although we would vehemently disagree with that), it’s possible, what with Syriza and the Front National, that certain aspects of politics are like they were in the 30s. But it really isn’t true that we’re anywhere near anything like 1930s levels of poverty.

Here’s what Dr. Barnardo’s calls living in poverty these days:

Families living in poverty can have as little as £12 per day per person to buy everything they need such as food, heating, toys, clothes, electricity and transport.

In 1930s Britain the Public Assistance Committees would provide 22 shillings a week for a family of five, two adults and three children (the PACs being the safety net after eligibility for the dole was exhausted) . That is £1.50 a day per person. Yes, that’s after inflation, that is £1.50 per person per day in today’s money and at today’s prices.

Around here we do not wish either living standard upon anyone: not that £1.50 a day which is some twice the amount that the absolutely poor, the hundreds of millions of them around the globe, still live on. Nor that £12 a day of the poor in our own society. That’s why we work to improve economic policy so that the poor do get rich. Through the only economic system that has managed it on a large scale for any length of time, free market capitalism.

But the important point we want to make here is that those two numbers are obviously very different indeed. Whatever else is happening in the UK of today it just is not true that we are getting anywhere near either the living standards or the poverty of 1930s Britain. To claim so is to be entirely ignorant of the facts.

What is this objection to private charity?

One of the more difficult things to fathom about a certain strain of thinking is the antipathy to private charity:

In fact, you may be astonished to learn the extent of children’s rights to which we, as a nation, are signatory. Under article 26 of the UN convention on the rights of the child, children have a “right to benefit from social security”. According to article 27, they have “a right to a standard of living adequate to their physical, social and mental development”.

There is scope for argument within those terms but, by any measure, an adequate standard of living includes the right not to be hungry. So the fact that more than 300,000 children are using food banks – supplied, bear in mind, not by a state agency but by a charity, Trussell Trust – puts the UK squarely outside its UNCRC obligations.

By what appalling misfortune has that hunger been allowed to fester and left to non-state agencies to deal with?

A detailed answer to that would come from the Trussell Trust itself. Which points out that 83% of food banks have reported that benefit sanctions have led to more people being referred for emergency food. Private charity is here compensating for the incompetence or malevolence of that state and its agencies.

A more general answer would be that what is this insistence that rights, whatever they are, must be supplied by the state? The right to a family life does not mean that David Cameron has to find me a comely wife does it? The right to free speech does not mean that Ed Miliboy must purchase me a newspaper. In fact, we don’t care in the slightest who provides whatever it is that enables a right to be enjoyed: only that that right can indeed be enjoyed. And so it should be with food.

It’s simply astonishing that people are regarding food banks as some bad idea. They are instead a glorious example of the way in which us humans are sociable, societal, beings who really will go out of our way to help our fellow. What the heck is wrong with Burke’s little platoons anyway, why this insistence that what people will happily do unprompted must be replaced by bureaucrats?

Food banks are stepping in where governments have created a mess

Mention the growth of food banks, with nearly a million users this year, and you conjure up a Dickensian image of a country on the breadline, chronically unable to feed its children, and a heartless government that is cutting benefits and quite willing to let them starve. The reality is very different.

First, food banks are a great achievement of private charity. They flourish in the world’s wealthiest countries – like the US, UK, Canada, and New Zealand – precisely because people in rich countries can afford to be charitable.

Second, around 60% of those using food banks in the UK are once-only users. In around 30% of cases, that is because of a hiccup in their social benefits – a sanction imposed because they haven’t turned up to an interview, perhaps, or a delay in benefits starting after someone loses their job. This is not chronic ‘food poverty’ – it is people facing temporary crises, much of it due to the welfare bureaucracy.

Third, the rise in food banks started long before the government started reforming benefits. Nearly all food banks in the UK are run by a single Christian charity, the Trussell Trust. As it gets more experienced and slicker, more care workers have been referring people to them, and more people know about them. So the numbers of users have risen.

Fourth, remember that the UK spends nearly £100bn a year on welfare, around one-seventh of all government spending. Working age welfare costs each family in Britain about £3,000 a year. And since the best form of welfare is actually a paying job, it is good news that unemployment has fallen so quickly in the UK.

Some Church leaders want the government to get involved in the food bank movement. That is a grave mistake. Government money will come with delays and with strings. It will discourage private giving – why should individuals contribute if the government is doing it? And government interventions are most of the problem in the first place. World food prices have risen 25% since 2007, due in part to biuofuel subsidies that have taken land out of food production, and the EU Common Agriculture Policy, which adds 13% to Britain’s household food bills. And family budgets are further squeezed by the 11% surcharge on electricity bills, destined for uneconomic wind turbines.

No, government would do better to get out of the way of private charity. It is only in the last few years that food banks could even advertise their existence. The benefits bureaucracy is notorious – which is why Iain Duncan Smith’s efforts to simplify the system are so important. And we need more realistic food regulation so that shops have a better option than simply throwing out food that is unsold, and so that consumers do not think food is unusable just because it is past its sell-by date.

Once again, private charity is stepping in where governments – of all colours – have created a mess. All strength to them.

It’s the minimum wage that’s keeping youngsters out of work

From the Independent: 

The young are the new poor

The Independent – Cahal Milmo
A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has warned that young adults and employed people are now more likely than pensioners to be living in poverty in Britain because of the surge in insecure work and zero hours contracts.

The reason for this is the minimum wage, which also explains why we have nearly 1m youngsters out of work entirely.

While the minimum wage for young people does not seem high – £5.13 an hour for 18-20-year-olds, and £3.79 for under-18s – the fact is that many young people do not provide that much value to an employer. Indeed, when National Insurance and other costs are added, the value of an unskilled young person is often negative. Young people have to learn the habits of work, turning up on time each day, the skills needed in the job, and ‘soft’ skills such as how to get along in a team with colleagues, how to deal with customers, how to react when things go wrong, and so on. It may take many years of training and job experience to lean these skills.

That is why for centuries we have had apprenticeships in which young people earn very little but learn a trade. But minimum wages – plus the heavy burden of workplace regulation which makes it very difficult to let someone go once they have been hired, however inappropriate they turn out to be – make employers more reluctant to take on people with few or no skills and experience.

The result is that minimum wages hurt those they are supposed to help. Employers do not take on young people, or those without skills, or those nearing retirement, or people with poor social or language skills, or ex-prisoners, or people with mental health issues, because their business cannot carry the cost of giving them the support and training they need to become more productive than the cost of employing them.