Category Archives: Money Matters

In the bleak midwinter: Poverty and ideology

A Christmas Carol is a morality tale about how the single-minded pursuit of money and power de-sensitises us against the needs of others less fortunate. The greater the distance between the haves and the have-nots, the weaker the ties of our common humanity. In his story, Dickens makes the case for caring capitalism along with the therapeutic effects of sharing and community.

This is a world away from the view expressed by Boris Johnston who identified greed as the essential element in driving successful economies. The ‘selfish gene’, that some claim drives evolution, is co-opted as the force behind success in business and the prime ingredient for achieving competitive edge. In this world view the haves hold their lofty position because of inherent intelligence and the have-nots lose out because they are simply not smart enough.

Despite an initial wince in reaction to the speech there are some very seductive, if contorted, arguments being made that are not easy to dismiss. Winners tend to be created by doing better than others; if we don’t motivate ourselves to do better then we will not achieve progress; competitiveness is an important element of any business culture; people have different levels of intelligence; dependency is not a desired state for anyone; and we cannot completely eradicate greed so we have to deal with it somehow as a necessary evil (presumably by being more greedy than others).

Notwithstanding these points, generally the ‘greed is good’ argument is total codswallop and, as it appeals to our baser instincts, also dangerous codswallop.

To believe that creating or accommodating very rich people motivated by greed is in some way good for the economy is bogus. On the contrary, a strong case has been made that large equality gaps are actually detrimental to economic growth. For economies to work fluently manufacturers and providers need sufficient consumers to buy their products or services. You don’t create a healthy market of consumers by increasing poverty and reducing spending power.

Also, there is absolutely no proof of the trickle-down effect (where wealth flows from rich down to poor to everyone’s advantage). Overwhelming avarice creates periods of boom and bust, not stable growing economies; the recent world financial crisis was created by unfettered greed on a monumental scale.

Poor people are no less intelligent, or more indolent, than rich people. Your chances of a prosperous life are fashioned by a whole range of complex factors such as to being born into (or not) wealth and influence; your educational opportunities; your health prospects; and sometimes, pure luck. Failure in your chosen profession is not always a drawback to increased wealth; as the recent pay offs to the architects of the financial meltdown have proven, to our cost.

Surely there is a potent case to argue that economic success is achieved as much by collaboration as it is by competitiveness; that altruism is far more important than avarice; and that wealth inequality is corrosive to, rather than a necessary feature of, growth?

There is a key ideological battle taking place with the long term social and economic well-being of this country at stake. So, we should all be involved in the debate as it will affect all our lives.

On one side are the pre-visitation Ebenezer Scrooges who believe that wealth has to be accumulated for its own benefit; that greed is acceptable if not desirable; and that the immediate plight of the poor (many who are the victims of their own idleness or low intelligence) is of much less importance than achieving growth in one shape or another (even if this takes the form of an over-heated housing market).

On the opposite side are the enlightened Ebenezer Scrooges who believe that the purpose and manifestation of good economic policy is to bring prosperity to the many with proportionate and reasonable rewards for effort and expertise. A process that gives equal access to opportunity for all rather than a select privileged few, and protection for those who are genuinely in need. A value system that rewards and celebrates contributions to general, rather than individual, well-being and prosperity.

Who is winning this argument? Sadly it really is becoming a bleak midwinter as our average standard of living plummets; more cases of poverty are recorded; far more households in work claim benefits than those out of work; the rich are getting richer in relation to everybody else; food banks proliferate; and personal borrowing escalates, initiating another spiral of unsustainable debt.

When Dickens wrote his short novel in the 1840s the consequences of poverty was very much different than today. There was no welfare state so, if philanthropic acts such as Scrooge’s could not be relied upon, the fate of so many people was desperate and wretched. At least, as part of being in a civilised society, we have a safety net against want today and that cannot be removed, or can it?

Paul Thomson

Policy Advisor
Bolton at Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Could you eat for a week on less than a tenner?

I’d like to share Tom’s story:

Tom is one of a number of people  I met whilst walking the dog down our local park. You know how it is, the dogs get on and you can’t help but get to know folk.  I now stop and natter with Tom for a few minutes very now and then.

When I first met Tom  he was living with his girlfriend and their son. They were living on benefits and her part time earnings. Tom was desperate for work, but suffers from epilepsy, and has unpredictable and severe fits. Although he trained as a motor mechanic he hasn’t been able to keep jobs as he’s injured himself when he collapses. Garages can be a dangerous place when you have this condition.

Tom was getting by okay until the credit crunch came, and with it the huge changes to the welfare system. His girlfriend lost her job, then Tom was reassessed as fit for work by the Work Programme reassessment interviews. His benefits were cut as he was put on Job Seekers Allowance and soon after his girlfriend went back to her mother as their relationship went into melt down.

In April this year Tom fell foul of the bedroom tax, as he was left in a two bedroomed flat and was underoccupying. He’s desperate to move out, but the Registered Provider is in a very high demand area with thousands affected by bedroom tax, and he’s been told it could be years before he’ll get a move. After paying £12 per week bedroom tax, he’s left with  £27 per week, but with fuel and other utility bills he only has about £9 a week for food for himself.

Deemed fit for work by the government but considered too risky by employers, his efforts to find work have been fruitless. The epilepsy is an easy excuse for employers to turn him down. He’ll  often look like he’s been in a fight, but it’s just the bruising from his latest collapse. It doesn’t seem to stop the Job Centre staff from making their constant threats of sanctions in the form of stopping the meagre  benefits he’s on.

Tom was often very down even before the changes came, now he’s in a very dark place. The other weekend he had a fit at home, he knocked his TV off its stand and it smashed. This was his life line to the internet, and the only form of entertainment in an increasingly miserable existence. He’s no money to fix it. Last time I saw him he was openly talking to a couple of us about “ending it”.

Alex, one of the older dog walkers got really upset and has organised for us to do what we can to help. It’s so serious that a referral has been made to Social Services, in the hope they can help, and to intervene as we are really worried about the way he is talking right now.

Tom’s not on his own and it’s not just the unemployed that are affected. Between 2008 to 2013 earnings have risen just 5% but the cost of living has increased by 25% (source Child Poverty Action Group). There are 3 million households living in poverty and 76% report that they are living on less money than a years ago (Children’s Society Survey). The government sponsored  Child Poverty Commission reported that there has been an increase of 275,000 households living in extreme poverty.

The Real Life Reform Project, run by 6 registered housing  providers studying the impact of welfare reform on the lives of up to 80 tenants have found:

  • 65% live on less than £10 per week after household costs.
  • Average levels of debt were £2418 per household.
  • 83% fear they will get into further debt this winter.
  • 88% feel that their health is adversely affected.

So what are we doing about this?

Bolton at Home is doing what it can to help its tenants and the wider communities we work in deal with the tough challenges that lie ahead still. We’ve doubled the size of our debt advice teams, we’ve worked really hard on a financial inclusion strategy, and there are loads of good projects going on through our neighbourhood management teams to support people get into work, develop skills and training, and start their own businesses. We support our local Credit Union, and the local food bank.

This week we played our part in helping Friends of Fun Food to win the phone vote on Granada Reports, this project will be working in local communities, getting people together enjoying learning about making great fresh, healthy food on a budget.

What could you do to help?

We are very much all in this together, and now more than ever we need to pull together to help each other out. Here’s just a few ideas of simple things that might help you decide how you could help:

  • Keep giving to the Grub Tubs
  • Volunteer at the local food-bank
  • Donate a recipe idea for a meal for a family for under £2 per week
  • Join Hoot Credit Union
  • Take a look at the Smarterbuys website, it might have something of use to someone you know
  • Write your own blog and tell us your own story about someone you know or have helped deal with a food crises.

Food poverty is very real in the UK right now.  Over the past two years 4,700 Bolton people have relied on the foodbank, and this Christmas the British Red Cross have launched a food appeal across the UK. Anything you can do to help us tackle food poverty and raise awareness of this would be really appreciated.

BY THE WAY, the names and the context of Tom’s story have been changed, but the story is very real. Tom doesn’t keep his dog anymore, his sister looks after it and feeds it as he can’t afford to. But he walks 3 miles every day from his flat to collect his dog and walk it around the park, it gives him something to do, something that helps him keep his dignity.

Ian Ankers is our Director of Housing Services. You can follow him on Twitter: @IanA_BaH

Ready Steady Save

Did you know that the Red Cross is so concerned about Food Poverty in the UK that last month they announced their intention to start providing food aid in this country?

The UK is the seventh richest country in the world but every day millions of people struggle to buy food for their family. Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty estimate that over 500,000 people in the UK are now reliant on food parcels. More than 10,000 people in Bolton have turned to Urban Outreach’s food bank in the last 6 months and that’s why we’ve chosen to support them through our ‘Grub tub’ campaign and donate 3000 items by Christmas. But we think we can do a bit more.

Get more info on our website: http://www.boltonathome.org.uk/index.php/food-poverty/

There are community projects happening in all the neighbourhoods around cooking on a budget and healthy eating but how many of us have tried to feed a family on a severely restricted budget? Now’s your chance to try it out. We’re planning some activities wc 25th November to highlight food poverty. Continue reading

Feed 100 families over Christmas

Help us donate 3,000 food items to Bolton’s food bank by Christmas. This will provide enough emergency food parcels to feed 100 families between Christmas and New Year.
We’re a keen supporter of Bolton’s food bank, which is delivered by Urban Outreach. More than 10,000 people in crisis have turned to food banks in Bolton for emergency support in just six months, because they cannot afford to eat.
Bolton’s food bank provides emergency food parcels to individuals and families who find themselves in need of help due to illness, debts, benefit delays, homelessness, domestic abuse, redundancy or family breakdown.
Food provision alone is not a sustainable way of helping someone, so the food bank works with agencies to ensure the cause of their hardship is addressed alongside receiving food. People collect food from the Urban Restore Centre and stay for refreshments and a chat with volunteers who can signpost people to Urban Outreach projects and other agencies. Older people, those with mobility issues or single parents with young children can have food delivered.
Dave Bagley, Chief Executive of Urban Outreach, said they almost ran out of food for the first time last month. So this is a really important issue and we’re now aiming to donate 3,000 food items by Christmas with your help.

How food vouchers are vital to our customers

I have had to use the food vouchers recently to help a young  participants on the ESF programme. He is currently living in a young person supported housing scheme and has £176 a month coming in and £279 going out; just on subsistence. He was surviving off porridge oats, water and sugar??
I have looked in great detail at his expenditure, and can see very little that he can do away with to make ends meet so that he can eat again.
This is why this service is so valuable but also so sad that in 2013 people in Bolton are having to rely on it.
I appreciate every item of food I have in my cupboards or at my meal table since working on this project. I used to take it so much for granted, we are so lucky.
 
At the collection at ASDA people were very generous giving donations, but the leaflets put them off – they might have been thinking I was selling double glazing ha ha !
Sarah Nicholson, ESF team