Un-Christmas spirit: 4mn hungry in UK as being poor meets public criticism

John Wight
John Wight has written for a variety of newspapers and websites, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal.
Un-Christmas spirit: 4mn hungry in UK as being poor meets public criticism
To be poor is not a crime – yet in Britain, the poor have been criminalized and demonized by a propaganda campaign that gives new meaning to the word 'vicious.'

In the UK, with Christmas approaching, hunger stalks the land. An ever-increasing number of lives have been reduced to misery and despair, yet for those at the top, 'austerity' remains nothing more than a word in the dictionary.

It is proof that British society has now officially departed the 21st century and is heading at high-speed towards the Victorian era of the late 19th century. This is the only conclusion to be drawn from a week in which it has been revealed that food poverty – or hunger, to use the proper word – is a fact of life for millions of UK citizens.

A recently published report by an All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger and Food Poverty in Britain leaves no doubt that the UK in 2014 is governed by a gang of rich, privately educated sociopaths whose contempt for the poor is such that they are content to let them starve.

That four million people in Britain are in danger of going hungry, that 500,000 children live in families that can’t afford to feed them, and that 325,000 adults do not get enough to eat, with close to a million forced to rely on food banks (charities set up to feed people unable to feed themselves), this is a despicable state of affairs. Moreover, the fact that it is happening in a country that presumes to lecture others on human rights and justice, this comes as yet more evidence of the rank hypocrisy and double-standards which lie at the heart of the British establishment.

Compounding matters are the sentiments of Tory Baroness Anne Jenkin, which she expressed during the launch of the report. Calling to mind the infamous words of Marie Antoinette who, when informed of the desperate plight of the poor in Paris prior to the French Revolution, said, “Let them eat cake,” Baroness Jenkin postulated that one of the reasons poor people are going hungry in the UK is because “poor people don’t know how to cook.” She went on to recommend they eat porridge.

Reuters / Darren Staples

Neoliberalism is not an economic system that serves the needs of society. Instead, it operates on the basis that society must serve its needs – in other words, the needs and interests of a tiny elite. In the UK, this manifests in the searing indictment that the five richest families are now worth more than the poorest 20 percent of the population.

Identified as a primary cause of the alarming growth in food poverty in the UK is an ever more cruel benefits system, which given the details reveals a culture in which people are being set up to fail so that they can be sanctioned – i.e. having their benefits temporarily suspended or cut as punishment for such heinous infractions as turning up five minutes late for an appointment, or failing to apply for enough jobs in a given week.

It is a culture of bullying that shames a civilized society, emphasizing the extent to which Britain in 2014 is a nation in which compassion and humanity are words stricken from the English language.

It comes to something when church leaders feel compelled to raise their voices in protest. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who after describing a visit to a refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo, went on to say: “... a few weeks later in England, I was talking to some people – a mum, dad and one child – in a food bank. They were ashamed to be there. The dad talked miserably. He said they had each been skipping a day's meals once a week in order to have more for the child, but then they needed new tyres for the car so they could get to work at night, and just could not make ends meet…I found their plight more shocking. It was less serious [than Africa], but it was here.”

Making the issue of growing food poverty in the UK even worse is the revelation in the report that as much as 4.3 million tons of edible food, worth around £23 billion, is discarded each year by UK supermarkets and food firms. At a time when people – including children – are going hungry, this surely qualifies as a crime. Not only is poverty a crime, it is the mother of other crimes. As the 19th century German philosopher Ludwig Fuererbach reminded us, “Where the material necessities of life are absent, moral necessity is also absent.”

With Christmas approaching – a time of year synonymous with sharing and human kindness – society in Britain is making a rapid descent into an abyss of hunger, poverty, inequality, and social exclusion.

Any nation that refuses to ensure every child has enough to eat is not fit to call itself civilized.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.