I discussed that in my book too (and I believe that it is linked to a British-designed approach to life called utilitarianism):
What’s being said in the BBC article about the, well, delusional focus of the ministers is excellently depicted by this photo I took on 29 October. What is said in this government poster at a local bus stop is not a promise but a threat, as wages in Britain aren’t particularly high (to put in an understatement). Universal credit is the new benefits system.
I found the tone of this poster mean-spirited. That’s why I took the photo.
By definition, you make people dependent if you don’t always give them what they need (because you don’t want them to become dependent on you). If they can count on you, they don’t become dependent on you and their whole life not longer has to revolve on how to get food, the way most wildlife lives.
Instead, they can start to focus on on how to get out of poverty.
Give people the experience of abundance and prosperity. Teach them that prosperity and abundance exist and also possible for them.
The need for food is part of biology. People do not decide to become “dependent on food”. We all are dependent on food.
So either give them enough food or give them enough income.
One of the hardest things for me to deal with is the poverty and misery in Britain. These days, that British poverty mindset drags me down on an almost daily basis, this belief and attitude that anything that you consider doing is “daft”, a “waste of time” or “above your station”, this pervasive conviction that you have to be obedient and patient, that you have no choice.
That is me there, in the middle, emigrating to Florida at the age of 33. I used to believe that emigrating to Florida was something that “other people” did. (I did that after having quit my full-time job in my mid-twenties to go to university.)
That’s what a poverty mindset is about. Believe you can’t and you can’t. Believe you can and you can. The poverty mindset is NOT the cause of poverty, but it can be the result and then it can become a cause of getting trapped in poverty.
It did not used to be like that for me at first in Britain. If it affects me this badly after my years in Britain, you can imagine how it impacts people who have been living here all their lives and may never have set foot in another country.
In my home country too, there used to be this idea “wie als dubbeltje is geboren wordt nooit een kwartje” en “iedereen die met zijn kop boven het maaiveld uitsteekt wordt genadeloos afgehakt”. It is one of the reasons why I didn’t like my home country, this idea that everyone has to stick to a mould and not dare to be different, or excel. It’s not the same, but there are similarities.
Apparently, most Brits don’t like it when someone is very confident and enthusiastic, but confidence and enthusiasm are nothing to be embarrassed about. To the contrary. Maybe confidence and enthusiasm sometimes get confused with snobbery and arrogance?
Tuurlijk, “de” Brit bestaat niet. En er zijn ook massa’s Britten die ons helemaal niet haten. Maar Britten die ons wel haten, waar komt dat door? Ik heb het eens op een rijtje gezet.
Een rotsvast geloof dat andere EU landen arme lage-lonenlanden zijn waar productie naartoe is verhuisd waardoor Britse fabrieken moesten sluiten. (Men denkt ook dat uit de EU stappen betekent dat die fabrieken terugkeren.)
De overtuiging dat EU burgers naar het VK komen omdat ze denken dat ze daar meer kunnen verdienen maar er de lonen laag houden omdat ze voor minder geld werken dan Britten. (Men concludeert dus dat uit de EU stappen tot hogere lonen in het VK gaat leiden.)
Het idee dat de meeste EU burgers laag zijn opgeleid en hier banen inpikken die laag opgeleide Britten zouden moeten hebben. (Men concludeert dus dat uit de EU stappen betekent dat er in het VK meer banen vrij komen voor laag opgeleide Britten. In werkelijkheid is het niveau van de Britten zelf niet zo hoog en draaien veel faciliteiten hier op buitenlanders omdat de Britten het zonder die buitenlanders simpelweg niet zouden redden. Een vaak genoemd voorbeeld is de Britse gezondheidszorg. Zonder buitenlanders zou de National Health Service instorten en de uittocht van de nu al door Brexit verdreven buitenlanders heeft de problemen binnen de Britse gezondheidszorg nog veel groter gemaakt.)
Het idee dat de Britse gezondheidszorg van een dermate hoog niveau is dat buitenlanders in drommen naar het VK toe stromen omdat ze in het VK niet voor gezondheidszorg hoeven te betalen en dat dit de reden is dat de NHS in grote problemen verkeert. Health tourism. (Het gaat in werkelijkheid om 0.3% van het budget van de NHS. Het bestrijden van dit vermeende enorme misbruik kost veel meer dan het kan opleveren en leidt er soms ook toe dat Britse kankerpatiënten, zwangere vrouwen etc. de deur wordt gewezen. Dat lossen de Britten dan op met crowdfunding.)
Het in oktober 2017 en februari 2018 door James O’Shaughnessy (Health Minister) heel geniepig gesuggereerde idee dat buitenlanders in het VK geen belasting betalen. Helaas namen de media deze uitspraken klakkeloos over en gaven ze geen tegengas.
Het idee dat het onderwijs in alle andere landen veel slechter is dan in het VK.
De overtuiging dat buitenlanders er altijd op uit zijn om je een loer te draaien. (De Brit Richard Lewis, in When Cultures Collide, noemt dit “British insularity”.)
De overtuiging dat EU burgers naar het VK komen om hier te luieren en van uitkeringen te genieten. (Dit gaat volkomen voorbij aan het feit dat EU burgers niet meteen aanspraak kunnen maken op uitkeringen; je moet daarvoor al een tijd in het VK hebben gewoond en gewerkt en ook dan kun je minder rechten hebben dan Britten. In werkelijkheid dragen EU burgers bovendien gemiddeld 2 miljard per jaar bij aan het VK, en dat is netto.)
Soms ook de overtuiging dat sommige landen in het midden Oosten deel uitmaken van de EU en/of dat buitenlanders vaker terroristen zijn.
Omdat Theresa May mensen doet geloven dat dat is wat goede Britten doen. (Donald Trump gaat in de praktijk minder ver dan de Britse regering. Hij respecteert bovendien, voorzover mij bekend, de Amerikaanse wetten en de rechtbanken. De Britse regering doet dat beslist niet en lapt zowel de rechters als de wetten nogal eens aan de laars.)
Politici, de Britse overheid en media liegen hier aantoonbaar over en worden desondanks geloofd. Het is namelijk de emotionele respons die de overtoon speelt, niet de rationele.
Er is veel diepe armoede in het VK, dus veel angst, stress, onmacht en wanhoop.
Er is dus hoop nodig.
Het is voor veel Britten makkelijker om te geloven dat hun ellende door buitenlanders komt dan te accepteren dat hun eigen regering hen voortdurend uitmelkt en een poot uitdraait.
Dat leidt namelijk tot de hoop dat het ooit beter wordt.
Daar ligt dus de oplossing. Hoe voeg je hoop toe op een manier die de haat juist minder maakt? Niet door het rationeel aan te pakken maar door de emoties aan te spreken.
Dat zou bijvoorbeeld kunnen doordat buitenlanders met genoeg geld in de arme wijken Britse steden structureel (een keer per maand?) briefjes geld gaan verspreiden en er publiciteit aan wijden zodat de associatie tussen narigheid en buitenlanders wordt doorbroken.
Er is al iemand geweest die zoiets heeft gedaan, die in een stadsdeel her en der geld had verstopt.
Je zou vliegtuigjes kunnen laten overvliegen met een lange banner (“Holland/The EU/Poland/France/Italy/Spain/Germany/Denmark/… loves you!”) en van waaruit briefjes van 5, 10, 20 en 50 naar beneden dwarrelen.
Je kan ook vanuit het buitenland enveloppen met bijvoorbeeld een briefje van 20 pond erin anoniem gaan sturen aan adressen in arme Britse wijken met daarin bijvoorbeeld ook de tekst “The EU loves you!”.
Voedselpakketjes sturen mag natuurlijk ook.
(Voedsel vanuit vliegtuigjes droppen raad ik niet aan vanwege de eventuele schade.)
Het trieste van het bovenstaande is dat het Britse regeringsbeleid de mythes in realiteit aan het omzetten is. Door rijbewijzen en paspoorten in te nemen, mensen te pas en onpas op te pakken en voor onbepaalde tijd vast te zetten (en na vrijlating identiteitsbewijzen in beslag genomen te houden), het vinden van werk en woonruimte te blokkeren en Britten zeer hoge boetes te geven voor collaboratie met verdacht gemaakte buitenlanders (zoals het verhuren van kamers) en buitenlands gedrag te criminaliseren worden buitenlanders (maar ook soms ethnische Britten evenals Britten die een vreemde achternaam hebben of met een buitenlander zijn getrouwd) de ellende in gedreven.
The UK has a consumer debt crisis and it is young people, aged 18 to 34, who are most vulnerable. National unsecured debt – which includes credit cards, overdrafts and car loans – has topped £200 billion for the first time since the global financial crisis struck in 2008. But the concentration of debt, and the experiences of vulnerability, are not shared out equally.
Andrew Bailey, the head of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), has warned that there is a “pronounced build-up of indebtedness amongst the younger age group”. He was responding to the FCA’s Financial Lives Survey which showed that 55% of 18- to 24-year-olds and 63% of 25- to 34-year-olds are in debt, owing on average over £8,000.
These numbers alone are cause for alarm, and that’s before even considering the harms and vulnerability that over-indebtedness brings. Any debt organisation will tell you about the damage which debt causes to mental and physical health. And yet so many young people are forced into debt, often before they start any meaningful form of work.
This problem should not be seen as a product of “binge” culture, and young people should not just be told to rein in their spending. Rather, this is a problem of affordability.
Rising housing costs; an increase in zero-hours contracts; inflation outstripping wages; the rapid rise in student loans – all of these issues are creating a cage of debt around young people. While the older generation retains financial security through assets (usually in the form of housing) and enjoys greater security in work, the younger generation is more likely to be exposed to the risks of private renting and job insecurity.
How did it come to this?
Amid the global panic arising from the 2008 financial crisis, the UK government propped up a failing banking sector with £1,162 billion in support. At this moment, the private financial crisis turned into a public state crisis.
Crises are usually defined by change, signalling an end to the unstable conditions of the past. Yet the enduring legacy of the financial crisis has been a transformation of the role of the state and public finances, which has left young people in an even more precarious position.
Ten years on from the financial crisis, and eight years after the introduction of the welfare-stripping austerity agenda, one thing still holds true: it is the people who contributed the least towards the crisis who are paying the highest price.
A raw deal
As the UK government continues to pay back its own debts by cutting costs and squeezing out savings, it is really young people who are carrying the burden of debt. What’s worse is, they don’t really have a choice.
In the years since the crisis, fiscal responsibility has been transferred from the state onto the individual. In other words, rather than the state providing services to ensure a basic level of well-being for everyone, it’s increasingly up to individuals to pay the price for their own education, housing and health care.
Nowhere is this clearer than in higher education; whereas the state once invested in the futures of the young, it now saddles university graduates with an average debt of £25,505 each.
Even the government’s flagship apprenticeship scheme uses young people for cheap labour, with 18-year-olds paid as little as £3.40 an hour.
All this means that, unless young people have the financial support of a parent, they are forced to rely on an increasingly punitive and complex benefit system or (more likely) be pushed down the pathway to debt. In these circumstances, it’s unsurprising that debt has become a “lifeline” for so many.
Debt is a major political instrument of control, and it should be seen as such. Individuals shoulder the burden of debt, but it is not an individual problem; it is a problem of society. It is no accident that the young are indebted in the way that they are: it is the product of years of neglect and a lack of investment by the state. The political choices of the UK government got young people into this mess. Now, political action should be used to help them out.
As most people in Britain know by now, the roll-out of universal credit leaves recipients without income for 6 to 8 weeks. Recipients of universal credit are not able to bridge such gaps, which means they develop arrears, often for the first time in their lives, and sometimes lose their homes as a result.
One solution for bridging these income gaps could be to set up local peer-to-peer interest-free lending networks. To be able to bridge the gap left by universal credit, such networks would have to include people with higher incomes (whereas smaller loans of, say, £50 to £100 can be provided by small networks of people who each lend a fiver or a tenner).
As soon as the delayed payment comes in, the recipient would have to pay off that loan.
This could be a solution that empowers people and prevents arrears.
I am aware that this would be a highly thoroughly un-British solution, but the usual endless whining of so many lone individuals – regardless of whether they write in the Guardian or not – does not help anyone bridge that monstrous income gap either.
And even if the gap were to be reduced to 4 weeks, this would still be too much to bridge.
The main motivation for universal credit appears to be a concealed benefit cut (without calling it that). “We want to make sure people who work get more money than people who depend on benefits”, the government has said. In a low-wage country, that is very bad news.
Iain Duncan Smith – he who laughed loudly when he heard of suicides and other forms of suffering among particularly disabled and chronically ill people as a result of benefit cuts – has said that the 6-to-8 weeks wait is actually a Treasury thing, not a DWP thing. If that is true, then the only reason that I can think of for the delay is the interest the government can make on the delayed UC payments. (This – interest – is the reason why many big corporations pay all their bills late.)
(I realize that UC is only still being piloted and running behind big time, but it’s about to push into its next phase and there are no signs that the government is going to remedy the mess.)
Up to £12.4 billion of means-tested benefits – including pension credit, housing benefit and jobseekers and employment support allowance – were left unclaimed in 2015-16, according to new data released by the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions.
Means-tested benefits are designed to ensure a minimum standard of living for Britain’s poorest families. But not all those people eligible are claiming them – in comparison to the near universal take-up rate of the basic state pension and widespread take-up of child benefit (which is taxable only for high earners).
Annual average amounts unclaimed by eligible families vary from an estimated £5,000 per year for those eligible for employment support allowance (for those with a disability or long-term illness), to £2,000 per year for those eligible for pension credit. In a parallel data series HM Revenue & Customs estimates take-up rates for tax credits – which are paid directly to qualifying low paid workers.
The latest data for 2014-15 adds further to the scale of unclaimed entitlements. The central estimate is that £2.3 billion of child tax credit and £3 billion of working tax credit went unclaimed by 640,000 families and 1.2m families respectively.
Improving take-up rates of means-tested benefits directly reduces poverty. Research also suggests that families who top up their income with benefits also have higher levels of health, family well-being, and employment participation and retention.
Why people don’t claim
The failure to claim benefits stems from a mix of social and economic circumstances, administrative structures, and complex eligibility rules. It may, for example, reflect a lack of awareness about the availability of the benefit or a potential claimant’s expectation that the costs involved in applying for the benefit outweigh the value of any payment.
But there is much evidence that a key factor undermining take-up is the poor design and delivery of the benefits system. Take-up has also been implicitly discouraged by policy changes targeted at some working age groups, especially the short-term unemployed. An increase in conditions and related sanctions are designed to get people into work as quickly as possible and, as a result, make their claims to benefits relatively short-lived.
Plus, the tenor of contemporary media narratives on welfare dependency has increased the stigma attached to claimants, especially people of working age. Research suggests this stigmatisation is linked to reductions in take-up and a reluctance to claim among potential beneficiaries, notably among pensioners.
The British government is unique in Europe in publishing robust annual estimates of benefit and tax credit take-up. The data for 2015-16 gives an insight into which families are at risk of poverty and claim the help from the state that they are entitled to, as the graph below shows.
Take-up rates vary depending on the type of household. For example, while the overall take-up of housing benefit was 77%, it ranged from over 90% for singles with children to only 64% for those eligible in private rented accommodation. And while the main estimate for working tax credit was 65%, only 33% of eligible households without children were claiming it.
The data implies that those with greater entitlements are more likely to claim. A significant change since 2012-13 was a decrease of 11% in means-tested jobseekers allowance caseload take-up – people who are entitled to a benefit but who do not claim it. This may have been due to high employment rates, more stringent conditions attached to claiming unemployment benefit and the early impact of the new universal credit, which for working age people rolls most means-tested benefit entitlements into a single monthly payment.
Universal credit take-up must be measured
There are no estimates or commitment yet given to publish take-up data for universal credit, even though it is now claimed by 1.5m people and will, it is estimated, be claimed by nearly 6m households in 2021. One of the supposed principal benefits of universal credit is that it will improve take-up rates by making the system less complicated and easier to deliver.
The evidence on take-up suggests these assumptions are over optimistic. It will take time for awareness to develop about the new rules and regulations involved.
It is unlikely that public and voluntary sector organisations will be able to invest in the additional effort needed to inform potential claimants, front line delivery staff, and related intermediary organisations that assist more disadvantaged groups and communities. There is also a risk that the “default digital delivery” (which means that most universal credit claimants must apply and self-manage their claims online) may reduce and deter take-up among people without access to computers or the skills to navigate digital channels.
Means-tested entitlements will likely remain at the centre of the British welfare system, including for many pensioners. And measures to improve take-up will remain central to national and local poverty-reduction strategies. It’s therefore vital to continue publishing take-up data to gauge the future impact of universal credit and related welfare and pension reforms.
If universal credit take-up rates do not improve as anticipated, the government should establish and state what percentage of eligible people eligible it expects to take it up. Measuring take-up rates would provide an important way to assess the impact of universal credit and help establish a transparent benchmark to measure whether the new system is achieving its objectives of reducing poverty and incentivising work. The government might also consider investing some of the £12.4 billion unspent means-tested benefits to develop new ways to increase take-up.
British weather isn’t much to write home about. The temperate maritime climate makes for summers which are relatively warm and winters which are relatively cold. But despite rarely experiencing extremely cold weather, the UK has a problem with significantly more people dying during the winter compared to the rest of the year. In fact, 2.6m excess winter deaths have occurred since records began in 1950 – that’s equivalent to the entire population of Manchester.
Although the government has been collecting data on excess winter deaths – that is, the difference between the number of deaths that occur from December to March compared to the rest of the year – for almost 70 years, the annual statistics are still shocking. In the winter of 2014/15, there were a staggering 43,900 excess deaths, the highest recorded figure since 1999/2000. In the last 10 years, there has only been one winter where less than 20,000 excess deaths occurred: 2013/14. Although excess winter deaths have been steadily declining since records began, in the winter of 2015/16 there were still 24,300.
According to official statistics, respiratory disease is the underlying cause for over a third of excess winter deaths, predominantly due to pneumonia and influenza. About three-quarters of these excess respiratory deaths occur in people aged 75 or over. Unsurprisingly, cold homes (particularly those below 16°C) cause a substantially increased risk of respiratory disease and older people are significantly more likely to have difficulty heating their homes.
Health and homes
The UK is currently in the midst of a housing crisis – and not just due to a lack of homes. According to a 2017 government report, a fifth of all homes in England fail to meet the Decent Homes Standard – which is aimed at bringing all council and housing association homes up to a minimum level. Despite the explicit guidelines, an astonishing 16% of private rented homes and 12% of housing association homes still have no form of central heating.
Even when people have adequate housing, the cost of energy and fuel can be a major issue. Government schemes, such as the affordable warmth grant, have been implemented to help low income households increase indoor warmth and energy efficiency. However, approximately 2.5m households in England (about one in nine) are still in fuel poverty – struggling to keep their homes adequately warm due to the cost of energy and fuel – and this figure is rising.
Poor housing costs the NHS a whopping £1.4 billion every year. Reports indicate that the health impact of poor housing is almost on a par with that of smoking and alcohol. Clearly, significant public health gains could be made through high quality, cost-effective home improvements, particulalrly for social housing. Take insulation, for example: evidence shows that properly fitted and safe insulation can increase indoor warmth, reduce damp, and improve respiratory health, which in turn reduces work and school absenteeism, and use of health services.
Warmth on prescription
In our recent research, we examined whether warmer social housing could improve population health and reduce use of NHS services in the northeast of England. To do this, we analysed the costs and outcomes associated with retrofitting social housing with new combi-boilers and double glazed windows.
After the housing improvements had been installed, NHS service use costs reduced by 16% per household – equating to an estimated NHS cost reduction of over £20,000 in just six months for the full cohort of 228 households. This reduction was offset by the initial expense of the housing improvements (around £3,725 per household), but if these results could be replicated and sustained, the NHS could eventually save millions of pounds over the lifetime of the new boilers and windows.
The benefits were not confined to NHS savings. We also found that the overall health status and financial satisfaction of main tenants significantly improved. Furthermore, over a third of households were no longer exhibiting signs of fuel poverty – households were subsequently able to heat all rooms in the home, where previously most had left one room unheated due to energy costs.
Perhaps it is time to think beyond medicines and surgery when we consider the remit of the NHS for improving health, and start looking into more projects like this. NHS-provided “boilers on prescription” have already been trialled in Sunderland with positive results. This sort of cross-government thinking promotes a nuanced approach to health and social care.
We don’t need to assume that the NHS should foot the bill entirely for ill health related to housing, for instance the Treasury could establish a cross-government approach by investing in housing to simultaneously save NHS money. A £10 billion investment into better housing could pay for itself in just seven years through NHS cost savings. With a growing need to prevent ill health and avoidable death, maybe it’s time for the government to think creatively right across the public sector, and adopt a new slogan: improving health by any means necessary.
The 2017 general election was highly unusual as far as the youth vote was concerned. The Labour party won 65% – the lion’s share – of the youth vote. The nearest comparisons are with 1964 and 1997. In both those years, Labour took 53% of the youth vote. In the 2015 election, just two years earlier, the party had won just 38% of the youth vote.
How the under-30s vote
The contrast between the youth vote in the 2010 and 2017 shows how radically youth voting patterns have changed. During this period, their turnout rose by 19%. This change in youth participation, combined with a massive swing to Labour, has unsurprisingly led some to talk of a “youthquake”.
What could have brought this about? Political and cultural drivers are clearly at work. That includes youth support for remaining in the EU and their preference for Jeremy Corbyn over Theresa May. Only a quarter of 18-to-25s voted to leave in the EU referendum compared with two-thirds of those over 65.
But economic drivers also played a crucial role. Young people, put simply, have lost out both in the economy and government policy making. Since 2010 the British government has been preoccupied with shoring up its political support among middle aged and retired voters. It has largely ignored the concerns of the young, very often dismissing them because, in the past, most young people did not vote. That all changed in 2017.
Paying for education
One obvious driver of youth voting is the rapid increase in student debt imposed by a government which sought to privatise higher education during the austerity years. Tuition fees were originally introduced in 1998 and had reached £3,000 per year by 2006-7. At the time, it was widely accepted that the considerable graduate premium which existed in lifetime earnings justified a contribution to the costs of higher education by the beneficiaries.
But things radically changed in 2010 when the coalition government introduced a fees cap of £9,000. Ironically, this increased privatisation of the costs of higher education was accompanied by ever-increasing regulation, so that the less the state supports higher education the more it wants to control it. This trend culminated in a 2016 proposal to scrap maintenance grants and raise fees to £9,250 while at the same time charging interest rates of 6.1% on student loans at a time when the Bank of England base rate was 0.25%.
Such a reckless disregard for the interests of more than 40% of the under-25s is quite hard to understand, particularly in light of the fate of the Liberal Democrats following their u-turn on tuition fees after they joined the coalition in 2010.
The bias against youth was not confined to university students. In April 2016, the minimum wage was raised to £7.50 an hour, but this change only applied to employed workers over the age of 25. The minimum wage for apprentices under the age of 19 was a meagre £3.50 and hour and this did not change. Young people were essentially ignored.
Another aspect of the same issue relates to the self-employed, none of whom receive the minimum wage. Historically, self-employed workers have been older than the workforce average age – but, in recent years, self-employment has grown faster among the under 25s than any other group with the exception of 40-year-olds. Between 2008 and 2015 the number of self-employed people in the UK increased from 3.8 million to 4.6 million people with part-time self-employment, often synonymous with under-employment, increasing by 88%. Thus young people have lost out on the increases in minimum wages, with many of them being underemployed and working part-time for wages that are well below average.
Are you even listening?
It was, therefore, no surprise that when the pollsters YouGov recently asked citizens to rank their priorities for the country, 46% of 18-24 year olds selected increasing the minimum wage to approximately £9 per hour. That compared to a national figure of 28% (and 19% among pensioners).
In our panel survey of the electorate conducted immediately before the 2017 general election, we asked respondents if they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “The government treats people like yourself fairly”. We found that 18% of the under-25s agreed with this statement compared with 28% of the over-65s. In contrast, 49% of the under-25s disagreed with it compared with 32% of the over-65s. Youth have not only been left behind but many of them are aware of this fact and have a sense of grievance arising from it. The stark difference in the responses of youth and pensioners to this statement is related to the differences in the government’s treatment of them.
The so called “triple lock” on pensions was introduced by the coalition government in 2010. It was a guarantee to increase the state pension every year by the rate of inflation, average earnings or by a minimum of 2.5% whichever was the highest. By 2016 it produced a situation in which retired people had average incomes £2,500 higher than in 2007/8, while those who were not retired earned an average of £300 less over this period. The latter reflects the fact that real wages have been flat-lining for more than a decade.
Given all this it is no surprise that the 2017 election was a case of youth striking back.
This article is based on research by Paul Whiteley, Harold Clarke, Matthew Goodwin and Marianne Stewart. Paul Whiteley is speaking at Youthquake 2017! Can young voters transform the UK’s political landscape? a joint event between The Conversation and The British Academy on October 9, 2017.
Welfare reform and austerity in the UK has led to reductions in public spending on services that support older people. Age UK has highlighted how nearly one million older people have unmet social care needs. This is of particular concern as the winter months approach.
In ongoing research on food insecurity in older age, my colleagues and I have analysed survey data and interviewed older people who use foodbanks. We’re finding that many older people are at risk of under-nutrition because of poverty, or because they don’t get the support they need to shop, cook and eat.
While many older people have been less affected by the recent recession than other age groups, in part because of the triple lock protection for pensions, poverty can persist in old age. Data from 2015 shows that 1.6m pensioners live below the relative poverty line, and 8% of pensioners are in persistent poverty – defined as having spent three years out of any four-year period in a household with below 60% of median income.
Poverty and social isolation
Around 20% of older people have little or no private pension, housing or material wealth and retiring with debt is also a growing problem. There are 3.8m people aged 65 and older living alone in the UK and evidence from Age UK suggests that nearly one million people in this age group always or often feel lonely.
Older people living alone tend to eat less. This can lead to under-nutrition – a major cause of functional decline among older people. It can lead to poorer health outcomes, falls, delays in recovery from illness and longer periods in hospital, including delayed operations.
Evidence from the National Nutrition Screening Survey suggests that an estimated 1.3m people aged over 65 in the UK are not getting adequate protein or energy in their diet. On admission to hospital, 33% of people in this age group are identified as being at risk of under-nutrition.
Data we are analysing from the 2014 English Longitudinal Study of Ageing suggests that for around 10% of people aged 50 and over “too little money stops them buying their first choice of food items” and this has increased consistently since 2004. Evidence from the Poverty and Social Exclusion Survey in 2012 found that 12% of people aged over 65 had often or sometimes: “skimped on food so others in the household would have enough to eat”.
Embarrassment and stigma
The Health Survey of England consistently highlights the issue of unmet need among some older people. For example, 6% of people aged over 65 reported that they had not received help from anyone with shopping for food in the last month. In addition, 19% of this age group reported needing help to leave their home.
Evidence suggests that as food insecurity has increased in the UK, many older people have become reliant on food banks. In 2016, the food redistribution charity FareShare said that 13% of its clients were aged over 65.
Our interviews with older people using food banks have highlighted the challenges many older people can face. Some were having food parcels delivered by the food banks as they were unable to go themselves or did not want to be seen going.
Embarrassment and stigma were also a concern for one 69-year-old man who told us how he preferred coming to the food bank than asking family or friends for help. “I don’t believe in asking others, I don’t want to upset people,” he said. Another 65-year-old man told us: “My family would help but I don’t like to ask them, they have their own families to look after.” Others, however are either unable or too embarrassed to visit a food bank.
Food or warmth
One 54-year-old man said: “I can go for a couple of days without food… the gas is cut off and I get hot water from the kettle to wash.” There was also evidence that some older people were not fully recognising their nutritional needs. As one 60-year-old woman said: “When you are on your own… sometimes I don’t cook, depends how I feel.” Another 65-year-old man revealed his poor diet, stating how when he had no food he would: “Just eat cornflakes.”
Other people chose to cut back on food during the winter due to the costs of heating their home – suffering the cold as a result. As one 72-year-old woman stated: “Sometimes I just go without putting the heating on.”
An increasing number of older people are constrained in their spending on food, many are skipping meals and are not getting the social care support they need. Emergency food parcels are an inadequate and unsustainable way of addressing the issue of food insecurity.
There are currently 10m people in the UK aged over 65, but this is expected to increase to 19m by 2050 – that’s one in every four people.
As the size of the older population continues to grow, the reductions in local authority spending on social care raise concerns about their long-term welfare. Given the follow-on costs to the public purse, including in terms of healthcare, the government must do more to combat food insecurity amongst older people.
“Poverty is a personality defect.”
– Margaret Thatcher
I think that one thing dear Maggie was in denial about is that it’s generally easier to get money if you already have money. It’s easier for a person with a job to get money for something he or she does not need than it is for a person without money to get money for bare necessities.
Pervasive myths such as Margaret Thatcher’s statement help maintain that imbalance.
I realized when I heard about a donation someone I know had made to another person I know.
Factors like gender (sex) and skin tone can play a role too. Men, for example, generally don’t like the idea of empowering women. Something primitive in them wants them to enslave women instead, tether them, keep them small and under control. Own them. And break them, if the women can’t be controlled. If it happens in everyday life, it also happens in many professional relationships. And we all know this, but most of us rarely think about it.
Yes, what I have written here will anger or upset some men, but for every man who does not recognize himself in it at all – bless him – there is another one who will readily admit that it’s true.
Apparently, someone – an aide to the current Secretary of State for Work and Pensions – threatened to have food banks shut down if they continued to raise awareness about their activities and about food poverty in the UK. This aide has the wrong idea.
Only a few years ago, in 2011, I noticed a major discrepancy in this area. The Trussell Trust – which runs the food banks in the UK – wasn’t accomplishing even 10% of what Dutch food banks were doing.
UK food banks handed out 40,000 parcels per year.
900,000 per year were handed out by Dutch food banks.
The population of England & Wales on 27 March 2011 was 56,075,912. The population of Scotland on that day was 5,295,000.
On 1 January 2011, the population of the Netherlands was around 16,700,000 persons. That’s almost 45 million people less!
So, while British food banks were handing out 0.00065 parcel per person per year, Dutch food banks handed out 0.054 parcel per person per year. Or did my calculator trip me up badly?
Around 83 times more food parcels were being handed out in a tiny country with much greater equality and almost none of the appallingly deep poverty of the UK!
That is not the Trussell Trust’s fault.
While the number of food parcels handed out in the UK has gone up substantially since then, it still is nowhere near enough. The Trussell Trust gave emergency food to 913,138 people in the UK in 2013-2014. Presumably, that means ‘once’.
According to the Trussell Trust, 13,000,000 people in the UK live below the poverty threshold. (That’s what it also said three years ago.)
Conquering poverty would also benefit the nation’s budget, as the estimated cost of child poverty alone in the UK is £25 billion per year in terms of costs to business, the police, courts and health and education services.
Inhabitants of the Netherlands rank among the happiest people on the planet, year after year after year. Dutch children consider themselves very happy children, regardless of their socioeconomic background. The same cannot be said for British children.
At the end of 2010, UNICEF research into child inequality in 24 developed countries showed that income poverty has the greatest impact on child inequality in the UK. The UK ranks alongside countries such as Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. There is little inequality in the Netherlands, however, and the lives of children from the richest families differ little from the lives of the poorest Dutch children.
‘We must not lose sight of the importance of family income to eradicating child poverty in this country. We must ensure that no family with children has to live on an income which cannot provide the warmth, shelter and food they need.’
We need to hand out many more food parcels. There is no shame in handing out food, and none in accepting it either. The embarrassment is in not handing it out.