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By Jason Michael
THROUGH THE WEEKEND Rob McDowall, the chair of Welfare Scotland, tweeted a thread recounting an encounter he had with a woman suffering from the effects of malnutrition. “‘AS’ had been in a state of practical starvation for months and was existing on very little food,” he wrote, and when he and his team were with her she was “confused and shouting for her mum who had passed away over 20 years ago.” The ambulance crew that responded to their call said her heart was showing signs of stress, and when she reached the hospital the emergency doctors found she was suffering from refeeding syndrome. This is 2018 and this is Scotland.
The Independent newspaper reported five years ago, just before Christmas, that food poverty in the United Kingdom had become a “public health emergency.” Rising costs and the effects of social austerity were driving record numbers of people below the breadline. Many of the efforts of the Yes campaign in Scotland during the independence referendum of 2014 were directed towards highlighting the plight of people on the edge of society, those who had been forced – thanks largely to social welfare sanctions – to rely on foodbanks for their most basic necessities. By mid-2016 research published by the Trussell Trust was saying:
Low incomes, insecure work, high living costs and problems accessing in-work benefits are all leading to a rise in working people being referred to food charities.
Foodbank use, by April 2016, had risen to a record high, with well over a million three-day emergency food packages being handed to those in most need by the Trussell Trust in 2015. The British government’s own figures also indicated an astronomical rise in fatalities linked to malnutrition. In 2016 death certificates from England and Wales listed malnutrition as the primary cause in a total of 66 deaths, but by February this year it was determined to be the underlying cause of death or a contributory factor in 351 deaths – that’s an increase of over 230 per cent in less than two years. The UK is on the brink of starvation and now the London government wants us to start stockpiling food to protect us from the immediate impact of a no-deal Brexit.
⬇️ I visited a client AS at home who had collapsed. I visited her and met her social worker and her partner who wer… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Rob McDowall (@robmcd85) September 28, 2018
After a decade of austerity, with huge swathes of Britain eating into their savings to get by, the reserves of the poorest have been utterly depleted. Those in the middle and close to the bottom have been shaken from their perch, now occupying that band of the economic ladder once occupied by those who are now starving. Their savings are now disappearing fast too.
On top of this, as if to add insult to injury, Jacob Rees-Mogg has said without a hint of irony that people can mitigate against any negative effects of Brexit by using their savings and cashing in their stocks and shares. When this was posted to social media people reacted with shock – shock! But why were they shocked? Are they stupid? This crisis has a long genesis. The loosening of the social and economic fabric for the majority of ordinary working people in the UK began with Labour in the Blair years, with the expansion of flexible labour conditions, the lowering of real income, the beginning of the gig economy, and zero hours contracts. Through the Tory years – the austerity years – this undoing has been compounded by an all-out assault on people’s basic right to food.
Too many people in the UK seem incapable or unwilling to accept that all of this is a deliberate attack on ordinary people, a series of policies directed at soaking the wealth of society from the bottom to the top. Those who have died of starvation have died as the result of a policy which sees their deaths as nothing more that collateral damage. These same policies think just as little of the rest of us. Even how they speak of people – thinking here of Iain Duncan Smith’s “low value people” – betrays their vicious and avaricious contempt for human beings. So long as we fail to see this as policy, rather than the unexpected and unfortunate consequences of bad politics, this will continue to happen – and it will continue to get worse.
At this moment we are on the tipping point. Over the past ten years the savings and modest assets of working people have been stripped. We have now reached the point at which people have nothing else with which to mitigate the personal effects of their shrinking estates. This is why we have seen the numbers of those turning to foodbanks and those being admitted to emergency departments due to malnutrition take a sudden leap. There is nothing left in the larder.
We have run out of time. We do not have any more time to wait and see if things will improve. This is not going to get any better – and the sooner we realise this the better. Things are only going to get worse. Going over the Brexit cliff edge will only put us on a steeper downward trajectory. The time to act is now. One way or another the people orchestrating this attack on us must be checked. It is not immoral to steal food when starving or faced with starvation, equally it is not wrong to act against even the highest authority when that authority has become a danger to our lives and the lives of those around us. Only the most stupid and the most wilfully ignorant cannot see the urgency in stopping the British government. It is time we got off our knees and started defending ourselves.
Food banks on the rise as ‘hunger stalks the UK’