“Not even a tin of baked beans!” A visitor shows the need for radical reforms.

Ten per cent – TEN PER CENT – of the population of Cumbria are using food banks!

said a fellow church-goer to me in horror, after a Sunday service in a West Cumbrian village church. We were discussing the local bearing of the damning findings by the UN rapporteur Philip Alston, reporting on the effects of austerity policies on Britain today.

After a twelve-day tour of Britain’s towns and cities, Mr Alston, UN expert on extreme poverty and human rights, spoke in stark term about his findings, in London on Friday.

Clearly shocked by what he had found, according to the Independent’s report he said that successive governments had overseen a systematic dismantling of the social safety net,
He spoke of meeting;

  • People dependent on food banks for their next meal
  • People sleeping on friends’ couches because they are homeless
  • Children growing up in poverty
  • Young people who feel gangs are their only way out of destitution
  • People with disabilities told they need to go back to work or lose benefits, against their doctor’s orders
  • People who have sold sex for money or shelter

He said;

The United Kingdom’s impending exit from the European Union poses particular risks for people in poverty, but the Government appears to be treating this as an afterthought.

Dwelling on the effects of the rollout of Universal Credit, he maintained that the system had been imposed with “a sudden tonne of bricks approach, utterly inconsistent with… the whole British sense of community and the values of justice and fairness.”

He said;

The command and control approach reflected in Universal Credit is that sanctions should be harsh, immediate and painful – and yet all of the evidence that I’ve seen indicate that sanctions are usually counter-productive, that they create fear and loathing among claimants and they impose immense hardship.

He went into wider implications of government policies as he saw them. The ‘vital role’ of local authorities had been ‘gutted’ by a series of government policies, with public land sold off, libraries closed down, and youth services sized down. Soon, he suggested, there will be nowhere for young people to go.

They will find themselves living in an increasingly hostile society because community roots are being broken.

Asked what he thought about the UK’s future, Mr Alston said,

Britain is heading towards an alienated society… two dramatically different societies – of people living the high life but people on the other hand not able to afford a tin of baked beans.

He had spoken to government ministers, but found them unresponsive.

The Independent asked for Labour’s response, and was told that the party will stop the rollout of Universal Credit, end the benefit freeze and transform the social security system. However, Labour did not oppose the recent Budget measures which gave greater tax cuts to wealthier people, and neither do they whole-heartedly oppose Brexit. It is we Liberal Democrats who must lead the campaign for the radical reforms our country so urgently needs.

* Katharine Pindar is a long-standing member of the Lib Dems and an activist in the West Cumbrian constituency of Cumberland.

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  • David Warren 19th Nov '18 - 4:16pm


    Well timed post.

    I have just been watching the Universal Credit debate in parliament and it is obvious that the Tories are in denial about the problems with it.

    The issue I want to focus on is that the money if and when you get it simply isn’t enough to live on.

    £60 -£70 a week with a bit of council tax rebate forces people into debt, poverty and worse.

    Pointing out the difficulties with the introduction is not enough.

    Liberal Democrats should be arguing for a substantial increase in benefits.

  • John Marriott 19th Nov '18 - 4:48pm

    What was the adjective used by Rees-Mogg to describe Food Banks? Uplifting? There’s a place for charity, of course; but it should NEVER be the major plank of any welfare system.

    Most people reckoned that combining all benefit entitlements into one (aka Universal Credit) made sense; but what a dog’s breakfast they made of rolling it out. Making a severely disabled young lady undertake a fitness to work assessment smacks of the Third Reich. The problem is that, deep down, the Tories are desperate to prove that work, any work, is infinitely better than just getting handouts. That makes sense if the individual is fit to work; but no sense at all if their wage has then to be topped up by visits to a Food Bank.

    David Warren talks about ‘a substantial increase in benefits’. Now I’m sure that what I am about to suggest won’t go down well with many LDV contributors; but how about having another look at our Overseas Aid budget?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 19th Nov '18 - 6:49pm

    If there is one, amongst a few, things I welcome about left Labour, it is they have no guilt on these issues.

    It was the latter Blair Brown government that went from terrific tax credit type policies, and much else, to their direct and cruel implementation of the hideous work capability assessment . It is all fine and dandy to only blame the coalition, but I left the Labour party over contradictions such as this, despite a real enthusiasm for early Blair and Brown .

    I joined this party due to the leadership of social democrats and Liberals such as Charles K Ming C.

    The universal credit has been supported across parties , in its theory.

    I have opposed it as with the euro, hogwash= homogenisation.

    I before many, saw that when you impose, you obliterate. Stephen Lloyd did as they all did. He did not do the right thing. The only hope for this party is leaders not in that coalition.

  • David Warren 19th Nov '18 - 6:55pm

    @John Marriott

    Agree with you on the Overseas Aid budget.

    @David Raw

    Agree with your point on voting for cuts during the coalition years.

    There is no getting away from the facts.

    Looking forward the Lib Dems need to be the champions of the poor and the needy.

    Just like they used to be.

  • OnceALibDem 19th Nov '18 - 7:27pm

    Lib Dem voice has got a lot more hostile to food banks than in the coalition years when things like this were being written:

    “The only real conclusion I think can be reached from the evidence we have is that the reasons underlying the increase in their use are multifaceted and complex: it is not simply a case of increasing food poverty driving demand.”
    Feb 2014

    “Is the increase solely because more people in need are presenting to their GP, social worker or Job Centre Plus? Or is it that as the number of foodbanks, awareness of them and understanding of their operation grows among the different agencies, people who were not previously being referred are now given vouchers? We just don’t know.”
    Jan 2014

  • Yvonne Finlayson 19th Nov '18 - 8:02pm

    I joined the party as I thought, as per the constitution, that we would support the most disadvantaged in our communities.

    It’s to my dismay that we say or do little on this topic. Then I looked at the target seats, looked at who we are losing voter share to, and it appears that in order to attract the Tory vote, we are offering Tory lite.

    I’ll illustrate this. The policy of no Indy ref in Scotland, even though things could materially change if we come out of the EU. Not even a squeak on federalism, which Labour are touting.

    Barely a whimper on fracking, which would disproportionately affect poorer communities. Yet we are also meant to support the environment.

    I’ve seen nothing on the adoption of the UNCRC in Scotland, yet we are the party of human rights.

    I’ve seen nothing on the report referenced in the original post, which featured heavily in the media. Yet we are supposed to be a party that helps those in poverty. Indeed at roughly the same time the poverty report came out, we had a press release talking about how Brexit would adversely affect those who spend extended periods in Portugal and Spain as they may get held up at immigration with the new visas required for those spending over 90 days in a 180 day period outside of the U.K.

    So, the next time you come across someone in dire need, ask them to consider the poor souls heading for some sun who may face a few minutes delay at immigration. They have our full support.

  • Peter Martin 19th Nov '18 - 8:52pm

    @ Katharine Pindar,

    “………and neither do they whole-heartedly oppose Brexit.”

    The economic situation that you are describing has arisen whilst the UK has been a member of the EU. Its not just arisen since 23rd June 2016.

    It’s all been caused by the application of austerity economics which, at its simplest, is the mistaken notion that a Government deficit can be reduced by cutting spending and/or raising taxes. It doesn’t work. IF it had worked there wouldn’t have been a vote for Brexit in the first place!

    The EU is just as bad as the UK – if not worse! The Italians have also come around, ironically under a rightwing government, to the idea that it doesn’t work for them either. They’ve had enough austerity economics and they want to try some very modest expansion. But it’s unlikely to happen IMO unless they break free of the EU.

  • Katharine Pindar 19th Nov '18 - 9:37pm

    Austerity economics is much too bland an explanation for the shocking increase in poverty and inequality in this country of late years, Peter. We have the uncaring neglectful attitude of the Tory government leadership compounded by the immense waste and distraction of the Brexit preparations. I think you are right, Yvonne, our own lack of immediate reaction to the Philip Alston report wasn’t good enough – we have been distracted too.
    ‘We are supposed to be a party that helps those in poverty.’ Absolutely. Or as David Warren writes similarly, we need to be the champions of the poor and needy. This report from the UN rapporteur shows bleakly how far British society and governance has declined, and in my opinion it is our party that should plan to lead a movement of national renewal now, regardless of how the Brexit decisions go.

    There is a vast knot of confusion and doubt and underlying suffering here. Our party should now declare that we will cut through it to the important principles and practices that our country desperately needs. I have written to Stephen Lloyd, David Raw (thank you for your support and further inspiration) to ask him to lead us in this. Though judging by Mark Pack’s latest notification, he may not be the right leader in this.

  • Jayne Mansfield 19th Nov '18 - 10:58pm

    @ peter Martin,
    I agree with you that the problem has grown whilst we have ben members of the Eu and especially since the introduction of austerity measures.

    An All Party Parliamentary group Inquiry in 20124 highlighted the rapid expansion of the number of food banks providing emergency food to people and the dramatic rise in numbers in those needing to avail themselves of their services.

    If one just takes the Trussell Trust, one of the largest national food bank NGOs. In 2009 they had 300 foodbanks., in 2017 there were 420. The numbers of recipients of emergency food rose from 61,000 in 2011, to 1.18 million in 2016/17 .

    ‘ Financial insecurity, food insecurity and disability: the profile of people receiving emergency food assistance from the Trussell Trust Foodbank Network in Britain’. (Loopstra and Lalor 2017).

    As a still wealthy nation we should hang our heads in shame as the emergent pattern of who is accessing foodbanks becomes known.

    The growth of foodbanks has nothing to do with Brexit, it has everything to do with the political choices of UK politicians.

  • Jayne Mansfield 19th Nov '18 - 11:02pm

    @ Peter Martin,
    more careless typos from me.

    Paragraph 2 should read 2014.

  • The problem grew because the consensus of the centre was really the consensus of the economic right. The markets will solve everything, weed out the undeserving poor, pretend that patients are clients (because illness is lifestyle identity), franchise or privatise public services and shrink the public sector. Austerity is about reducing the civic bonds of nationhood. It goes hand in hand with globalism and the denial of community as anything more than a local flavour.

  • Katharine Pindar 19th Nov '18 - 11:29pm

    Nonetheless, Jayne, the waste and distraction of Brexit has perhaps helped to inhibit the Opposition parties from allowing the policies of austerity to go on without enough of an outcry against them. Philip Alston with the clear view of an outsider shows that our society is in decline. The British sense of community and the values of justice and fairness have been eroded; we have a society increasingly hostile to youth ‘because community roots are being broken’; it is an ‘alienated society’ of no outreach between the wealthy and the poor. The increase in attendance at food banks, bad as it is, is a symptom of this worsening condition of society.

    Who among Liberal Democrats can lead us in a national revival, to cut through the Gordian knot of chaos and unhappiness? Perhaps after all Stephen Lloyd MP can do it, if he has bowed out of the Brexit debate accepting Mrs May’s deal, but still has the anger and passion so many of us feel to campaign for the right. He will have to have the vision too, since ‘Without vision, the people perish.’

  • We must never forget the part our MP’s played in the cutting of benefits between 2010 and 2015, it is no consolation for members to say we were not as bad as the Tories after 2015. Of course some may say we had some good policies in our 2017 manifesto – reversing the 2015 Osborne cuts to Universal Credit, restoring the extra money for those in the work-related group who receive Employment and Support Allowance, increasing the Local Housing Allowance in line with local average rents, scrapping the bedroom tax (which we supported when in government) and scrapping the Work Capability Assessments.

    What was missing was a commitment to abolish all sanctions, abolish the Benefit Cap, to restore the value of the Job Seekers Allowance and the related benefits to their April 2012 real values and Universal Credit to the same level and to bring back the national Council Tax Benefit scheme.

    Now we should have a policy to set the basic benefit levels at the relative poverty levels. As I have been pointing out for months these were for a single person £144 a week and £248 for a couple for 2015/16 and so need uprating in line with inflation. I have also been calling for the Universal Credit rate for each child to be increased to the current Jobseekers Allowance rate for children of £66.90 per week.

    When in government we supported Universal Credit which was always designed to be accessed only online. Philip Alston points out that “Universal Credit has built a digital barrier that effectively obstructs many individuals’ access to their entitlements” and “As of March of this year, only about one third of all Universal Credit claimants could verify their identity online via GOV.UK Verify, a crucial step in the application process”.

    Universal Credit relies on computer information provided by HMRC, but of this data 2% is wrong, but the DWP always assumes their data is correct and according to Philip Alston, “even when they have written proof that the system was wrong. An old-fashioned pay slip is deemed irrelevant when the information on the computer is different”.

    Perhaps the Labour Party have the correct policy – scrap Universal Credit. At least we must scrap the waiting times (I don’t understand why someone on a benefit has to wait any time to be transferred over to another one [in this case Universal Credit]) and scrap it being accessed only online and restore the human element.

  • Katharine Pindar 19th Nov '18 - 11:31pm

    There is much truth in what you write there, Glenn.

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Nov '18 - 12:06am

    We called for the abolition of the Benefits Cap in the far-reaching motion, Mending the Safety Net, passed at the Brighton Conference in September 2016, Michael. It was a policy which prioritised reducing child poverty and treating claimants with dignity, and I remember how impressive it was. Thank you for bringing us up to date with the current financial needs of claimants, and also for mentioning Mr Alston’s pointing out the digital barrier for the less technically adept, which I had noted with sympathy but hadn’t room to include. The distress caused to so many should be a major incentive for us all to campaign for the national renewal I now believe we need.

  • Katharine, I am sure you recall that in the motion I wrote for our last conference was a clause reaffirming our commitment to scrapping the Benefit Cap. However this policy of ours (scrapping the Benefit Cap) didn’t make it into our 2017 manifesto and I was clear I was referring to that document in my post.

  • Peter Martin 20th Nov '18 - 3:39am

    @ Katharine,
    I would say we’d both agree that sensible economics isn’t a cure all. We can’t have everything. If everyone, including Govt, tries to spend more than the productive capacity of the economy will allow then we”ll end up with too much inflation. Inflation is an inevitable rationing mechanism when resources are tight.

    So are you concerned that if we act to remedy some of the social ills which concern you that we could end up with a higher than desirable rate of inflation?

  • Jayne Mansfield 20th Nov '18 - 9:20am

    @ Katharine Pindar,

    We are in agreement that the referendum and shenanigans of politicians in its aftermath have been an unnecessary waste of time and energy that could have been better spent. In my opinion, it is not hyperbole to describe it as a tragedy.

    Where is the modern Shakespeare when we need one?

  • Glenn 19th Nov ’18 – 11:23pm……………….The problem grew because the consensus of the centre was really the consensus of the economic right. The markets will solve everything, weed out the undeserving poor, pretend that patients are clients (because illness is lifestyle identity), franchise or privatise public services and shrink the public sector. Austerity is about reducing the civic bonds of nationhood. It goes hand in hand with globalism and the denial of community as anything more than a local flavour……………

    In Caron’s Theme of the week( First political memories) I wrote how in 1964 I viewed the Liberal Party as an irrelevance. However, I began to see them as the party of the UK’s conscience; a party championing the basic freedoms that the two ‘biggies’, with their closed ideology, ignored and, with my first vote, I ‘wasted’ it (in Bournemouth) on a Liberal candidate.
    However, I wasn’t the only one in the UK wasting my vote and those of us saw how supporting Liberal values resulted in an inexorable rise (from 6 to 60 seats) and, with that rise, a chance to hold a weak Tory government, led by a weak Tory PM, to act in response to the country’s real anger at the mess left by the ‘fat cats’, and act accordingly.
    Instead, we chanted the Tory mantra that the crisis was all down to Labour’s overspending on social matters and, enthusiastically, supported the victimisation of the weakest whilst those who had caused the crisis saw their remunerations increase. We pretended for 5 years that austerity was the only solution and, as each promised deadline for ‘balancing the books’ disappeared over the horizon, we continued supporting ever more ‘creative’ ways of punishing the poor (bedroom tax, etc.) and even introduced our own extra ‘nasties’ ( Vince Cable’s U-turn on public spending cuts, his introduction of tribunal fees for employees and his proposing scrapping of the Working Time Directive)…..
    As has been mentioned (Yvonne Finlayson 19th Nov ’18 – 8:02pm) our party would once have been shouting about ‘fracking’, etc. from the rooftops but now we seem to be a single policy fringe group trying to convince the country, and ourselves, that 2010-15 was just a bad dream.

    1964 all over again and, this time, I won’t be around in 54 years

  • Peter Martin 20th Nov '18 - 9:56am

    “……we supported Universal Credit which was always designed to be accessed only online”

    This is a key issue. Not everyone in our society is language literate, never mind computer literate. I don’t know what the figures are but it would seem like common sense to suggest that those who do need help the most are much less likely to have the necessary skills to work their way through an online maze to get what they should be by law entitled to.

    The film ‘I Daniel Blake’ has already been mentioned. If anyone hasn’t yet seen it please do so as soon as you can.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 20th Nov '18 - 10:30am

    As a party we should be speaking out against the extreme harshness and injustice of the benefits system.
    Many people are forced to resort to food banks because their benefits have been “sanctioned”.
    This can happen for something as trivial as missing an appointment at the jobcentre, which may have been for reasons completely outside their control, such as a bus being cancelled.
    Job seekers can also be punished in this way if their “coach” at the jobcentre feels that they have not applied for enough jobs, or if they turn down a job that is offered to them. Even if they had good reasons for deciding against a particular job, their benefits may be stopped for several weeks.
    Someone may also be denied benefits altogether if they left their previous job for what the jobcentre staff consider to be “insufficient reason”. Perhaps they left because they were a victim of workplace bullying, or because they found the work so stressful that their health was suffering. But if their jobcentre “coach” does not accept this explanation, they will find themselves with no money for the bare necessities of life. No-where to go but the food bank.
    It is unacceptable that jobcentre staff have the power to threaten and punish vulnerable people in this way. Unacceptable that people are faced with a choice between between a job that they know is totally unsuitable for them, or starvation.
    Shamefully, the benefits motion for Autumn Conference 2016, in its original form, would have kept the system of benefit sanctions. It was distressing to hear Liberal Democrats speaking in support of this. Fortunately, an amendment was passed which did commit the party to ending sanctions. But we do not often hear our MPs speaking out about this issue.

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Nov '18 - 10:47am

    expats, I go back just as far, so like you have experienced the hope, the hopes achieved, the rise and success, and more latterly the decline of our party. But the vision is still there even if the leaders have been flawed (as what recent British leaders have not been?), and it is backed by the radical yet practical policies we have agreed. This is now time for us to rise again, and the Alston report should be a prompt and the push for us to do so, to show that what we can offer can help to bring order and security and hope again to our chaotic, frightened and divided country.

  • Sue Sutherland 20th Nov '18 - 2:30pm

    Thank you so much Katharine for this post and also I’m glad to see that Jayne is back. I often feel that I’m living in an Alice in Wonderland world these days. Apparently we have full employment so why aren’t wages rising? Apparently the way back to individual wellbeing is through employment but people doing 3 jobs have to go to food banks. Apparently we’re about to enter a golden age by Brexitting but I can’t see that unicorn, although I can see Jacob ReesMogg and Co finding a nice crock of gold by the rainbow. We are returning to Victorian values but even John Major finds it too much to stomach.
    Back in a similar situation Keynes provided a way out of the mess. Unfortunately we don’t seem to have a Keynes around at the moment because although the evidence is all about us that austerity doesn’t work few seem to be asking what can we do instead and no one has come up with a sound answer. Unfortunately our party still seems to be fighting the battles of the Coalition, but do you know what? That really doesn’t matter any more. What matters is the desperate lives many people lead and what we can do about it now.

  • I don’t think there is a magic solution to be discovered by a Keynes. We have high levels of relative poverty because of choices made during the coalition years which continue under the Conservatives.

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Nov '18 - 6:07pm

    What Catherine Jane rightly points out, I think, is the decline in care for and neglect of the needs of the poorest and most disadvantaged in our society. As Philip Alston found, the British sense of community has been rocked, and since community is one of the great principles of our Liberal Democrat faith, this is our battle, to restore it.

    The demands of dealing with the financial deficit did distort the vision of political leaders, including our own, and the continuation of Tory rule has continued the excessive emphasis on economic values. Then came the Referendum and the further distortion of political attention and resources to the useless cause of Brexit in the last two years.

    So we have had increasing poverty and increased ignoring of the now desperate lives that Sue writes of. So long as joblessness decreased, no matter how poor and insecure and ill-paid the jobs were, this Government was satisfied. People with disabilities, single mothers with more than two children, people incapable of helping themselves but offered no help, they could all go to the wall – and they did. Young people especially have been seriously neglected, as Mr Alston points out. From depleted children’s services, through stretched schools and inadequate mental health care, to the struggle to find decent jobs and homes at a price they can afford to pay – what sense of community can our young people have, other than perhaps in gangs?

    Our Liberal Democrats have continued to try to get back to civility and decency and kindness in the treatment of our fellow citizens. In local government, fighting against cuts in services, we have done our best. In our conferences, we have passed good motions on welfare and jobs and taxation , schools and housing and business management. But now more is needed: nothing less than for us to lead a national revival. And if we do that, we will be heard, for the nation desperately needs our help and our leadership.

  • Some big ideas in this thread about what changes need to be made to benefits system but there are some small immediate changes too that can improve things:

    – call- handling times. I appreciate that desire is to make it an online system but usually waiting 35 mins plus (45 minutes doesn’t seem uncommon) to get an answer to a question that needs more than online comment puts a lot of pressure on the claimant and even more pressure on support services.
    – basic training of staff members. I know there is good and bad in every work place, people having a good day and a bad day etc. but UC seems to be so new to so many staff members that you have people saying you can claim with three plus children and, earlier on, people being directed to UC when they wanted to claim contribution-based benefits because of an incorrect view that there was no contribution-based benefit. Even if it’s just training in who is entitled and who should still be on legacy benefits.
    – claiming contribution based benefits. Why, under legacy benefits, could contribution based ESA be claimed over the phone (at least the assesment rate) but now there is a claim form and jobcentre appointment? It’s not better in this respect.

    Three improvements where whole system could be improved significantly and probably in just the next three months (before it all starts to change again).

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Nov '18 - 9:41pm

    Those sound good ideas, DJ, could you perhaps email Stephen Lloyd about them?

    Joseph, thank you for the interesting article about the never-solved problems of providing insurance to cover housing cost. I suppose your LVT plans would help prevent the current acquiring of property as an investment rather than to provide housing, though not the problem of landlords’ freedom to charge what they want, and to end tenancies at will, which must make life so uncertain and difficult for many people. However, the problems that Philip Alston confronts us with here are so comprehensive, society-wide, that we need a wide-angle lens to have the vision to tackle them. I shall ask Sir Vince to focus on them himself.

    Belated thanks, Peter Martin, for providing the discussion video on the Daniel Blake film, which was itself stirring and illuminating. Thanks also to everyone commenting here, and I hope there will also be action following the report by Lib Dems in the country, as I gather may be the case in my Cumbria.

  • Sue Sutherland 20th Nov '18 - 10:32pm

    Andrew T I think you are seeing these problems over too short a time frame. Thatcher started the demolition of the welfare state, it continued under Blair and sadly by the time of Coalition our leaders had taken it up. The Conservatives with their extreme cutbacks and incompetence have brought us to this state where the UN inspector has written a very critical report about Universal Credit.

  • Katharine,

    housing costs are a critical element. With housing benefit frozen at 2011 levels and rents having risen 30% it is virtually impossible to cover accommodation costs without using much of the non-housing benefit payments received.

    Almost all benefits are now subject to means testing rather than the Universal benefits that the Beveridge system of social insurance envisioned. Perhaps the only longer-term solution is the replacement of tax and national insurance allowances with a universal tax credit (with child tax credits paid directly to the mother or principal carer) that is not subject to means testing, sanctions or withdrawal supplemented with disability allowances. Housing allowance has to be based on median rents for property actually available in the local authority area, if the homelessness problem is not to continue getting worse.

  • chris moore 21st Nov '18 - 8:21am

    Austerity describes a series of policies responding to a financial situation of very high déficit and increasing national debt.

    UK is still running a deficit, albeit a modest one.

    A better approach would have been to raise taxation significantly rather than try to squeeze cash out of the social security and other budgets.

    There should be an acceptance that any system of social security will be gamed. Attempts to eradicate cheating seriously harm the well-being of the very people the system was set up to help.

    As a party, we should espouse positive liberty; people who are in dire financial need are in no position to exercise thier powers as individuals to the full, or anywhere near it. This goes against our core beliefs.

    Lib Dems have to rediscover their radical egalitarian reforming zeal.

  • Peter Martin 21st Nov '18 - 8:55am

    @ Andrew T

    “I don’t think there is a magic solution to be discovered by a Keynes. We have high levels of relative poverty because of choices made during the coalition years which continue under the Conservatives.”

    There’s nothing magic about any economic theory. They don’t provide an answer to the meaning of life. However, for anyone interested in the questions raised in this thread it’s as well to have some understanding of how things work. The usual mistake is to think that the Govt first collects taxes and then spends the proceeds. It’s the other way around. If the spending didn’t come first there’d be no money in the economy for us to pay our taxes.

    “We have high levels of relative poverty because of choices made during the coalition years which continue under the Conservatives.”

    Ok but there’s a bit more to it than this. The ruling class don’t just control the Conservative party. They have a vested interest in the policies of all mainstream parties. From their POV they need to have a pool of unemployed and underemployed workers to discipline the rest of the workforce.

    I notice Dr Who was very political last week. The future dystopia shown was just an exaggeration of what we see happening now.


  • Peter Martin 21st Nov '18 - 9:20am

    @ Chris Moore,

    Austerity describes a series of policies responding to a financial situation of very high déficit and increasing national debt. UK is still running a deficit, albeit a modest one.

    This is what they want you to think. The arithmetic is quite simple. If the UK ( as whole and not just the govt) is running a current account deficit in its trade then someone in the UK has to borrow to support that deficit. The strategy of recent governments has been to encourage the private sector to do more borrowing so they can borrow less. This is why we have a credit bubble in the economy and very high house prices.

    A better approach would have been to raise taxation significantly rather than try to squeeze cash out of the social security and other budgets.

    You and I can try to earn more or spend less if our bank accounts aren’t looking too healthy. What we spend has an insignificant effect on what we can earn. We earn has an insignificant effect on what everyone else can earn. It’s not like this for Govt. If Govt raises the rates of taxation, like it did when VAT was raised to 20%, then the economy will be slowed down and the tax take will be slower too.

  • chris moore 21st Nov '18 - 9:36am

    @Peter Martin.

    Austerity describes a series of policies responding to a financial situation of very high déficit and increasing national debt. UK is still running a deficit, albeit a modest one.

    “This is what they want you to think.”

    Who are “they”, Peter?

    The deficit on public spending is not the same as the current account déficit!!!

    Governments that do not balance spending and taxation over the economic cycle increase public debt.

    In the depths of the financial crisis, 2009-2010, the annual deficit was over 10%. Most of the efforts to reduce that déficit have focused on controlling spending. I believe they should have raised taxes more and cut spending less.

    I’m well aware that taxation, is not, in itself positive. There were a series of difficult choices to be made. i believe the wrong ones were made.

  • Katharine Pindar 21st Nov '18 - 10:44am

    “For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster all rolled into one.”

    “Successive governments have brought revolutionary change in both the system for delivering minimum levels of fairness and social justice to the British people, and especially in the values underpinning it. Key elements of the post-war Beveridge social contract are being overturned. In the process, some good outcomes have certainly been achieved, but great misery has also been inflicted unnecessarily, especially on the working poor, on single mothers struggling against mighty odds, on people with disabilities who are already marginalised and on millions of children who are being locked into a cycle of poverty from which most will have great difficulty emerging.”

    “The Government has remained determinedly in a state of denial … Ministers insisted to me that all is well and running according to plan. Some tweaks to basic policy have been reluctantly made, but there has been a determined resistance to change in response to the many problems which so many people at all levels have brought to my attention. ”

    These are direct quotes from Mr Alston’s devastating report. Our party must respond, to accept that so much has gone wrong, to campaign to get policies changed, and to lead a drive for national renewal with restoration of social justice and community values.

  • @ Chris Moore

    History and Keynesian economics should have taught everyone in the party in 2010 that austerity was not the answer. It was not the answer in 1931 and it was not the answer in 2010.

    Keynesian economics talks about total demand in the economy. If the government cuts spending or increases taxation this reduced demand in the economy and so reduces economic growth. The coalition government did both and at the time it was reported that we had gone back into recession. This result should have been expected by everyone who had studied history or economics.

    We had full employment in the past. However, in the 1970’s we had an inflation problem which lots of economists believe was the result of full employment (some economists put it down to other factors such as the rise in oil prices). Economists talk about an economy being at full production instead of at full employment which they define as there being a certain level of unemployment, which for the UK is between 4 and 5%. This is so there are no wage inflation pressures. Keeping unemployment at 4% or higher is the cost for controlling inflation.

    The 2008 economic crash as well as increasing unemployment increased underemployment. Therefore increasing total demand in the economy in 2010 would not have increased inflation and would have moved the economy towards full production.

    There comes a time when increasing the deficit to increase demand does cause inflation. I don’t think that had been reached, but I know we are not there now because the number of people unemployed has risen by 21,000 in the most recent figures.

    Therefore to reduce the deficit now is the wrong policy. In fact it is planned to increase it over the short term and for that period economic growth is forecast to be 0.2% higher.

  • Peter Martin 21st Nov '18 - 11:32am

    @ Chris Moore,

    “They” would include anyone who uses phrases like “living beyond our means”, “burdening future generations with debt” etc etc. You’ll find them in most political parties. Anyone who uses a household model for Govt expenditure.

    “The deficit on public spending is not the same as the current account déficit!!!”

    This is true. They aren’t the same but they are related.

    It is self evidently true that the Govt’s deficit is equal to everyone else’s surplus. If we divide up ‘everyone else’ according to geographical location we get:

    Govt Deficit = Surplus of Private Domestic Sector + Current Account Trade Deficit.

    So, in general countries like the UK and USA which, nearly always, have an external deficit tend, nearly always, to have a Govt deficit too. It’s quite natural and normal.

    “Governments that do not balance spending and taxation over the economic cycle increase public debt.”

    Public debt is usually measured in term of Debt/GDP ratio. So even if nominal debt increases, a growing GDP can result in a lower ratio.

    We need to get our ideas straight on the nature of debt. We tend to have an inbuilt contradiction on the subject. We consider it is a good thing to save our money by buying, for example, Premium bonds or savings certificates. But, this creates Govt debt which we feel is a bad thing. We need to resolve this in our thinking.

  • Katharine Pindar 21st Nov '18 - 1:58pm

    This is all very well, Peter Martin, but could we please get back to discussing the findings of the UN rapporteur and what our party’s responses to it should be. We need to resolve THIS in our thinking at the moment.

  • Peter Martin 21st Nov '18 - 3:53pm

    @ Katharine,

    I know you feel that I’m going off topic everytime I keep trying to explain our problems with understanding Govt deficits and debt but it is really central to the issue.

    Very soon everyone will have forgotten about this UN report. But they’ll still be asking the question of “how are you going to pay for it?” whenever you highlight the question of the number of people in poverty and using food banks. Then there are many other pressing issues in our society which need fixing.

    You have to come up with a better answer than “put a penny on income tax”.

  • Nonconformistradical 21st Nov '18 - 4:46pm

    @Peter Martin

    “I know you feel that I’m going off topic everytime I keep trying to explain our problems with understanding Govt deficits and debt but it is really central to the issue.”

    As log as you keep trying to do this without apparently considering the impact on people least able to afford life in the UK you will continue to fail to convince the non-economists here.

  • Katharine, I saw Vince Cable on the TV News yesterday, but he wasn’t talking about this. He was talking about stopping a Russian becoming President of Interpol. Maybe because it was much easier for him to take a position on that rather than embracing my suggestions to get rid of relative poverty.

    Perhaps you are correct and we need firstly, to change the environment and get people to recognise that we shouldn’t have a society where 14 million people in the UK are living in poverty, 4 million of them 50% below the poverty line and 1.5 million are destitute (figures from the UN report). And secondly, educate people that work does not always get a person out of poverty, there are other important things to consider (such as the level of minimum wages).

    The National Living Wage will rise to £8.21 in April 2019. However, according to the Living Wage Foundation the real living wage increased to £9 an hour this November and £10.55 for London. Millions of workers do not get this rate. According to KPMG 22% of jobs now pay less than the real living wage, 1% more than last year.

    When I suggested we should have a policy calling for regional living wages of 70% of median earnings for that nation or region I was informed that the party had recently rejected this policy, but when I requested to know when this was, I received no answer.

    During the coalition we got into the rut of talking about the number of people in employment rather than the number unemployed, or underemployed or not employed because of health issues. We need to focus on these groups and remove them from relative poverty. I have suggested how this could be done, but our Federal Conference Committee decided not to debate my motion on relative poverty. Perhaps the working group on the left behind (a fairer share for all) will embrace my suggestions when it produces its policy paper hopefully next September.

  • Katharine Pindar 21st Nov '18 - 8:56pm

    Those are really helpful comments, thank you, Joseph and Michael – Joe outlining so many of the party’s committed policies to aid the badly off and mentioning their acceptance by economic gurus, and Michael pointing towards what more needs to be done to lead to a fairer allocation of economic resources, which I hope you will keep pressing for. Thank you also, Nonconformistradical, for suggesting what is less currently helpful.

    I have now written to our Leader, asking him to accept the Alston report, make his response to it a continuing priority second only to preventing Brexit, and lead us in a campaign for national revival. There is so much that could and should be done, firstly to relieve so much poverty and hardship, but also to bring the country together again with shared good purposes and restored sense of community. I hope all Liberal Democrats may contribute to this, to help end the rotten culture allowed by the Tory governments.

  • Jayne Mansfield 21st Nov '18 - 9:35pm

    @ Michael BG,

    I think you are being a little harsh on Vince Cable for one interview on a very important subject. One can be concerned about world affairs as well as about the shameful poverty in this still wealthy country. It is not a case of either or.

    In fact, as someone who until relatively recently was able to work in other parts of the world, it never ceases to amaze me that so many articles on here are anglocentric or eurocentric, especially as the party is supposed to be internationalist.

    My own view is that we have become too individualistic at the expense of community. We need to start rebuilding strong communities where there is a sense of belonging and obligation.

    You fellows can talk economics ’til the cows come home, but in my opinion, unless we get back to basics, the hardening of attitudes that I have experienced, to the vulnerable, and those living precarious lives, will not change much. Any policy that is redistributive will be resented rather than seen as a community insurance policy and safety net for all.

  • Katharine Pindar 21st Nov '18 - 11:37pm

    Jayne, this is all about community – the sense of the need for community which is part of our Liberal Democrat faith – because Philip Alston has said that Universal Credit was imposed with an approach “utterly inconsistent with the whole British sense of community and the values of justice and fairness”, and that, chillingly, our young people “will find themselves living in an increasingly hostile society because community roots are being broken.” This is a point of view which Liberal Democrats immediately understand, and the problem is one which our party is far more suited to address than is the Labour Party, because we do not accept strong but exclusive communities.

    As for Michael BG’s comment on Vince Cable’s choice of subject to talk about, I think he was absolutely right in his implication, although our leader may not have had much choice of what to talk about in that particular interview. I have just looked at the list of current press releases posted here with considerable dismay. We will never make an impact if we fire scatterguns in all directions: we need to concentrate our messages, to hone our tools, to choose what we want to be heard and say it with clarity, conciseness and directness – and then keep on repeating it.

  • @Sue Sutherland

    That is possibly true, I’m more aware of the politics of the coalition era than before.

    @Peter Martin

    I have an above average understanding of economics. I wouldn’t talk of “ruling classes” and “they”, it comes across a bit too left wing.

    @Katharine Pindar

    Good luck with raising these issues. This is one area I think Tim Farron was particularly good at.

  • Jayne Mansfield 22nd Nov '18 - 11:02am

    @ Katharine Pindar,
    I would find very great difficulty arguing with you and your concept of Liberalism, Katharine. Whether it be opposing apartheid all those years ago, or your desire for a better politics today. I know from reading your posts how committed you are to this ideal.

    Perhaps, if so many Liberal Democrat councillors had not lost their positions thanks to disappointment with the performance of Liberal Democrats at national level, things would be easier for the party, but I fear that it will be a long road to regain trust.

    I haven’t read or listened to Vince Cable for a while. The divisive language about the young and the old makes me quite angry, especially as there is much good work taking place in localities where children get to meet the elderly that they might not otherwise meet, to the benefit of both. I am not sure what good those widening the divide think they are achieving. However, I do feel that on that one occasion, he was right to address the issue as he did.

    In my opinion, a return to community should start with a ‘Back to the Future’, with proper funding of councils and increased powers, a return to local education authorities, a decentralisation of health services which has taken place in the NHS with a return to a joined up service ….and much more. For example, there has never been a greater need for trade unions to protect and further the interests of individual workers. I could go on , but thankfully for you I won’t !

    I do wish you well in your endeavour, but I do feel that sometimes what passes for my concept of Liberalism, is in fact libertarianism, and this works against community.

  • Peter Martin 22nd Nov '18 - 11:41am

    @ Nonconformist Radical,

    I agree with nearly all of what has been written here about the effects on the poor. There’s no point in my just repeating all that. However, it strikes me that LibDem policy is that a degree of austerity is needed to ‘balance the books’ but that you need to do what you can to alleviate the effects on the poor.

    Katharine might have provided a link to the original source. This is a quote from the Alston report:

    “But Universal Credit and the other far-reaching changes to the role of government in supporting people in distress are almost always ‘sold’ as being part of an unavoidable program of fiscal ‘austerity’, needed to save the country from bankruptcy.


    I’m saying it isn’t and never was needed. I’d say that Philip Alston thinks so too, judging by his use of the word ‘sold’.

    But Katharine, and mainstream LibDems too, seem reluctant to accept that.

  • Peter Martin 22nd Nov '18 - 11:53am

    @ Andrew T

    “I wouldn’t talk of “ruling classes” and “they”, it comes across a bit too left wing.”

    OK maybe my leftish slip is showing 🙂

    However, if LibDems want to be considered a radical party then maybe some “left wing” terminology wouldn’t go amiss. For a time during the Blairite years Lib Dems did “come across” as more left than Labour. The LibDem opposition to the Iraq war was the high water point of all that. A feather in your cap IMO!

    Of course there is a ruling class. They are there for all to see. How many Judges and Tory Cabinet ministers had the same type of education as most of the rest of us on this blog?

  • Jayne Mansfield,

    Philip Alston’s report came out on Friday, but I am not aware that Vince has commented on it. To have a policy to cure the ills identified by Philip Alston would cost money and I have the impressed that the party is not willing to spend this amount of money to cure them. I believe that my suggestions would cost a little less than £24.6 billion (on top of the 9.3 billion we promised in our 2017 manifesto) which was what it cost to increase Personal Allowances from £6475 to £10,660 when we were in government. Therefore it was much easier for Vince to talk about stopping a Russian becoming President of Interpol as it didn’t cost us any money to do. (I was not saying that stopping this Russian from being President of Interpol was a bad thing.)

    I agree with you that we do need to change attitudes and ensure that the general public does not believe that it is the fault of those living in poverty that they are living in poverty and that in the sixth wealthiest nation in the world it is the responsibly of us all to ensure that no one lives in relative poverty no matter what their work status is.

  • Katharine Pindar 22nd Nov '18 - 4:39pm

    The programme of fiscal ‘austerity’, as you put it, Peter, is certainly not one that I accept, nor that I think is generally accepted now in the party. I am of a similar view on economic policies as that of Michael BG, though with none of his expertise. We do not accept the penalising of the poor to achieve a dubious end. I am glad you are of the same view. I had not thought you were a supporter, and am glad that ‘your leftish slip is showing!

    You are right to ask for a link to the Philip Alston report. I had difficulty finding it myself, but now understand it is https:www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Poverty/EOM_GB_16Nov2018.pdf. (I was originally forwarded a copy of the report by an anti-poverty website, but wrote my article on the basis of Professor Alston’s statement, for which you have now kindly provided a link.)

    Jayne, I certainly agree with you about the need for better funding of local councils, and for increased powers. We believe in better support for the regions outside the south-east also, and the need for continued effective trade unions was specifically mentioned in the policy we passed at Brighton on jobs, business and communities.

    As suggested by more than one commenter here, I have now written to Tim Farron MP to ask if he will consider leading us, if Vince Cable agrees, in a national renewal movement to deal with the malaise that Professor Alston has pointed out, as well as with its malign effects.

  • Katharine Pindar 23rd Nov '18 - 4:52pm

    What should we be doing? To change a culture, to deal with the national malaise pointed out by Philip Alston. to end callous indifference to the struggles of the poor and disadvantaged, I think perhaps we must focus first on young people. It is they who will suffer in the long run if Brexit is not stopped. It is they who in many cases are struggling now.

    Turned out of universities with massive debts, or turned out of colleges with media and arts or low-level qualifications too limited for the job opportunities available, they join the race for jobs and careers fitting their qualifications. With well-to-do parents, some will be able to take unpaid internships and afford city rents, and so the dominance of the wealthy goes on to the next generation. The larger number are more likely to need help from the housing benefit which has been cut for 18-21 year-olds, or the inadequate rates of Job Seekers’ Allowance and Universal Credit for 18-24 year-olds, which we have demanded should be increased, and will often live with poor housing conditions and limiting jobs.

    Emerged from schools which have been stretched to serve them adequately, some with mental health needs untreated but with the hope and buoyancy still of the young, what sort of society are they finding? One led by a chaotic government unable to concentrate time or resources on improving people’s lives, and with no seeming will to do it. A divided, uncertain, anxious society unable to promise to maintain employment, to provide jobs, to grow the economy, and seemingly increasingly concentrated on individual self-survival, with the weakest, the children in poor households, the people with disabilities, the people who can’t manage without help, too often now neglected. Philip Alston said that young people ‘will find themselves living in an increasingly hostile society because community roots are being broken.’

    We Liberal Democrats can’t let this happen. We surely need to lead a national revival now, concentrating our campaigning on our society’s well-being, whatever happens over Brexit. Please let us join together in this.

  • Peter Martin 25th Nov '18 - 2:18pm

    @ Katharine,

    ” I think perhaps we must focus first on young people. It is they who will suffer in the long run if Brexit is not stopped. It is they who in many cases are struggling now.”

    Yes they are struggling. But, as the Lib Dems claim to be an evidence based party, can I ask where is the evidence that they’d be doing better if the referendum result had been different? The problems you are describing have largely arisen arisen while we’ve been members of the neoliberal/ordoliberal austerity inclined EU. There are still a lot of EU youngsters wanting to come here and if things are bad here, that must mean they are even worse there.

    “We surely need to lead a national revival now, concentrating our campaigning on our society’s well-being, whatever happens over Brexit.”


  • Katharine Pindar 25th Nov '18 - 5:11pm

    Hi, Peter, thank you for keeping the discussion going. It doesn’t particularly matter if this thread stops, but it matters a lot if the Alston Report isn’t taken on board and followed up by the leaders of our party. I think it is a seminal document, in the way it brings together every other relevant report and reference about poverty in Britain today, along with Professor Alston’s own personal thorough enquiries.

    In answer to your question, I think if the referendum result had been to remain in the EU, we would not have had the tremendous waste of national resources – cash, time, civil servants, lawyers etc. – and diversion of political attention to the useless diversion of Brexit. Then the Liberal Democrats, casting off the shackles of Coalition, could have been showing up the failings of neo-liberalism, ordo-liberalism, selfish capitalism (call it what you will), and both the callousness and dishonesty of Tories in government and the inadequacy and hidden menace of the Labour opposition. There has been too much distraction. We should now use the Alston Report as a basis for concentrated campaigning to alleviate and improve the sad state of our country. Glad you seem to agree with that, Peter.

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