Yes, food poverty is real – but the situation is complex and solutions are not straightforward

Food poverty, it seems to me, is a slightly odd term, but its apparent necessity is, I think, a reflection of the tortuous treatment imposed on the word “poverty”. Poverty now, in common usage (at least among experts in such issues), means “relative poverty”, which essentially means inequality. So when we actually want to refer to poverty as the word would historically have been understood (as being unable to satisfy one’s basic needs) we have to apply a prefix: fuel poverty, food poverty etc.

While Britain clearly has its share of poverty on the relative definition, in theory there ought to be no such thing as food poverty. A generously funded social security system should mean that anyone in danger of being in such a situation (whether in work or not) ought to be caught by the state’s safety net.

I think most can agree, though, that this theoretical scenario is not always the case in practice.

Unfortunately, however, I don’t think the agreement goes any further, particularly when we look at levels of food poverty and its causes.

Policy motion F15, to be debated at conference in a few weeks, has this analysis:

Conference has concerns however that:

i) The effect of tightening welfare payments, of delays in payment of benefits and increasing use of sanctions, combined with rising food and energy prices, impacts on the most vulnerable members of society and undermines the principle of the welfare ‘safety net’.

ii) Large numbers of people are currently being insufficiently supported by welfare payments and are living at a standard below which, in the words of Beveridge “no-one should be allowed to fall”.

iii) Independent evidence of an increasing reliance on food banks of working families with children and the rising number of evictions of social housing tenants, indicates that changes in the benefit system initiated by the coalition have not run smoothly and that ameliorative measures need to be put in place to ensure that the most vulnerable do not continue to suffer.

No policy motion can ever deal with any topic in massive detail, but it seems to me that this section of the motion in particular is extremely, and unhelpfully, simplistic.

It is true that research on the proliferation of food banks is scarce, but there is some recent work on the subject. Lib Dem councillor Iain Roberts summarised some research by the Trussel Trust, one of the largest providers of food banks, here on Lib Dem Voice last month. And Spectator journalist Isabel Hardman has done some excellent reporting on the use of food banks.

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.

To take an example, one of the reasons is that Jobcentre Plus (JCP) is now referring people to food banks, after they were given permission to do so by the coalition. In December 2008, when Labour were still in power, the Department for Work and Pensions banned the referral of individuals to food banks by JCP (see here and here (pdf)). The ban was only lifted in December 2010 by Iain Duncan Smith, and a voucher system for referrals was introduced.

Another reason, it seems, is the increasing media attention being given to food banks. Those providing them are obviously and rightly keen for as many people to know about them as possible, and they have been extraordinarily successful in obtaining media coverage.

My point is not that these are likely to be the only two reasons, but that they are plausible reasons that do not necessarily lead to a correlation between increased food bank demand and increases in food poverty.

The motion also critically ignores altogether a major cause of poverty and food poverty in particular: unemployment. It neither welcomes the falls in unemployment which we have seen over recent months nor identifies further falls as a key measure to reduce food poverty further. That is an omission which needs to be addressed.

The motion overall is not bad, but in its current form it is not good either. It is well-intentioned but it is weak in both its analysis of the status quo and in its thinking on possible solutions.

I am in the process of putting together some amendments to strengthen the motion: those wishing to help should feel free to get in touch.

* Nick Thornsby is a day editor at Lib Dem Voice.

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97 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Feb '14 - 2:43pm

    I agree Nick. Grand utopianism and trying to make everything appear for free just turns me off.

  • When you talk about the underacknowledgement of ’employment’ as a solution in your penultimate paragraph, do you mean – as it were – ‘absolute’ or ‘relative’ employment (a distinction you complain about in its application to poverty at the beginning of the post!). As you rightly note, one of the more worrying trends in food bank use is the ” increasing reliance on food banks of WORKING families with children” [my emphasis]. ‘Absolute’ employment is no solution to this (substantial) segment of food bank users. ‘Relative’ employment – that is, employment that is stable and pays a minimum or living wage – is another matter, and may well be relevant.

    Your article also fails to note the distinction between statutory referral to food banks on the voucher scheme, where individuals are only entitled to three vouchers in the course of a year, and use of food banks outside this scheme. I recently had cause to visit a debt advice centre where the advisers told me that, alongside being able to issue vouchers, they had an unofficial policy of trying to signpost their clients to food banks run by local churches etc., where they suspected that these clients were likely to exceed their three-voucher allowance within the year. This happened often, they said.

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 20th Feb '14 - 2:48pm

    I should have made clear that the evidence does support the view that benefit delays and sanctions are one of the other reasons for the use of food banks.

    In respect of delays, clearly the DWP needs to be more effective – but that is a matter of administration, not of policy.

    In relation to sanctions, that is more tricky. Are we saying that sanctions are inherently wrong? What about someone who simply refuses to work despite being capable? We need to be very specific about what exactly we think is wrong with the sanctions regime.

  • Mike Cobley 20th Feb '14 - 3:08pm

    I would suggest that we need to establish a coherent understanding of just what the benefits system is for. Does it exist to keep unemployed people (and their families) from starving and living on the street, or is it an excuse to take away individual claimants’ dignity and self-determination and to coerce them into frequently wasteful activities to in a weird effort to mimic working day occupation of their time? And does the very act of claiming benefit give the government, ie the DWP, the right to give their labour away for free? It seems to me that the Coalition (and Blair/Brown before them) started down an authoritarian, illiberal road which has led to near-sadistic levels of sanctions and their shameful, outrageous effects of suffering and hardship. If this party were in opposition right now we would be beside ourselves with righteous fury at the actions of the DWP and Iain Duncan Smith, of that I have no doubt.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Feb '14 - 3:57pm

    Just read Kelly-Marie’s analysis. The gap between the two is not that big and I think an amendment could be workable.

  • Mike Cobley, you are correct in laying the blame for all this authoritarian rubbish at the door of New Labour. The Tories have merely intensifed the existing stupidity. I am of those 9 MILLION people who would be classifed as “economically inactive”. I SHOULD be signing-on as I am unemployed but I have no desire to be a target of the DWP’s manic authoritarianism and pure hatred. I WILL go back there if the government can convince me they are there to help me into paid employment as they would if I lived in a sane country like Germany for instance. Unfortunately, the repellent likes of IDS and his cheerleaders in vile and inhuman rags like the Daily Mail have so poisoned the national ‘debate’ on these matters I doubt we will ever get back to some degree of sanity about what used to be called social security.

  • I think your writing nonsense – time to grow up really and stop trying to fit the facts to your theory instea dof your theory to the facts. Like Cameron in the Daily Telegraph saying benefits had risen since the government came to power. Well that is not what peole are identifying as a problem – what they keep saying is that benefits are sanctioned, often for spurius or arbitary reasons to hit targets for the number of people sanctioned. Crisis loans have been made impossible or very difficult to get – often you have to plan your crisis in advance. Delays in benefits, let alone poverty pay for people in jobs cause real suffering.
    People are being made to apply for jobs they don’t want and that employers don’t want them to apply for so gittish Tory voters feel better.
    Cameron said one and half million people had been on the dole for a decade of the Labour Government. perhaps he meant unemployment had never dropped below one and a half million. Certainly loads more than 1.5 million people have been unemployed for soem tiem, and gone back into work – hardly anyone has been on unenployment benefit for more than 3 years.

    I bet you Nick, you haven’t been to a food bank – extra publicity or no – so why the heck do you think other people have ? It’s not snacks at a book laucnh is it ?

    No criisis lloians,

  • And does the very act of claiming benefit give the government, ie the DWP, the right to give their labour away for free

    Isn’t that (receiving money in return for labour given) what we call being ‘paid’ to ‘work’, ie being ’employed’?

    Isn’t it generally considered to be a good thing to be?

  • Simon McGrath 20th Feb '14 - 5:33pm

    @Caractacus “People are being made to apply for jobs they don’t want”

    Well yes, people sometimes have to do jobs they don’t particulalry want to do. Are you suggesting that we pay benefits to people who turn down jobs on the grounds they don’t really want to do them?

  • Often contributions to a discussion about poverty tell you more about the person making the comment than it does about the subject in hand. I recommend people watch the report from Accrington that was included in Monday’s Newsnight. It featured the work of a small roman catholic charity Maundy Relief —
    http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=maundy+relief&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=en-gb&client=safari

    The facts in this report cannot be denied. Two men ( one aged 61, the other 25, both out of work and living in poor accommodation ) have been “sanctioned” by the DWP for not making enough job applications. The jargon term “sanctioned” means they have had all income cut off; These men like a lot of poor people have no “capital”or reserves to fall back on. It is clear that without food from the charity they would go hungry. They are being punished for being poor. The older man explains to camera that he sometimes resorts to shoplifting. The website for Maundy Relief provides information on the rise in shoplifting in Hyndburn in the last year, the year in which the numbers of people who have been “sanctioned” has shot up.

    These Dickensian tales are the reality of life in 2014 for some people under the Coalition policy of “austerity”.

  • Given what happened with the Bedroom Penalty vote – why do people still think anything is worth debating?. Clegg completely ignored the vote. They are having the same review they were going to have anyway – in 2015. He treats his own party with contempt . Conference is a sham – why does anyone who isn’t on the gravy train that chugs along behind the Tories bother?

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 20th Feb '14 - 6:45pm

    I agree with those who have said that in-work poverty is a problem we need to think about policy solutions to, but it seems to me self-evidently the case that one is much less likely to be either in relative poverty or in food poverty if one is in work (not least because the benefit delays and sanctions discussed above don’t apply).

    Here is my piece, ‘A New Deal for Poor Workers’, which I wrote for Liberal Reform’s publication last year http://www.liberalreform.org.uk/coalition-and-beyond/a-new-deal-for-poor-workers/

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 20th Feb '14 - 6:48pm

    Adrian, with the greatest respect you say it is simple but then go on to list quite a complex set of welfare-related problems (which I don’t necessarily dispute) which the evidence suggests are only part of the cause behind the increase in demand for food banks (for example, in-work poverty as discussed above, which you do not mention).

  • Nonconformistradical 20th Feb '14 - 7:05pm

    Having now watched the Newsnight report from Accrington referred to by John Tilley above – the 25-year-old apparently hasn’t worked since age 16 and left school with no qualifications at all. In a world of far fewer jobs for those without skills he could apply for jobs till the cows come home and have absolutely no chance of getting one – until the issue of his lack of qualifications (possibly starting with basic literacy and numeracy) is addressed properly.

  • Liberal Democrats in opposition would have been appalled with regards to the government massaging the employment figures /claimant count. And they would have spoken out loudly.

    And yet Liberal Democrats in Government now are silent on the matter, knowing full well that people who are either sanctioned or placed on workfare are not counted in the official claimant count.

    We now know that sanctions have doubled in the last year under this administration.
    For the sole reason of massaging the unemployment figures.

    I do not understand why the Liberal Democrats remain so silent and would allow this to continue under their watch, especially when it goes against the parties constitution on poverty

  • Mason Cartwright 20th Feb '14 - 7:21pm

    As a child I was thin and hungry most of the time..

    It’s hell but the Lib Dems have made it worse.

  • Mason Cartwright 20th Feb '14 - 7:24pm

    At what point do the Lib Dems realise that they have become a force for ill.

    How many need to suffer? Is there a target figure?

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 20th Feb '14 - 7:55pm

    I don’t have a brief to defend Nick, after all, he wrote this and has to deal with the consequences, but I am somewhat puzzled by the way the thread has developed.

    We have a series of quite difficult problems in this country which have built up over many years and have brought us to where we are now. Politicians have attempted to dodge difficult questions over how our national resources are used, and the nature of the society that we desire. In return, the public have taken the view that they want a whole bunch of things that are mutually exclusive – lower taxes and better public services, greater security and less state interference – and social welfare is one of the biggest.

    What is an acceptable minimum level of income concomitant with a life lived with dignity? What obligations do those who receive support have towards those contributing towards the cost of that support? How much can the state tax and spend?

    I can’t help but feel that when Nick describes the issue as complex, he risks attracting opprobrium for those who, with the very best intent, look at issues of poverty and social welfare in isolation from the rest of government spending.

    We spend less on welfare because we want to see the NHS protected, which forces greater cuts on other spending. A large chunk of government spending goes towards redistribution of wealth from the wealthy to the not so wealthy, as most of us would wish.

    There is no national debate on the role of government, about what it is for, about how it is financed, about where resources are targeted, because there are no many vested interests, too many competing demands, too many complications caused by the global nature of our economy. We demand simple solutions to difficult problems, and then complain when they hurt the ones we love, or ourselves.

    So, do people make the best use of the resources they have? Are their legitimate choices contributing to their problems, and what, if anything should the state do about that? Is a welfare system originally intended as a last resort, and still presumed by many to be there for those in temporary, rather than long term, difficulty, fit for purpose? And, and I make no apology for returning to this point, who exactly is deserving of the support of the community and why?

    I make no claims that individuals or groups are to blame for their dilemma, but when resources are finite and demands are many and contradictory, there will always be those who lose out. And when the government finances are as wrecked as they were in 2008, when all political parties were agreed that major cuts were necessary, and the Labour Party is still claiming that it will be tougher on welfare than the coalition has been, attacking someone for pondering the question as to why food poverty exists rather misses the point.

    But hell, I admit that I don’t know all of the answers…

  • “We spend less on welfare because we want to see the NHS protected, which forces greater cuts on other spending.”

    Ah, of course. And I suppose the corollary of that must be that everyone critical of welfare cuts wants to reduce spending on the NHS. Marvellous.

    I suppose it doesn’t occur to you that you might just as well have said “because we want to give a multi-billion pound tax cut to those paying the basic rate of income tax”?

  • Mason Cartwright 20th Feb '14 - 8:03pm

    It’s called greed Mark.

    We used to call it a vice.

    Politicians unfortunately have succumbed to it rather than extolling it’s opposite virtue.

    It’s not hard.

    I would happily pay additional tax if it meant that no one had to go through what I went through as a youngster.

    I am secure (but not rich) now.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 20th Feb '14 - 8:12pm

    Chris,

    I haven’t said that, and it’s unusually lazy of you to draw that conclusion. Ring fencing some things when you’re making cuts obviously means that the other, non-ring fenced items take a greater hit. That’s arithmetic. And we still don’t have much evidence to support the contention that a 50% tax rate raises so much more than a 45% rate, nor do you take into account the significantly higher rate of capital gains tax and stamp duty. But that’s a debate for another time, perhaps.

    Mason,

    You might be right, it might be greed, but when was the last time a political party was successful offering higher taxes to the public? You might be willing to pay more tax, and I might well agree with you, but I fear we may be in a minority when it comes to putting a cross in a box at a polling station.

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 20th Feb '14 - 8:13pm

    Mark, I couldn’t agree more. It seems to me that one of the reasons the social security system is as inefficient and unresponsive as it is is because we don’t consider things holistically: benefits, tax credits, housing, taxation etc. So we end up with the perverse position of people paying direct taxes and receiving tax credits, and spending more subsidising landlords than building houses.

  • Nonconformistradical 20th Feb ’14 – 7:05pm
    I am not sure how you would address the young man’s needs. Or if you would acknowledge that even if he were to gain qualifications if there are no jobs, he will not get one.
    The older man (61) makes the point that raising the age at which people qualify for the old age pension seems perverse in a country where there are it dough jobs. He has a point.

    I know that these two individuals featured in this TV report are not unusual. Their poverty and hunger requires rather more than glib political statements from the likes of Mr I Duncan Smith or Isabel Hardman. We need policies which are based on evidence and the real world. And based on kindness and sympathy for people who need help. Saloon bar Toryism and golf course prejudices are not going to, provide the answers.

  • That should read “not enough jobs”. Which indeed is what it did say when I typed it and pressed the Post Comment button.

  • Mason Cartwright 20th Feb '14 - 8:25pm

    @ Mark

    You could find that a reconfiguration of the tax system whilst simultaneously closing outrageous loopholes would fill much of the gap.

    In addition a political stance that makes clear we “are not borne equal” but we have a duty and a responsibility to transcend the animal kingdom’s survival of the fittest might be good.

    Mark,I am ok (nore than ok). I will survive most of what comes at me in life but I spent most of my life with people who will not. It is my duty to speak for them because it is right and they cannot (in many cases) do so for themselves.

    The Lib Dems have not done this and they need to start doing so.

  • Mason Cartwright 20th Feb '14 - 8:26pm

    more even. still learning touch typing and it’s not easy at my age.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 20th Feb '14 - 8:28pm

    @ John Tilley,

    Just for the sake of argument, what happens if evidence and the real world point away from your definition of kindness and sympathy? It is kind to give people a pension at a fixed age, but it might not be affordable if that means that they receive that pension for longer and longer than was the case previously. I agree that saloon bar Toryism and golf course prejudice aren’t likely to be of much help, but naïveté isn’t likely to be much use either.

  • “Ring fencing some things when you’re making cuts obviously means that the other, non-ring fenced items take a greater hit. That’s arithmetic..”

    Of course there’s an arithmetical relationship between the sum total of all spending, the sum total of all income, and the sum total of all borrowing. But to say that “We spend less on welfare because we want to see the NHS protected” is simply untrue. It would be perfectly fair to say the level of welfare spending is inextricably linked to decisions about other spending, about taxes and about borrowing. But singling out the NHS is a transparently tendentious manoeuvre.

    As for taxes, please read what I wrote. I was talking about the income tax cut for basic rate payers – nothing to do with higher rates.

  • @Mark Valladares: I don’t think that “Don’t you agree that if you admitted you were wrong, you’d have to admit I am right?” is a valid way to frame an argument. Surely the whole point is that you (a) don’t agree on the facts and (b) don’t agree on the consequences of different responses to the facts.

  • And now it would appear in a leaked document to the guardian, that the DWP have been considering introducing charges to bring an appeal at a tribunal against a DWP decision.

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/feb/20/people-stripped-benefits-charged-decision

    “In the document about the department’s internal finances, officials say the “introduction of a charge for people making appeals against [DWP] decisions to social security tribunals” would raise money.”
    and
    “Earlier this week figures showed that in the past year nearly 900,000 people have had their benefits stopped, the highest figure for any 12-month period since jobseeker’s allowance was introduced in 1996. In recent months, however, 58% of those who wanted to overturn DWP sanction decisions in independent tribunals have been successful. Before 2010, the success rate of appeals was 20% or less.”

    That is why the use of food banks is on the rise, because this shameful government and the right wing ideology which is ripping apart our country and society,
    It truly is shameful and should be a cause of embarrassment to everyone who lives in this country and allows this to happen

  • Mason Cartwright 20th Feb '14 - 8:45pm

    No one these days want to engage with the morality aspect of this and this worries me.

    They talk about everything but this.

    Am I in a different world from the one that I was born into?

    Is suffering no longer an issue provided the delivery vehicle is not direct like a sword was in the days of old.

  • @Mark Valladares falls back on the fashionable myth that we cannot afford a decent social security system which helps the poor and we cannot afford decent housing for people who cannot buy their own home.

    Let me try to keep calm and see if I might persuade him that this is a myth. He might even accept that it is a deliberate lie by those who seek to preserve the status quo.

    After both the World Wars this country was much poorer than it is now. The debt to the USA after world war two was enormous. And yet despite the fact that the country had impoverished itself with the costs of years of war it was able to build homes fit for heroes after the first world war. The country was able to build yet more council houses for three decades after 1945, as well as building schools, setting up the NHS and building hospitals, roads and a good deal more.

    In 2014 the myth is repeated that we cannot afford to do any of those things today. Yet we can afford a monarchy which pays Prince Charles £19 million a year. We can afford two new aircraft carriers. We can afford Trident. We can afford to subsidise foreign state corporations to build a nuclear power station. We can afford to pay the employees of state own banks million pound bonuses. We can afford bread and circuses like 2012’s ridiculous Jubilee celebrations or this 2014’s celebrations of the beginning of the First World War ( goodness knows why we are celebrating the beginning of a world war!). We can afford not to sell off MoD land holdings. We can afford to keep troops In Germany as they have done since 1945 just in case the East Germans come over the border. Last year we could apparently afford to bomb Syria at a moment’s notice. We can afford an Opera House in London.

    We can afford all these things and plenty more but we cannot afford to look after the poor. We cannot afford to pay people to do real jobs building decent houses .

    Please Mark tell me that you do to subscribe to this myth. Please tell me that you recognise that it is all about priorities on spending and that at the moment the priorities are all wrong.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 20th Feb '14 - 9:21pm

    @ Mason Cartwright,

    Yes, you could significantly reconfigure the tax system, but you’d still have to deal with the issue of competitive tax rates. Your outrageous loophole might, if removed, lead to jobs going to another country not so morally upright/squeamish. It might discourage the emergence of new industries. For example, I’ve been offered a chance to invest in a project that will attract Enterprise Investment Scheme relief, which is one of those ‘outrageous loopholes’ that is often quoted. The project is to reopen a village pub as a community hub here in Suffolk, which is a good thing, I think you would agree. The opportunity to get relief makes the scheme more attractive, and thus viable, and it’s a community interest company, so it’s ideologically attractive too.

    @ David-1,

    If I was asserting that I am right, and that everyone else is wrong, that would be an entirely fair criticism, but I’m not, I’m merely supporting the suggestion that the issue is much more complex than some of our contributors here seem to imply.

    @ John Tilley,

    I think that you can have that sort of welfare system, but it is as a consequence of a lot of other choices, most of which might be deeply unpopular too. You think that the Olympics were a waste of money., whilst others think that the regeneration of a whole area of East London has enhanced lives and created opportunity. Many people, and not just the wealthy, believe that we need to have armed forces that can protect us against a potential enemy. Paying the sort of salary that is alleged to attract the best bankers means that, if they’re right, that the bank can be sold off, recouping the money we invested in it. I don’t suggest that such people are right, merely that their view of the world is different, and as a democrat, you have to respect that, even as you try to persuade them to hold a different view.

    My view of the world is one tempered by having to deal with the implications of the complexity of our tax code every day for more than a quarter of a century, the impact of using it for social engineering, to incentivise moral or investment choices or to make good bad choices made in the past. I’ve seen its impact on individuals from across the social and intellectual spectrum, and I’ve tried to put it into context where I can. It is, if you like, a microcosm of our government, a ramshackle collection of contradictory choices made with the best of intentions at the time (for the most part) in an increasingly complex and interdependent world. And that’s why I am so often saddened by the dogmatic approach too often taken here to debate.

  • And now it would appear in a leaked document to the guardian, that the DWP have been considering introducing charges to bring an appeal at a tribunal against a DWP decision.
    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/feb/20/people-stripped-benefits-charged-decision

    “In the document about the department’s internal finances, officials say the “introduction of a charge for people making appeals against [DWP] decisions to social security tribunals” would raise money.”
    and
    “Earlier this week figures showed that in the past year nearly 900,000 people have had their benefits stopped, the highest figure for any 12-month period since jobseeker’s allowance was introduced in 1996. In recent months, however, 58% of those who wanted to overturn DWP sanction decisions in independent tribunals have been successful. Before 2010, the success rate of appeals was 20% or less.”

    Nearly a million people being sanctioned in a year. And still the Government wants to pretend that the welfare reforms have nothing to do with the ever increasing use of food-banks.

  • jedibeeftrix 20th Feb '14 - 9:36pm

    “Mark Valladares falls back on the fashionable myth that we cannot afford a decent social security system which helps the poor and we cannot afford decent housing for people who cannot buy their own home.”

    I’m not sure that anybody believe it is unaffordable. Clearly, at 39% of GDP, Britain could tax (and thus spend), a great deal more of the nations wealth on enhancing Positive Liberty before we bumped into the upper limits of europes social democracies.

    Sweden was once spending around 55% of GDP, and France is doing about the same right now.

    What it boils down to is priorities, and Britain has never exhibited anything like the same enthusiam for collective welfare and egalitarianism of some of our continental friends.

    At the same time we have always had a much greater involvement in the wider world, with all the costs that this brand of foreign policy necessitates.

    Thus, we spend less on government action and more on the military than the trend on the continent.

    For this reason our political debate boils down to a political divide between taxing (and thus spending), anywhere between 36% and 42% of GDP, largely governed by the economic cycle, and not 33% (hello teaparty JBT) and 55% (welcome my swedish comrade).

    So to return to Mark’s comment; i see it simply as living within the paradigm of the British political consciousness, and while a left-wing party will argue for doing more it remains relative to the trend that the society it exists within will tolerate.

    Who knows, perhaps some social tragedy will turn this paradigm on its head, and all of a sudden we will collectively accept the argument for radically higher taxation to achieve better Positive liberty, but there is no indication of it right now…

  • Mason Cartwright 20th Feb '14 - 9:36pm

    Has anyone tried or is all this conjecture.

    Maybe passing all the power to powerful organisations was not so clever. Perhaps now is the time to start taking some of this power back. I don’t mean nationalisation but perhaps there is a middle path.

    Where does this end for ordinary people?

  • Mason Cartwright 20th Feb '14 - 9:40pm

    @ Joe Otten

    Yes Joe you are correct in that you are talking.

    Perhaps more than that is required here.

    Then again when did you last go hungry?

    I talk from personal experience. Do you?

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 20th Feb '14 - 9:45pm

    @ matt,

    That’s rather depressing, and the sort of response to increasing levels of appeals that I’ve grown to expect from some quarters of the bureaucracy. Do be careful though, in that the document may be the brainchild of a bureaucrat responding to a call for suggestions, rather than a serious proposal from a politician.

    And frankly, you could reduce costs far more easily by cutting the error rate on decisions made about sanctions, which is evidently unacceptable if the rate of successful appeals is as high as 58% (and probably understates significantly the actual number of errors made). Someone at the DWP is rather foolishly, or quite deliberately if you take a Machiavellian view of the world, dealing with the symptom rather than the cause.

    But Who, actually, in the Government is claiming that there is no link between welfare reforms and the use of food banks? I don’t think that you can put it down in its entirety to changes in the welfare system, indeed one of the changes was to enable more people to be referred to food banks than was the case before, but it is surely self-evident that if people are worse off, they’re more likely to have to resort to charity.

  • Mason Cartwright 20th Feb '14 - 9:55pm

    @ Mark

    I don’t care about who was responsible for foodbanks, Labour, Tory, Lib Dems.

    This is non party political.

    It needs to end and the Lib Dems have not played their part well.

  • Mason Cartwright 20th Feb '14 - 9:58pm

    How much would have been collected if aggresive tax avoidance loopholes had been closed at the start of this parliament?

    There’s a question for you Mark.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 20th Feb '14 - 10:32pm

    Mason,

    Why don’t you start me off by defining “aggressive tax avoidance loophole”? As I’ve already noted, one person’s loophole is another’s legitimate investment incentive, it depends somewhat on your personal perspective.

    And you do need to bear in mind some of the less well-reported tax changes and agreements, such as the increase in the rate of capital gains tax to address share options, information exchange agreements with tax havens, the boosting of information sharing by the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, France and others, all of which has happened in the past four years. The taxation system is about a lot more than income tax, lest we forget.

  • The appeal to complexity, and the argument that bad things must be done in order to prioritise better things, both represent the same thing. Sophistry, in defence of the detailed examination of the trees, with the aim of not seeing the wood.

  • ..only my modded-out post about second world war history made that point more clearly!

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Feb '14 - 10:50pm

    Mason and John Tilley,

    You both come up with some very good ideas, but unfortunately, for me, not enough consideration is given towards paying for these or getting elected. I wish we could get rid of the royal family, 20 billion in capital allowances and other reliefs too, but we have to respect that others disagree and regarding the tax reliefs: stability in the tax system is also important.

    Perhaps like Mark, whose worldview is tempered with his work in tax, my worldview is tempered with my work in financial planning. My career has taught me that there is no big untapped source of government spending, but that isn’t to say we can’t move in your direction, with the right policies.

    Regards

  • @Mark Valladares. If you look back at what I wrote I did not mention The Olympics. I was critical of the 2012 Jubilee nonsense, which you may have forgotten (I expect most people have). It went on for months and the most expensive and perhaps least successful element involved floating various members of the Royal Family down the Thames in some of their sillier comic opera uniforms. They got soaking wet in the rain, as did all the other participants, looked ludicrous and the Duke of Edinburgh ended up in hospital. It was a bizarre form of public elder abuse.
    By way of contrast I think that the Olympics has some merit in as much as it promotes athletics and sporting achievement. However, I am surprised that you have swallowed the propaganda that the Olympics resulted in the regeneration of a whole area of East London. That’s not what my friends in Newham say. If the objective had been regeneration you could have achieved a heck of a lot more regeneration with an heck of a lot less money. Some of the white elephants have not been touched since the circus rolled out of town. Most of the promised benefits for locals have either disappeared or never materialised in the first place. The facts on the ground are very different from the hype put out in the media.

    All of which brings us back to the point of this thread. Poverty is not really complex at all. It is a matter of political priority. You say you think it Is a priority to pay bankers huge sums of money. I do not. You think we should fund the armed forces as if this country was still some sort of imperial power. I do not.

    But don’t pretend that there is not enough money. You just do not think that looking after the poor or the elderly is a high enough priority. That is not me or anyone else taking a “dogmatic approach”. It is telling the truth. You and others might feel a bit uncomfortable with that truth. You might want to wrap it up in complexities etc but when push comes to shove it is the inescapable truth. You prefer to spend on the royalty and the military and the bankers’ salaries.

  • Mason Cartwright 20th Feb '14 - 10:57pm

    @ Mark

    Have you actually looked at the curve on the following link:

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/memo-to-both-left-and-right-income-tax-isnt-the-only-tax-that-matters-38208.html#comment-280841

    Perhaps asking large corporations to pay their share of tax would be a good start point (in combating aggressive tax avoidance) rather than the IR making cosy deals.

    It should be noted that XXXXXXXX only coughed up due to public pressure and not due to the watchful eye of westminster.

    Even then it is debatable on whether the correct level of tax was paid.

    Or are you arguing that tax paid should proportionately to commercial muscle and links to MP’s in westminster?

    Or do you want me to redesign the tax system on LDV?

    westminster has enough cleverness to know that the system is inadequate and corrupt surely? Or are you defending tax loopholes?

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Feb '14 - 11:01pm

    Everybody calm down. We arguing in favour of Nick’s article are concerned about the deficit, others are concerned about poverty. A compromise must be possible, we aren’t the Tea Party or the Communist Party of Great Britain.

  • Mason Cartwright 20th Feb '14 - 11:08pm

    Eddie I am calm.

    I am just stunned and perplexed that someone would try and justify the elephant in the room as they say over the current tax system.

    Allowing a poor family to save tax free in an ISA is surely not comparable to what goes on in terms of expensive lawyers and mass corporate tax avoidance via loopholes that costs the country not millions but billions.

    Some however believe that it is.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Feb '14 - 11:22pm

    I suppose we all have our priorities that we want to attack. I want to cut tax reliefs and loopholes, but at the same time I want to cut unfunded spending and the deficit, so I will align myself on the side of those arguing against such things.

    I think Mark has been reasonable though, but once again: me, Mark, Nick and others have slightly different priorities to you, John and others, but if everyone stays away from extremes, then I think the chances of conflict reduce substantially.

    Regards

  • Mason Cartwright 20th Feb '14 - 11:30pm

    Eddie my view will not change.

    The UK encouraged greed some time ago.

    Many will pay the price for that.

    It may be you if your life takes a turn for the worse in years to come.

    We either are a nation who looks out for one another or we are not.

    It makes little difference to me (materially) but I will fight for the former nonetheless because it is right.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Feb '14 - 11:38pm

    OK Mason, let’s just all try to be efficient with our time. Something I struggle with!

  • Mason Cartwright 20th Feb '14 - 11:49pm

    @ Eddie

    Not sure what you mean but you have calming voice so I’ll back off a little 🙂

  • Toby Fenwick 20th Feb '14 - 11:51pm

    Sorry for being late to this discussion. Nick, thank you for a thoughtful – and brave – piece.

    On the motion itself, I’d prefer to remove the language about the living wage, because the living wage is a very flexible concept that varies significantly based on a family’s or an individual’s circumstances. As Adam Corlett of CentreForum showed in his recent “Making Allowances” paper, significant variation stems from housing and childcare, making the setting of a single rate – implied, potentially in the motion – impossible.

  • Mason Cartwright 20th Feb '14 - 11:54pm

    But was the lunch and dinner good Toby?

  • A Social Liberal 20th Feb '14 - 11:56pm

    What Gareth said !

  • surely poverty. is just poverty, fuel poverty, health poverty, housing poverty. Language manipulation, The austerity equivalent of describing civilian casualties as collateral damage.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 21st Feb '14 - 6:41am

    @ John Tilley,

    I’ll just have to assume that, in your desire to pick a fight, you’ve made a conscious decision not to read my comments, all of which point to the fact that there are people out there who don’t agree with you, but none of which state that I hold those differing opinions personally.

    But if bludgeoning your opponents as to their motives on the basis of almost zero knowledge of them is your best shot, then your opponents have less to worry about then they should.

  • Maria Pretzler 21st Feb '14 - 10:01am

    Just to tackle one small(ish) detail here. It’s an argument I have seen a few times in recent weeks, and I still don’t see where it is supposed to lead.

    Nick says:
    “To take an example, one of the reasons is that Jobcentre Plus (JCP) is now referring people to food banks, after they were given permission to do so by the coalition. …

    Another reason, it seems, is the increasing media attention being given to food banks. Those providing them are obviously and rightly keen for as many people to know about them as possible, and they have been extraordinarily successful in obtaining media coverage”

    OK, this may explain why more people go to food banks, but this argument has no bearing on the issue of poverty, or ‘food poverty’ specifically.

    The only thing which it might tell us that it may have gone on for longer, and may not have been so visible in the past (although lower-end wages had been falling compared to the average for some time, and certainly since the 90s, if I recall correctly). Common sense would suggest that more people would have found it harder to make ends meet after 2008.

    In any case, the ‘foodbanks are better advertised now’ argument doesn’t strike me as a particularly good one in a debate about poverty. The question of when poverty ‘started’ and how visible it was at what point is surely beside the point. The question is why we have so many people who need to go to food banks where they are available (and what on earth did these people do before?)

  • Maria, the point is still relevant. It’s important to know whether food poverty is really rising as quickly as it appears to be, or whether it was always there but simply obscured. If it was always there then trying to blame a raft of recent measures for its creation or expansion will be fool-hardy at best.

    Yes, it does seem likely that it has risen at a time of recession, increased cost of living and government cuts but there seems to be no real credible evidence base as to why this is occurring.

    More widely, if we want a bold answer then we should be looking towards policies such as a minimum guaranteed income and other policies with simplicity at their core, not ones with further muddy the water with more complicated benefit rules (at a time when a large portion of people are in poverty due to not claiming all the benefits they’re owed).

    The answer is not to go back to the system we had before. These reforms happened because the old system was broken.

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 21st Feb '14 - 11:10am

    Maria,

    “OK, this may explain why more people go to food banks, but this argument has no bearing on the issue of poverty, or ‘food poverty’ specifically.”

    The motion itself uses the rise in the demand for food banks as a proxy for an increase in food poverty. My point is that the correlation is not so straightforward: increases in food poverty may be part of he explanation but the other points mentioned are also part of the picture.

    The reason that is important is because if we are saying that there has been a dramatic rise in food poverty since (for example) 2010 then we have to look at causes since 2010; whereas if the increasing use of food banks results from a number of broader factors, it is a fair assumption that food poverty has been an issue for much longer, but has been masked by relatively low food bank use up to 2010, in which case the reasons underlying food poverty itself would likely be different and consequently so would the policy solutions.

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 21st Feb '14 - 11:36am

    There is a useful December 2013 briefing paper entitled ‘Food Banks and Food Poverty’ from the House of Commons Library available here (pdf) http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/sn06657.pdf‎

  • Nick Thornsby & Thomas Long
    The governments own report commissioned and funded by DEFRA concluded

    “We found no evidence to support the idea that increased food aid provision is driving demand. All available evidence both in the UK and international points in the opposite direction. Put simply, there is more need and informal food aid providers are trying to help.”

    It took 10 years for usage of food banks to reach 40,000. Since 2010 that figure has risen to over half a million. We have robust evidence that this massive rise is driven in large part by government policies and no amount of lawyerly obfuscation is going to disguise that fact.

  • Geoffrey Payne 21st Feb '14 - 1:10pm

    Mark – I notice you ask a lot of questions that you do not know the answer to. Yes it is hard to balance priorities assuming we think it is a good idea to stick to George Osborne’s timetable for budget deficit reductions, just for the sake of argument. I do not know if you agree with me that given the state of the public finances it is absurd to consider replacing Trident, and for that matter for the UK to be one of the top 5 military powers in the world.
    However I think you should be clear what you are saying. Many years ago Norman Lamont claimed that high unemployment was a price worth paying in order to keep down inflation.
    Likewise I think you should be clear that making benefit claimants destitute is a price worth paying in order to protect NHS budgets or whatever your other priorities are.
    It is of course in the preamble of the Lib Dem constitution that Liberal Democrats look forward to a society where none shall live in poverty. So in my opinion this simply has to be a red line. Liberal Democrats cannot accept benefit cuts that make people destitute.
    It is worth remembering that the main reason we are where we are today is because the British government had to bail out the banks at huge cost to the taxpayer. Today these people are enjoying huge bonuses and as Martin Wolf has pointed out, they have successfully watered down some the banking regulations intended to stop that from happening again, and the Lib Dem s have dropped their manifesto commitment for a Tobin style tax as well.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 21st Feb '14 - 2:49pm

    Geoff,

    Whilst you make an interesting point, I suggest that my personal stance is rather less important than that of society as a whole, and that society as a whole holds some pretty contradictory ideas.

    For example, the Institute for Economic Affairs polled on a programme that would reduce government spending by approximately £200 billion, and found it to be very popular. The catch was in the detail, which included charging for state education, axing vast swathes of our armed forces, and a whole bunch of things that fell under the category of ‘things no elected politician would ever contemplate publicly’. My point is that the public crave better public services, but have been persuaded that you can have that and pay considerably less for them.

    And bear in mind that we have, and have had for some time, a structural deficit, not withstanding the extra deficit related by interest due on amounts borrowed to recapitalise the banks. That could have been remedied by higher taxes and all of the other things that you and others suggest. And yet they aren’t done, and when people suggest that they might be, all hell breaks loose.

    But, like others before you, you claim certain views as being mine without bothering to read what I’ve written. I’ve pointed out that the Coalition’s decision to ringfence certain areas of expenditure has an impact, not that I agree with that, or support the consequences for the poor and the vulnerable. Decisions have consequences, and not everyone seems willing to accept, or even understand that.

  • @Mark Valladares. Probably best if I do not react to some of your more personal accusations — not sure why these are considered “polite” within the LDV rules but maybe the rules do not apply to everyone equally.

    You said In your earlier comment that —
    ” …My view of the world is one tempered by having to deal with the implications of the complexity of our tax code every day for more than a quarter of a century, …. …. ”

    I took this and what followed to mean that you did not agree with me. And that you thought the political choices that I had set out were not yours. If that was a wrong interpretation of what you said, that is a failure on my part.
    So in a straightforward and open way could you set out what you actually believe?
    Do you believe we should prioritise government expenditure on the poor and the elderly?
    Or do you think that royalty, the military and bankers are a higher priority?

    I hope that to ask that question is not ‘bludgeoning’ you.
    I hope that you will give a simple answer.

  • David Allen 20th Feb ’14 – 10:41pm
    ..only my modded-out post about second world war history made that point more clearly!

    David Allen, it will probably be of no consolation to you to know that the comments of others have been summarily “modded” in this thread.

    I know we have to put up with this and if we do not like it we can take our comments elsewhere. Or as Nick Thornsby put it in his helpful e-mail to me, “We have a comments policy and I am enforcing it.”

    The fact that what he deleted was something I had written which gave a contrary view to his own is perhaps a coincidence . So I have tried to edit my comments to remove anything which might break the rules. Here goes —

    I said that if I wanted an informed view on food banks I would not have started with an article in The Spectator.

    I am happy to abide by the rules but that would be easier if the same rules applied to everyone who comments here.

  • Toby Fenwick 21st Feb '14 - 4:58pm

    I’m with Mark Valladares here.

    The two great waves of the last 30 years in the UK were Thatcherism, based on individual economic liberty and rolling back the state in order to cut taxes, and Blair/Brownism which was in essence an attempt to have European social protections and US taxation.

    I don’t agree with Thatcher, but at least she had the merit of being honest. In refusing to make the case for taxation to match their (frequently admirable) social-democratic vision, Blair/Brown not only created a fiscal structure that ran deficits in the midst of a boom, but that also (fatally) narrowed the tax base making it massive reliant on the financial sector and the property bubble. You can all fill in the rest.

    The problem with this is that people respond as Mark has shown: we all want lots of goodies for no cost. It wasn’t sustainable in 2008, and given that we’re still borrowing £300m / day, it isn’t now. The question is how do you return to fiscal sanity, not whether you should.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 21st Feb '14 - 5:28pm

    @ John Tilley,

    Thank you for demonstrating exactly why I feel that debating here is a fairly futile task, reflective of the way I increasingly feel about politics generally.

    Do I agree with you on the monarchy, the military and bankers? Maybe, maybe not. Do I think that a more efficient government might have more impact? Well, yes, but you’ll probably draw your own conclusion on what that means. Is seeing the poor and vulnerable suffer a good thing? Good grief, what sort of monster do you take me for?But, as I keep saying, the choices are more complex than that, and in order to do good, you sometimes end up doing other things that are, to put it mildly, less good to some people. And there is the question of order. Can you grow the amount that government has to spend before making extra provision for the poor and vulnerable, or can you cut spending elsewhere? Should you commit the funds and then find the means? And exactly what is the amount required to allow everybody dignity, and is there an obligation upon those so supported?

    These are deeply complex questions, and if they were simple answers available, I presume greater minds than mine would have found them by now.

    So, in terms of this debate, I’ll draw the conclusion that my enthusiasm could be better directed and leave you to it.

  • “we all want lots of goodies for no cost”

    Ah, but tax cuts are ‘goodies’ as well.

  • Moderators’ note. There are some comments not getting through here because they are using a fake email address.

  • Toby Fenwick 21st Feb '14 - 6:19pm

    Chris –

    I agree – which is why I oppose the continuous increase in the Personal Allowance (NICs would be more effective), and why I opposed cutting the top marginal rate.

  • “You suggested it was either cut welfare or cut the NHS.”

    Quite. And that is obviously untrue, because it would be possible to protect both.

    It is a matter of choice, and this government has chosen to cut welfare – while making multi-billion-pound cuts to income tax, which benefit all basic rate taxpayers, including many on well above average incomes.

    “We did it to protect the NHS”? No you didn’t.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 21st Feb '14 - 8:27pm

    Why has my post not been accepted? I have not given a bogus email. Is it a case of shooting the messenger? Are the truths that I posted too uncomfortable for you?

  • @Mark Valladares
    Politics is all about priorities and communicating to the voters what your priorities are. You do this in the hope that they support you and elect you so that you can put those priorities into action.
    You cannot go to the voters and say. —
    “. These are deeply complex questions, and if they were simple answers available, I presume greater minds than mine would have found them by now. ”
    As Geoffrey Payne demonstrates it is not difficult to give an indication of one’s priorities by for example saying —
    ” given the state of the public finances it is absurd to consider replacing Trident, and for that matter for the UK to be one of the top 5 military powers in the world.”

  • Another report relevant to this thread on Newsnight today. SaraH Teather interviewed and says she does nit think the budget should be balanced on the backs of the poor.

    Tory MP who is apparently a member of a Tory Christian group also interviewed in the light comments of leaders of both Roman Catholic and Anglican churches in England who criticise Coalition for driving people into destitution.

    Sarah Teather says she thinks Clegg’s response to bishops is Ill-informed and patronising.

  • Shirley Campbell 22nd Feb '14 - 6:08am

    JohnTilley 20th Feb ’14 – 8:48pm

    At the risk of being considered naive, I commend John for his contribution to this article on “poverty”. Certainly, his assessment of our nation’s economic recovery following the devastation wreaked by WW1 and WW2 fits in with my family’s experience. The names Beveridge and Keynes , who were, I believe, much revered economists, featured largely in post war political thought. During WW2 and directly afterwards, we did not need food banks since we had food rationing, seemingly introduced by a “coalition” government , and no one went without. In fact, we did not need free school meals post WW2 because all the men were working. We used to pay our “dinner” money to our class teacher every Monday morning.

    It is pompous of politicians and their advisers, who have had much invested in them from the cradle, and continue to have much invested in them, to denigrate unemployed people and people on low incomes, the so-called “poor”. Successive governments have failed to ensure that the prosperity their members enjoy is more fairly spread. Certainly, anyone who purports to support “modern” liberalism, twentieth century modern liberal thought, should surely condemn the marginalisation of a section of society. What happened to the maxim “a fair and just society”? The fact that there are extremes of rich and poor in our nation is a reflection of the failure of successive governments to address the issue of fairness and justice. John has touched upon the extravagant gestures this government has made towards celebrating the “monarchy”. I shall not elaborate further than to say please support republic.org.uk.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 22nd Feb '14 - 9:45am

    @Nick Thornsby

    “Food poverty, it seems to me, is a slightly odd term”

    It wouldn’t seem so odd if you were starving!

  • Mark Valladares informs us ;
    “My point is that the public crave better public services, but have been persuaded that you can have that and pay considerably less for them.”

    Well, maybe MEP’s could pay their fair share of tax, for starters?
    “Under a new regime, which came into effect in 2009, MEPs are exempt from having to pay national taxation. Instead, they pay a rather notional ‘Community tax’, equivalent to a flat rate of less than 15 per cent.”
    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danielhannan/100219761/the-biggest-tax-avoiders-in-europe-are-not-multi-national-corporations-but-eurocrats/

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 22nd Feb '14 - 10:49am

    In 2009 there were 25,899 people using food banks: by October 2013 more than 350,000 people were using them. But that’s got nothing to do with your government’s deliberate policy of taking away people’s benefits has it? It may be demotivating for people to have to live on benefits and better for them to be in work but surely being dependent upon benefits is not as bad as starving?

  • I agree with anyone who wants the rich to pay their taxes. I am curious that MEPs are singled out by John Dunn 22nd Feb ’14 – 10:30am.
    But it may be that he is not just worried about them and wants all the rich to iPad their share rather than scam the system. Today’s news has the story of a BBC “star” who tried to make himself £400,000 by doing just that. He now says it was “a mistake”. Interesting how this “star” is not going to prison for trying to diddle the rest of us. It seems he can just say “it was all a mistake” to a tribunal and everyone can go off to the pub and forget about it. No “sanctions” for him. He will not be lining up at the food bank. Chris Moyles is 40. So he was ten years old at the time of the miners’ strike. He was a school boy during the Thatcher years. So is it any wonder that he thought this was an appropriate way to behave?

    But of course Mr Moyles is as nothing compared to Prince Charles who pays no tax on his £19 million income. Imagine how many food banks you could run with £19 million, or even just the tax from £19 million. But Prince Charles, who has just made his tenth official visit to that centre of fiscal honesty Saudi Arabia, could always just live in one of the numerous tax havens of which his mother is Head of State. How convenient to have15 other places where you are Head of State especially as some of them have tax regimes specifically designed to enable the very rich to shirk their responsibilities to the rest of society. But then of coure his mother spends more on feeding horses than on feeding poor people.

  • @John Tilley
    “I am curious that MEPs are singled out by John Dunn 22nd Feb ’14 – 10:30am.”
    No need to be curious. Even in Lib Dem circles, there is general agreement that the EU is not all it could be and needs fixing. So what I’m saying is that if MEP’s are genuine and serious, in their desire to ‘fix’ the failings of EU, why not make a start by paying the same rate of tax as their fellow citizens? After all, we’re all in it together, are we not?
    Incidentally, I believe that some MEP’s ‘voluntarily’ pay a top up tax to their native country, to bring their due taxes in line with their fellow citizens.?
    Do Lib Dem MEP’s volunteer this extra tax to the UK treasury ?

  • @John Dunn
    I know virtually nothing about the tax affairs of MEPs. But I would agree that they are plenty of things that coud be done to improve the EU.
    Food poverty is not an issue in most regions of the EU even in countries with smaller and weaker economies than the UK. We could improve the EU by harmonising the successful European social model across the EU rather than in the UK aping some of the crazier US approaches such as demonising those unfortunate people who have to rely on churches and charities to eat a decent meal every day.

    For that matter we could harmonise the payment , tax and election arrangements for MEPs and give power to the democratically elected European Parliament instead of those endless horse-trading summits between national government ministers. That way we coud deal with appropriate issues at a European level and not get bogged down into scapegoaing anything EU as if that were the cause of our problems.

    Nobody is going to a food bank as result of an MEP’s tax return.

  • I think the issue of payment of MEPs (and I think others “employed” by the EU) is whether to pay them a common rate for the job, and allow some to fall behind their peers at home, and others to seem overpaid in comparison with theirs, OR, to pay them according to MPs’ rates in their home countries, giving them widely different salaries. Tax rates would suffer from the same problem, unless as John Tilley some harmonisation measures were applied.

  • @ John Tilley & Tim13
    Is it not indicative, that no MEP has answered my question above?
    In the interest of food poverty, and poverty generally, I simply make the valid case that MEP’s could pay more tax to show equality and ‘good faith’ with their fellow citizens, in their time of need. And of course the financial effect of increasing MEP taxes is not the main point.
    In the Telegraph link I gave above, the article is captioned by a picture of a very large hog, with its nose buried in an EU bucket of food.
    My claim is that MEP’s do not pay their fair share of tax. Given the silence from MEP’s on this matter, do you think the voting public would consider the ‘EU pig & bucket’ caption to be harsh?
    It also begs the wider question, (for the IN’s), that if MEP’s are unable (unwilling?), to sort out this personal EU tax discrepancy, why would we voting citizens, believe that MEP’s can (or will?), fix anything else EU related?

  • The total tax paid by an MEP is the same as the tax levied where they reside. That means that MEPs have to settle their taxes with HMRC like everyone else in the case of UK MEPs.

  • @ Paul R
    Clever, the way you spun ‘total tax paid’
    MEP’s may have to pay UK level taxes on the money they get from ‘consultancies’, ‘directorships’, and other jobs they have, but not on their EU salaries.

  • Malcolm Todd 22nd Feb '14 - 5:26pm

    John Dunn

    If you read the whole of the very article you linked to and not just the headline, you’ll see that it says there “When the new regime came into force four years ago, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Denmark insisted that their representatives should pay the same rate as their constituents. Every year, MEPs from those countries write a cheque to their national tax authorities covering the difference between the EU levy and what thay would have been liable for as ordinary taxpayers.”

    Whilst it’s still appalling if true that there is favourable treatment for MEPs from other countries, it does not affect this country and your insinuation that British (and specifically Lib Dem) MEPs are benefitting from exceptional tax treatment is utterly unjustified.

  • Comments are now closed, as the discussion has moved significantly away from the subject of the piece.

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