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Most probably people have heard of the bizarre investigative journalism by The Mail on Sunday in an article which appeared on Easter Sunday (of all days in the year). The Mail on Sunday sent in a reporter, a wannabe Jimmy Olsen, to investigate provision of food by food-banks in Britain and that reporter literally took food out of the mouths of the hungry in order to prove some point. This provoked a backlash on social media that demonstrated that the neoliberal agenda seems to not have sunk too deeply in the hearts and minds of the British people. That is a relief and quite honestly more than I expected, given the constant barrage in the newspapers and on the news on telly that has never questioned the logic (forget the morality) of welfare caps and cuts to welfare benefits.

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ht: my sister Mia for comments and editing on this piece

However, the issue goes far deeper than the attempted neoliberalisation of the provision of charity in the context of the capitalist economic system in a Britain living under austerity; it actually raises issues of wages and incomes ensuring social subsistence in the context of capitalism and hence the reproduction of the working class.  

The issue impinges upon the basic rights of human beings to be ensured their subsistence irrespective of the ability to work; this relates both to:
  1. Being unable to find work as there are no jobs due to laws of motion of the capitalist economic system
  2. Being unable to work due to disabilities, illness, or having caring responsibilities and the capitalist economy’s unwillingness to create social policies guaranteeing full accessibility for people with disabilities that can work and the full socialisation of care for children, the disabled, the sick and the elderly which would free women from caring responsibilities.
This then raises the question what are the moral precepts underlying our society in terms of guarantees to all members of the rights to a basic subsistence ensuring housing, food, heating, clothing, clean water and electricity?

The Attempt to Neoliberalise Charity Provision

In many senses, the article is rather chilling in terms of what was attempted. It is also way over the top; charity is private and individual by nature. One would think that would be sufficient to fulfil Tory fantasies of assistance for the poor and unemployed no longer provided by the social welfare state, but guess again.

An “investigative reporter” (and that is using the term very generously) goes to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau (the go-to place when you need assistance to deal with an unfriendly and complex class society) and tells them that he is having trouble making ends meet due to rising fuel bills (this is a very common problem due to rising prices of energy, fuel and electricity). The Citizens Advice Bureau contacts the Trussell Trust who runs many food-banks in this country (along with community groups, other church groups and horribly enough the Red Cross who have been distributing food for the first time since World War II) and issue the “reporter” a voucher coupon).

As an aside, and, to add insult to injury, these vouchers to food-banks, appallingly, are also given by government Jobs Centres when clients come in and tell them that they have insufficient funds to purchase food. The provision of voucher coupons by the Job Centres is part of government policy … even worse, it is government policy to send the hungry and unemployed to food-banks instead of providing sufficient benefits income to those that come in for assistance which is also, disgustingly, government policy.

The Citizen’s Advice Bureau then sent our intrepid reporter to the food-bank where he tells the same story.  Correctly, the food-bank provides food and basic goods to this investigative reporter. They did not search his house, ask him for proof of insufficient economic means, demand evidence of any sort; they are a charity and their role is to provide food when people need it. Their job is not to shame people or investigate people or means-test people – their role is to step in to ensure that those that say they have insufficient income to buy food are covered.  

That brings us to the first issue: due to government cutbacks in benefits, people cannot limit their use of food-banks to a disastrous situation; which was their original and sole purpose. Sometimes even with the best planning people run out of money; there are unexpected expenses (e.g., dentists, new school uniforms, higher utility bills than usual), which can blow a budget especially in the absence of credit cards and unwillingness to take out a usurious loan (which is impossible to get if you are unemployed anyhow).  Food-banks are supposed to be a last-gasp resort for people. As the Trussell Trust (and various clergy have pointed out), the government’s attacks on the social welfare state are literally forcing people to rely on food-banks on a regular basis rather than in desperate circumstances!

For his Easter message, David Cameron enjoyed talking about what a Christian nation Britain is; ironically, he clearly does not want to hear members of the Clergy that came to talk to him about poverty caused by government policy as his staff called the police! Let’s give Cameron a round of applause, as his party seems to be the only one in Parliament that called the police on the Clergy.  While extolling the principles of Christianity on the abstract level or when they are useful for anti-immigrant bashing, in actual practice concrete Christianity and David Cameron seem to be at odds.

In many senses, this appalling policy is reminiscent of the “Thousand Points of Light” nonsense promulgated by George HW Bush (the father, not the son) in his inaugural address where voluntarism and charity donations were supposed to replace a modern social welfare state. Thanks again to the US for exporting yet another failed and reactionary policy overseas to justify the destruction of a real social welfare state (as opposed to the rather pallid and anaemic imitation in the US)! In fact, I would argue that this nonsensical speech by GHW Bush was the beginning of the identification of the social welfare state with charity, while these two things are separate and distinct and should never be conflated.

The Response to the Maul on Sunday article

The response to the article by The Mail on Sunday was swift and angry. It spread all over social media and this was chronicled by The Guardian.

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According to the Trussell Trust:

Thousands of people took to social media to express their support for The Trussell Trust and its foodbanks.  Well-known names like the author Mark Haddon, musician Billy Bragg, financial journalist Paul Lewis and comedian Jon Ronson donated to the Trussell Trust Easter appeal to show their support and encouraged others to do the same. Almost 5,000 people have donated to the Help Crack UK Hunger Justgiving page since the article was published, and donations to the appeal page rose from £2,000 before Sunday to over £60,000 to date.

Today The Trussell Trust says that since Sunday, donations to Help Crack UK Hunger, combined with donations to Trussell Trust’s general funds, have reached an incredible £97,673.57p.  A large proportion of this amount can be attributed to reactions to the Mail on Sunday article and additional coverage.”

Trussell Trust Chief Executive David McAuley says:

“We have been moved, humbled and overwhelmed by the incredible generosity of the British public following the Mail on Sunday’s article. It's been amazing to see thousands of people react in such a positive way, wanting to help people in crisis.  I would like to thank everyone who got behind this campaign, not just for their donations, but also for the positive words of encouragement. It means a lot, and will make a big difference to lots of people who are struggling in the UK.”

The Trussell Trust team has been blown away by the generosity and support of so many people. All the funds raised will help The Trussell Trust to do more to help stop people going hungry in the UK (http://www.trusselltrust.org/...).

As an understatement, I was extremely relieved that so many British people were so appalled by The Mail on Sunday piece and the attempted neoliberalisation of charity.  

But, and this brings me to the main issue, I have been far more concerned about the acceptance of the argument that it is charity that needs to provide for those whose wages (whether wages or benefits; as there are working poor people in Britain that get help along with those that are unemployed) or whose benefits are now insufficient due to government economic policies.

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The essential problem is two-fold:
  1. To address the economic crisis, the government suppressed wages to keep profits up under the ideological position/obfuscation that higher profits would ensure investment and get the economy growing again; this is known as Say’s Law for those that know mainstream economic theory (which maintains that all economic growth derives from income saved from profits which is then invested leading to economic growth). This specifically was the case for wages of public employees whose increases were frozen at 1% (way below the rate of inflation measured by the Consumer Price Index which they substituted for the Retail Price Index which covered housing increases), state and public worker pensions were re-pegged to the Consumer Price Index to decrease future increases;
  2. The government then proceeded to cut income for the working class by cutting benefits. The social welfare system in Britain is different from that of the US. It does not only cover the unemployed and poor. There are elements that are cross-class, like child tax credits, child-care benefits, winter heating allowance, disability living allowance and incapacity benefit (that independent worker’s personal contributions), and, of course, the NHS which is available to all. It has historically also been used to prop up incomes of those earning insufficient income to cover general living expenses thus freeing capitalists from having to pay higher wages (e.g., child-care benefit, child benefits, housing benefits, etc).
What is really going on?

What we are seeing is a contradiction of the capitalist economic system manifesting itself. On the one hand, we have the introduction of austerity, the manner in which neoliberalism is attempting to deal with an economic crisis, which is lowering wages to increase profits and profitability. On the other hand, there is the need in the capitalist economic system to ensure the reproduction of working class as these workers are needed to actually work and to produce goods and services over and above the value of their wages to ensure the creation of surplus value (value of the surplus product over and above reproduction of the economy at the same level) which forms the basis of interest, profits and rents.  

Moreover, wages need to be of a sufficient level for workers to actually purchase the goods and services in order for realisation of profits to occur; in the absence of sale at a price over cost of production, there are no profits. So, undermining the social subsistence level (and remember this is throughout the advanced capitalist world) could actually interfere with realisation of surplus value in the form of profits.

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That is why there is so much babble about export-led growth; they are actually hoping to ensure the sale of goods and services overseas whilst undermining social subsistence levels. However, what happens when all countries in the advanced capitalist world are all lowering wages to prop up profits? That means that sale of goods is not increasing sufficiently to keep the wheels of the system greased. Guess what, that also means that investment by capitalists to increase output (and employment) is not happening.

That is why economic growth in the advanced capitalist world has not been spectacular. It is also why so much attention is being paid to China to increase wages and create a social welfare state so that the Chinese working class will save less and spend more.

There is an inherent contradiction between the needs of labour (to subsist and reproduce; i.e., to cover housing, food, clothing, heating, water and to have families) and the needs of capital (to have continuous growth and rising profits and profitability) in capitalism.
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What is happening in this period (and this is the culmination of economic policy since the 1970s) is that the perceived needs of capital are increasingly in conflict with the needs of labour. As a result, not only is the recognised social subsistence level being eroded to prop up profits; the fact that the system (in the absence of a public or state sector to increase employment) cannot create full employment of labour is becoming more and more evident.

Essentially, under capitalism, the number of workers that are employed depends on the available technology that can be used to produce goods and services; and what is produced depends on expected profitability of these goods and services which depends upon the expected demand for these goods to be produced.

In capitalism, what is produced does not depend upon human need (it depends upon profitability and expected profitability); the manner in which these things (goods and services) are produced (i.e., technical choice: the use of labour, land and capital of varying types) does not depend upon ensuring jobs for all, but rather potential profitability.

Moreover, the needs of capital do not take into account the impact of economic growth on the planet itself; a planet that we all need to sustain life and not the needs of capital.

We need to understand that capitalism needs to be eliminated; it is sucking literally sucking the lifeblood out of the majority of people on the planet and the planet itself!

We deserve a world that does require the existence of food-banks, where everyone has what they need to lead a fulfilling life; this should not be a privilege granted solely to the members of the ruling class.

This means that we need to talk about what are our social responsibilities to each other as human beings. Yes, we can reform capitalism certainly; but those reforms will not change the basic nature of the system that depends upon wealth and income inequality and exploitation of the majority to fulfil the needs of the economic system of continual growth and profitability.

We also need to discuss how we can ensure that the basic needs of all human beings are covered and that we do not destroy the planet to ensure these things. We need to address how more than basic needs for humans to develop and create and advance themselves can be met. In order to do this, we need to understand that as human beings we have the right to what we need to lead fulfilling lives, irrespective of our ability to work. We also do not have the right to undermine others’ rights to the same fulfilling lives.  To put it simply:

“From each according to their abilities; to each according to their needs.”

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Hoping everyone had a wonderful May Day! Please share photos (if you have them) of events where you live!

¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!

Originally posted to Anti-Capitalist Meetup on Sun May 04, 2014 at 03:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Income Inequality Kos, Inherent Human Rights, Global Expats, and Hellraisers Journal.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (11+ / 0-)

    "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

    by NY brit expat on Sun May 04, 2014 at 03:00:16 PM PDT

  •  Tonight's anti-capitalist meetup is x-posted to: (5+ / 0-)

    "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

    by NY brit expat on Sun May 04, 2014 at 03:14:43 PM PDT

  •  ACM Schedule (6+ / 0-)

    May

    11th: Galtisalie

    18th: Northsylvania

    25th: Geminijen

    June

    1st:

    8th:

    15th:

    22nd:

    29th:  Annieli

    Hi Comrades and Fellow Travellers!

    We  are all covered for May, first Galtisalie, then Northsylvania and ending with Geminijen. We need volunteers to post from the first week of June up until the 29th of June when Annieli returns.

    Please can you help by volunteering to post. It does not have to be fancy or theory ... it can be about anything from an anti-capitalist perspective ... perhaps an action that is happening that you think is important, a discussion of current events or serious debate ... whatever you feel comfortable with and what you can do!

    Please respond to this post or/and send a private message by kosmail to NY Brit Expat and/or send a message to our email group: dkanticapitalistgroup@gmail.com

    "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

    by NY brit expat on Sun May 04, 2014 at 03:22:18 PM PDT

  •  So many people don't believe that we have a (8+ / 0-)

    responsibility to each other. I've witnessed a lot of "every man for himself" perspective in public discourse on economic policy.

    You can't even get people to agree that a society is most sustainable when there is a "do no harm" ethic; that is, don't do anything which harms another's ability to live sustainably.

    This is the lack of any ethic or morality in capitalism other than profits for those with capital.

    How do we even get this conversation started when so many are chillingly uncaring about the harm caused to others in order for them to have their "way of life"?

    Building Community. Creating Jobs. Donating Art to Community Organizations. Support the Katalogue

    by UnaSpenser on Sun May 04, 2014 at 03:26:17 PM PDT

    •  We need to get people to realise that (5+ / 0-)

      there is another way; they and their needs are not being served by the system ... divide and rule serves no one except the ruling class. The vast majority think that is the way things are and have always been; that is false and we need to convince people that this is false and that together we can build a better society serving the needs of all rather than the small number that composes the ruling class.

      We need to point out the absurdity of their arguments over and over again and put forward a new view of society.

      "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

      by NY brit expat on Sun May 04, 2014 at 03:29:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  hi everyone (7+ / 0-)

    no time to even read the diary, but can always come back.

    it is paper grading crunch.  last 45 hours.

    i have so many ideas to share and so little time and energy to do it with.

    everyone must read "Capital in the 21st Century"

    Picketty (sp) proved inequality will only get worse and worse.

    I am one of few people who own the book in hardback.

    Who knows when I will read it.  So many things on my plate, but it feels good just to hold it in my hands.

    hugs to all of you for holding the fort

  •  Thanks so much for this diary (5+ / 0-)

    necessity is the foundation even as we consume to excess in a globalized economy while claiming that scarcity/austerity is an immutable reality

    We also need to discuss how we can ensure that the basic needs of all human beings are covered and that we do not destroy the planet to ensure these things. We need to address how more than basic needs for humans to develop and create and advance themselves can be met. In order to do this, we need to understand that as human beings we have the right to what we need to lead fulfilling lives, irrespective of our ability to work. We also do not have the right to undermine others’ rights to the same fulfilling lives.

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013 (@eState4Column5).

    by annieli on Sun May 04, 2014 at 05:01:33 PM PDT

  •  as a personal anecdote (4+ / 0-)

    I was riding a bus with an administrator of a local US food bank, and the situation is appalling especially as folks can move around essentially looting an entire region's network of food banks beyond a fair allocation of supply

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013 (@eState4Column5).

    by annieli on Sun May 04, 2014 at 05:10:07 PM PDT

    •  the shame associated with going to a food-bank (5+ / 0-)

      is serious; people are not ripping them off, they are desperate as incomes have been squeezed and people cannot afford to eat as rents are high, food is expensive, transport is expensive, heating and energy are expensive.

      The fact that the Mail on Sunday chose to do this infuriated so many people and, as such, the story backfired. But the real issue is less that of the food-banks than the fact that so many are so desperate. Almost 1 million people have accessed food-banks in Britain over the past year.  Some Tories are actually saying garbage that the food-banks are self-promoters; they have saved people. But things should never have gone this way. It was simply grotesque and unethical that the majority paid for the actions of MNCs and finance capital.

      "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

      by NY brit expat on Sun May 04, 2014 at 05:32:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'm more concerned about the big looters who put (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Galtisalie, NY brit expat

      us in a situation where we think food banks are a normal a normal part of how we feed our community than the individual hustlers at a food bank.  Don't have them on me, but the stats on this stuff are that the second kind of "looting" is very minimal (but will check if that's changed) and often just an excuse to blame the victim once again.

  •  Happy belated May Day! Things in the states were (5+ / 0-)

    not as lively or large as they have been the past few years there was a pretty good immigrant presence.

    Your story is certainly not new - we are much more individualistic and "Ayn Rand" here in the states.  When a fake pimp went to apply for assistance at ACORN, one of the few really good activist groups that educated, assist and help poor people register to vote, the mainstream media played it as though the ACORN people has taken him seriously -- it brought the whole organization down -- people here are so willing to believe the worst -- that poor people are all fakes and scammers and hustlers -- maybe that's because so many of the tea party types are themselves fakes and scammers and hustlers.  

    Anyway, the struggle goes on.

  •  This diary is excellent. Sad that U.S. (4+ / 0-)

    "Objectivist" theory is spreading and harming across the Atlantic. But then, there already was that ugly Thatcher-Raygun alliance faux brain trust (not to mention Blair-"end Welfare as we know it" Clinton, etc.).

    Sometimes it takes a generation for things to gel (one of Turgenev's points in "Virgin Soil." They're gelling now and there will be a reckoning.

    I particularly love this diary because it talks about the rights and morals framework. (I will try to follow on that theme next Sunday from an international "rights" historical perspective.)

    garden variety democratic socialist: accepting life's complexity|striving for global stewardship of our soil and other resources to meet everyone's basic needs|being a friend to the weak

    by Galtisalie on Sun May 04, 2014 at 08:06:58 PM PDT

    •  thank you Galitisalie! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Galtisalie

      It is my version of a rant! :D Yes, I have been living in Britain for too long! :)

      "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

      by NY brit expat on Mon May 05, 2014 at 05:06:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Great diary, NY brit expat, thanks! :) n/t (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Galtisalie, NY brit expat

    Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will. - - Antonio Gramsci

    by lehman scott on Mon May 05, 2014 at 05:04:03 AM PDT

    •  thank you!! :) (0+ / 0-)

      "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

      by NY brit expat on Mon May 05, 2014 at 07:58:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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