Sunday 20 August 2017

Soft Soaping Food Banks

More Conservative idiocy. This time from the self-styled salon intellectuals at CapX, or to you and me the place where brain cells go to die. Chewing up bandwith in defence of indefensible class privilege this week saw Tim Worstall hail the Conservative triumph (his phrase) that are ... food banks. He comes to praise them, of course, but only to support the money grubbing fundamentalism to which his mind is slaved.

Left wingers generally, whether the funky fully automated luxury communism sorts or Progress-types have a pretty similar, if not visceral opinion of food banks. They are good things because of the work they do, and express (albeit at the charitable rather than political level) solidarity between people. But food banks are appalling things. In a society dripping with opulence for the few and a fair standard of living for most, that there are people who must go cap in hand to their local food bank, with all the shame and anguish, is nothing short of disgusting.

Our Tim sees things differently. Food banks are an unqualified good. He celebrates the self-organisation of volunteers underpinning the food bank movement and expends nothing, no empathy and certainly no pity, on those thrown on to them for survival. Because, for him, it proves his precious dogma: that when the state gets out of the way, society organises matters better. Taking the Trussell Trust's finding that the chief factor driving repeat food bank use is delayed benefit payments, Tim notes this is because the state isn't very good. It's too bureaucratic and is slow (and useless) in responding to real needs. You can see where this is going. If volunteers are doing a great job looking after folk, why not get rid of social security altogether?

As if it needs spelling out, he's talking out of his proverbial.

Let's take Employment Support Allowance. Having previously helped people make applications and supported them in appeals against nonsense decisions, I know it can take a while for a claim to be processed. According to the CAB, an applicant can wait for up to a year before a final decision is reached. For first time applicants it's usually three weeks before payment is received. Three weeks of scraping together every ha'penny, of making every pound stretch.

Why do we have this delay? For Tim the inefficiencies of centralised bureaucracy are to blame, and therefore it has nothing to do with austerity. Yes, that is true ... if you ignore entirely what happens outside of your head. People go to food banks because, shock horror, they do not have enough money to live on. For people who work, we have Tim's mates in business to thank for not paying people enough. For those dependent on social security support, their predicament is less the immutable inefficiencies of bureaucracy and more the decisions underpinning them. Our Tory government made the conscious decision to freeze payments. They made the conscious decision to delay payments, sorry, to take three weeks to process a claim. If they wanted the system to work effectively, the axe wouldn't have swung through the DWP and they wouldn't have cut staff at the time of rising demand on the bureaucracy. Yes, applications do get lost in the system, but in this instance food banks are organising not in response to the myriad failures of the state but the cruel political decisions made by Tory and LibDem politicians fishing from the same ideological sewer as Tim.

This dud is is typical of the right. They do not present analysis and prefer instead fairy stories capable of convincing the already convinced. If Tim was confident in his arguments and believed food banks proved his dogma right, he wouldn't have to distort the context they operate in, ignore the importance of politics, write out the experience of service users and basic intellectual honesty. Were it truth and rigour mattered more than power, this and similar nonsense would have got buried decades ago.


Shai Masot said...

Don't kid yourself. The Blairites don't have any ideological problem with foodbanks. Their use spiralled between 2008 and 2010; and they supported every social security cut (apart from the bedroom tax) introduced by the proper Tories. Frank Field, for example, is an enthusiastic supporter of them.

Tim Worstall said...

" Chewing up bandwith in defence of indefensible class privilege this week saw Tim Worstall hail the Conservative triumph (his phrase) that are ... food banks."

Amazingly, no, that's not what I say. I am very specific about it in fact. What I do say is this:

"But this leads us to question why this is a conservative (but not Conservative) movement and system of organisation."

I actually say exactly the opposite of what you quote me as saying.

As to the deeper point, could you point to some moment in the past when there were not such delays in payments? Hansard seems to indicate that delays have fallen in recent years. Personal experience tells me that delays certainly existed back in the early 80s.

At which point we've that rather large question. Are food banks a reaction to the even greater inefficiency of the state today (or possibly, if you prefer, its malevolence) or are they a solution to a long running problem? A new technology if you like?

Anonymous said...

"Chewing up bandwith in defence of indefensible class privilege this week saw Tim Worstall hail the Conservative triumph (his phrase) that are ... food banks"

Actually, his phrase was:
"But this leads us to question why this is a conservative (but not Conservative) movement and system of organisation"

So- not at all the same, really.

Shai Masot said...

@Tim Worstall Utter nonsense, and you know it! Historically, Unemployment benefit and JSA were both paid within a fortnight in 97% of cases. (DWP's internal target was 95%.)

Universal Credit does not (by design) pay any benefit at all for the first week of unemployment then assumes (again by design) that all claimants were previously paid monthly and therefore have a month's pay-cheque to live on (which they often don't) while they wait for their benefit. Since UC is paid in arrears (again by design) claimants will now therefore have to wait for six weeks for a first payment, in the best of times.

Previously, under ESA and Incapacity benefit regimes, they would have been paid within three weeks, and they would have received Income Support to tide them over while they waited for their principal claim to come on stream. Support through Income Support during this lead-in period has now (by design) been removed.

Hence, massive use of (by design) foodbanks.

I should know. Until July last year I managed a Jobcentre.

Anonymous said...

"Britain isn't eating"

But if 350,000 people are BEING FED by foodbanks, then Britain IS eating. Or is 'fed' no longer the past tense transient form of 'eat' any more?

Unknown said...

You’re a lovely fella aren’t ya? *sarcasm*

Organized Rage. said...

Food banks are a disgrace and shame us all and that Mr Worstall cannot see this just shows how brutal the Tory party of today has become. They are part of the problem not the solution and I despair when I see Local Labour parties like my own, month after month asking members to donate to their local food bank. If we went back to the 19th century would socialists be supporting their local workhouse, no they would be working to abolish them not given them respectability by supporting them.

James said...

Pretty much everything the State does incurs mismanagement and waste, of both time and money.
This is not particularly a criticism of the State - it's true of most areas of human endeavour - but there is an important difference between State and private.
Private companies which mismanage and waste too much time and money eventually go bust, and in most cases private employees who mismanage and waste their employers' time and money are fired.
There are far fewer penalties to State employees who mismanage and waste time and money, and none whatsoever to the State itself, which just raises taxes or borrows more (which is why there is no great pressure on employees).
Thus it follows, because fallible humans and their nature, that State organisations and activities mismanage and waste more than private.
That's how you get a £10bn NHS IT system which doesn't work, a £12bn Olympics which was originally costed at £2bn, and how HS2, if it's ever built, will cost £60-100bn, not £30-40bn.
None of which is an argument that private doesn't waste stuff and do bad things, or to do away with the State or the benefits system.
It is an argument that it is good to have charitable organisations stepping in to the breach when the State mismanages or wastes time and money.
People chipping in to help their neighbours eat is a good thing, and it probably works quicker and better than the State doing it, as a crack-filler.
That's what Worstall means when he calls it conservative - it's Edmund Burke, not Theresa May (which is why he used a lower case c not an upper case C).

Penniless45 said...

Do you mind my asking why you are not managing it any more?

Penniless45 said...

They get a bag of groceries that is sufficient for 3 days, what do you suppose people do for the remainder?? You sound vile.

iOpener said...

Mark Livingstone: "Until July last year I managed a Jobcentre." means only that your comments are possibly conflicted by self interest and a cover up of Jobcentre incompetence. Or even probably conflicted given their vehemence.

Worstall's point remains - the government screwed up, we fixed it, voluntarily, without compulsion or leftist twaddle. We, not you. You were part of the screw up.

Shai Masot said...

@iOpener. Foodbanks didn't exist in the UK till the late 2000s. We didn't need them because we still had some of our post-war social security system in place. The Jobcentres were no more or less fallible back then than they are now.

Andrew Carey said...

I worked on the Tax Credit helpline in 2005, at a time when government spending seemed to be unconstrained looking back. To be fair, it looks pretty rampant even now it's just that the people benefitting, from pensioners, to PFI beneficiaries, to foreign aid consultants, to council and HA directors keep a low profile. But I digress.
There are many reports from poverty action groups to the office of the ombudsman about delays with the new tax credits system at that time. Delays also plague child benefit claims - you are typically quoted a 12 week timescale if you submit a contested or rival claim, and anything from 3 months to 6 months if you are a foreign national making a claim.
Even in the case of JSA claims, many will delay claiming themselves because they hoped to have a new job quite quickly, so to them the DWP meeting their advertised timescale is good but they've already gone a week or two without anyway. And a quick call to your council about typical timescales to claim housing benefit, or to the DWP to claim SMI will reveal further delays.
Back in 2009/10 you could get crisis or budgeting loans from the DWP which seem to have dried up now, but it's interesting that the number of loans that year just exceeds the number of food bank uses now. And the loan was repayable ( which in itself has caused hardship down the line ), unlike the food voucher.
I've no doubt the Coalition(s) have taken advantage of the existence of more food banks to cut back on their own crisis schemes, but I'm still a fan of food banks and would recommend supporting them

David Parry said...

'Private companies which mismanage and waste too much time and money eventually go bust'

That's not true of privately owned natural monopolies.

Keith said...

Tories always think poor people should starve. Which is why Nye Bevan famously said they are lower than vermin.

Namely "That is why no amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party that inflicted those bitter experiences on me. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin. They condemned millions of first-class people to semi-starvation."

Those who forget their history are doomed to relive it.