Oh dear Nick, Oh dear

Food banks will be to the 2010s what hunger marches were to the 1930s. But they are not dramatic places. You don’t see queues of distressed people waiting by their doors. The food banks are discreet. The Anglicans who run them show their kindness by doing nothing to draw attention to their clients’ poverty.

For all their unobtrusiveness, food banks might do as a symbol of our times too.

Let us take food banks to be a sign of our times then. What do they signify?

That Brits seem to be entirely happy to put their hands in their pockets and provide charity for their fellows? Seems like a pretty good thing to me.

But this is simply silly:

In America, the average worker has not had a pay rise since 1973. In Britain, median full-time pay stopped rising in 2000, then collapsed after the crash. The great recession came after 30 years of the rich leaving the rest behind. (In the past two decades, for instance, the top 1% has grabbed three-fifths of all the gains in American growth.)

You cannot believe both of those things. That the average USian has not had a pay rise in decades and also that the rich have only been taking three fifths of the economic growth. It’s an either or. Either the rich have been taking all of the economic growth (for we all do agree that economic growth has been taking place, yes?) or the wages of the average worker have indeed risen.

And we know where this confusion comes from too. From the way that health care insurance is paid for in the US. It is part of labour compensation but not part of labour wages. And an increasingly large part of labour compensation has been devoted to health care insurance over the decades (given that the health care sector has moved from 8 % or so of GDP to 18% this must be so). Meaning that looking just at cash wages shows no great post inflation change but labour compensation has grown strongly.

To clarify why this is important think about our own health care financing system. It’s paid for out of taxes (nominally, but not in fact, out of national insurance). The cost of the NHS has increased (some 5% of GDP to 11% or so). So, let us try to equate the two systems. Have UK wages risen over this period? Yup, they sure have. Has NI risen over this period to pay for the NHS? Yup, sure has. But, do we look at the rise in wages after the increased costs of paying for health care? Do we look at post NI wages when determining whether wages have risen? No, we don’t. And thus to compare with the US system we should compare after health care has been paid for: or, both before. But not look at one set of figures before health care costs and the other after.

12 comments on “Oh dear Nick, Oh dear

  1. Not sure the initial claim isn’t right for the wrong reason. Hunger marches in the 1930s were not really what many lovely right on people suppose them to have been, either. They were political exercises sponsored by activists, largely. Genuinely desperate people might use food banks, but they are no more responsible for their organisation than their predecessors in the 30s were for the creation and promotion of marches.

  2. “You cannot believe both of those things. That the average USian has not had a pay rise in decades and also that the rich have only been taking three fifths of the economic growth. It’s an either or.”

    Maths fail? The average referred to is median. So if the top 1% (he refers to 1%, not “the rich”) take 3/5 of the gains, surely it is possible for the remaining relatively rich to take the remaining 2/5, leaving the median and lower on the same?

    And the lower paid might have closed the gap on the median, leaving the median at the same pay.

  3. Food banks are fundamentally political. Lefties can give a few bits of food, create a food bank, make sure there’s thousands of them (when numbers of foodbanks aren’t relevant), all to produce “evil Tory” propaganda.

    How many parcels are being provided. How many of those people are genuine cases of hardship rather than someone turning up to a church claiming poverty and getting a voucher?

  4. I noticed yesterday that my local food bank, which we did support, is only accepting food with at least a 6 month shelf life.

    This is hardly indicative of a crisis with the masses desperate for food.

  5. Wages may have gone up and there is more electro-junk to buy but purchasing power has gone down. In the 60s my Dad’s job (Mam didn’t work) enabled he, his wife and two kids to buy a house, run a Mini, put in central heating, buy a colour tele and go on a domestic holiday every year. Two wage earners struggle to do the equivalent today. The state has run inflation to benefit itself and has undermined everybody else.

  6. I’m calling bollocks on the whole food bank industry. No doubt there are some hard luck cases but the vast majority of what we call our “poor” can still afford fags, booze, and smartphones.

    I’m guessing food banks are becoming just another tentacle of the welfare state even though they’re nominally private sector – and by that I mean people on benefits are starting to see free food as another of their many entitlements rather than a last resort to stop the kids going hungry.

    In the US a similar thing has happened with food stamps. Something like 15 – 20 percent of American households now rely on the government to feed them. Do we really believe that some 50 million adults in the world’s richest society, where food is abundant and cheap beyond the wildest dreams of previous generations, are so pathetically helpless that they’d starve without government handouts?

    A quick glance at the expanding waistlines of the “poor” both in the UK and US tells a different story to the tearful lefty narrative.

  7. I once walked behind a young woman in the street having a conversation on her iphone. She was complaining that the healthy start food vouchers she had were ‘f***** useless’ as her kid wouldn’t eat any of that ‘s***’. Fortunately she had found a cooperative asian shop keeper (she used an insulting term for him) who would exchange them for sweets, biscuits, crisps and coke.

    Poor indeed.

  8. Food banks have been around for decades. Back when I was a kid it was food from the butter mountain etc handed out to the unemployed – OK I happen to like corned beef and love the taste of butter so I didn’t care my parents were getting some of this stuff every once in a while handed to them.
    Wasn’t we were starving, the extra food just meant the parents didn’t have to buy that food that week.
    Are the food banks now any different? Give someone 3 days food up to 3 times in total – and thats the lot. Not exactly staving off starvation but even a single person estimate could save £50 off the food bill that month!

  9. You might like the following update that comes from a piece here:

    “Shortly after this piece was published in August 2011, Chris Mould, the Trussell Trust’s part-time Executive Chairman and trustee, added a comment that he is a member of the Labour Party. Thereafter, we should have noted this fresh information within the article, which would also have been clearer if it had referred to Noel Atkins a Chairman of the Trustees (he has been succeeded by Sophie Melville) while Chris Mould is its executive chairmen rather than controlling it.

    Chris Mould has asked us to note that the Trussell Trust was founded in 1997, and the Trust set up its first food bank to help people in 2000, when Britain was governed by a Labour administration; that the Trussell Trust developed and launched the food bank social franchise in 2004, again under a Labour government; and that the Trust’s work is not an initiative related to the Coalition government or a response to recent policy initiatives. “It massively predates all that,” he says. We are happy to add these facts.

    (May 2013) Trussell have also requested it made clear that they are a registered charity that is not formally affiliated to the Conservative party. “

  10. The rise of the foodbanks is a little more practical and mundane. Under the last Labour administration it was formal Job Centre policy not to mention the existence or location of foodbanks when claimants were struggling with late payments or whatever. If might have helped the poor but it wouldn’t have helped the Labour Party.
    Under the current administration that policy has been changed, and claimants are assisted in finding a local foodbank. Hence increase in demand for foodbanks.

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