Over the last few months I have been asked time and again about the impending £1000 per annum cut to Universal Credit. And my thoughts on the subject have been totally consistant.
They ain't going to do it. Not a chance. Not in a million years. Even this lot couldn't possibly be so cruel. Even this lot couldn't be so utterly stupid.
Well that prediction went well.
Here we are. October 6th . The date has loomed for long enough and now it is right here, right now. The clock has run out. The time for Tory rebels to call an emergency debate in Parliament has come and gone.
As of today, the threat has become a brutal reality. And the brutality all but beggars belief. Our world suddenly resembles a work of dystopian fiction. Reports from Manchester say the champagne is being quaffed like never before. There is an air of triumphalism. They are queuing up to bow and scrape at the feet of their moronic Sun King.
I listened to a journalist talking last week. He is just back from Afghanistan. He had been on the phone to an Afghani colleague. How are petrol stocks in Kabul? The Afghani reporter was surprised by the question. Stocks are fine. All the petrol stations are working normally. Why do you ask?
The rest of the world is watching the empty shelves and fighting at the petrol pumps with open mouthed amazement. What the hell is going on with Britain? And let's face it, they're having a right laugh. Can you blame them? I can't.
Feel familiar? It should. It's the way we all felt when watching America descend into chaos in the dog days of Trump. Now the joke is on us.
In 2008, a bunch of casino bankers in London and New York damn near crashed everything. And of course we were all expected to put on a brave face when they needed £50 billion's worth of bailing out. £1000 each to those of us who pay tax. £1000 each for the privilege of being able to use a cash machine.
And then Cameron and Osborne decided it was all the fault of the poor. All of a sudden the reason Lehman Brothers and Northern Rock had crashed and burned was all down to people living off benefits.
And my oh my, how they squeezed the pips. The famous Welfare Reforms. The Bedroom Tax. A cap on benefits. A cap on kids. The sick were deemed to be healed. The mentally ill were deemed to be potential rocket scientists. Benefits were frozen like mammoths in the Siberian permafrost.
And First Base went from handing out 80 emergency food parcels per month to handing out 600 emergency food parcels per month. Just like that. In the blink of an Etonian eye.
And all the while, we heard talk of workers and shirkers. Right from the top. A cartoon view of the the world as seen by men who had been educated to the tune of £40,000 a year. You can see lots of shirkers when you gaze down from your Ivory Tower. They are much harder to spot from behind the counter of a foodbank. From our counter, we see very different people from those whose lives are so vividly described in the pages of the Daily Mail.
Sick people. People with mental health problems. Drug addicted people, Alcohol addicted people. Single mums with no family to look after the kids. Carers looking after slowly dying partners.
Disabled. Depressed. Disorientated.
Fit for work? Only in fevered dreams of the Department of Work and Pensions.
Inconvenient statistics. Inconvenient people. But people all the same. People who still need a place to live and some warmth and something to eat.
And then came Covid and a panicking government saw millions of people flooding onto Universal Credit. People who had bought what the Government and the Daily Mail had been selling for a decade. Tales of a cosy, dream of a life to be had on benefits. A life of constant takeaways and as much booze as you can drink. Holidays in Ibiza and a new 60 inch tele every six weeks.
For millions it was a hard landing. There ain't many holidays in Ibiza to be had on £73 a week. In fact £73 a week isn't even close to being enough to pay for the basics of life.
So they panicked and bumped the basic Universal Credit up to £93 a week. Hardly a fortune. But slightly better.
That was March 2020, when First Base paid 13p for a tin of own brand spaghetti and 14p for a Kilowatt Hour of electricity. A litre of diesel was 99p.
A lot has changed in the last eighteen months. Now if First Base is lucky enough to find anyone willing to sell us tins of spaghetti, they tend to cost 40p and the new price for a Kilowatt Hour of electricity is 24p. A litre of diesel is £1.40.
Food and power inflation are both running at 12%. Or so they say. The inflation we are seeing is way higher than that. But what do we know?
So £73 now buys at least 12% less than it bought in March 2020. £73 now is the equivalent to £64 then.
We haven't seen food and power inflation like this since Egyptian Army rolled their tanks into the Sinai back in 1973.
And the Government has chosen this exact moment to kick the very poorest people among us in the teeth. Mind boggling. And they are right now swaggering around Manchester waving bottles of champagne. No wonder the French media can't understand why we're not out on the streets setting the world on fire.
A smug faced Sunak told the gathered disciples about half a billion quid's worth of sticking plasters being made available to cover a £6 billion gaping wound.
Nobody bothered to raise the fact that the £6 billion would have helped to keep all kinds of businesses afloat in the very small struggling towns the Government pretends to care about. The people who were getting the extra £20 per week aren't the kind of folk to salt it away in shell companies registered in the British Virgin Isles. Hardly. Instead they spend every last penny in local shops or on heat and light. A good half of the cash finds its way straight back into Government coffers in the form of tax, VAT and customs duty.
The malicious idiocy is genuinely hard to comprehend.
And there were a few sentences which were missing from Sunak's speech. He might have said something along these lines. In an alternative universe.
“This Government is very much aware of the contribution foodbanks have made over the last eighteen months. Even when the Covid 19 virus was at its most terrifying, Britain's foodbanks made sure nobody starved.
'And now, as a result of my decision to take £20 a week away from the very poorest people in the land, I know foodbanks will once again have to find a way to feed hundreds of thousands of extra mouths. The sick. The mentally ill. The carers. The over borrowed. The inconvenient.
'So to all of the foodbanks out there, I have clear message. We appreciate what you do. We would hate to have to attend the G7 or the G20 and have to explain why people in Britain are starving in conditions of dire poverty. So know this, all of you foodbank wallahs. You have our respect. And we know you're going to need lots of help if you are going to feed all of the people who are going to need feeding through the cold months of the coming winter. I am therefore delighted to announce a new fund to help the foodbanks of Britain …...”
No flying pigs. There never are.
Yet again foodbanks will have to find a way. We're remarkably good at managing what at first looks impossible.
In March 2020 First Base issued 600 emergency food parcels.
In August 2020 First Base issued 2600 emergency food parcels as the Covid crisis peaked.
We did it. I have no idea how, but we did.
February 2022? God only knows what the world will look like then. It is very clear that no help will be headed our way from this vicious Government in London who swig champagne whilst throwing millions headlong into a winter of hunger and cold.
And utter misery.
Like every foodbank in the land, we are going to need all the help we can get over the coming months. If you are maybe willing to provide us with some support, you can find our online funding page via the link below.