Friday, June 08, 2018

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Frances Ryan highlights the disgrace of social programs designed to strip away basic supports when they're needed most:
Poverty has long been put down to mythical causes, be it a quirk of society – as if inequality is built into the earth – or an individual’s failings (why don’t they breed less? Work harder? Buy fewer cigarettes?). The JRF study is unflinching at skewering this. The reasons for destitution are complex, but the researchers point firmly to the role of “welfare” cuts that have dominated the political landscape since the global financial crash. Social security policies can, in many cases, directly lead to destitution “by design”, the report says, leaving people “without support when they most need it”. Two in five destitute people reported problems with the benefit system, with a quarter of all interviewees citing losing their disability benefits as a key trigger of their destitution.
The report documents people’s desperate solutions – piecemeal kindness and exploitation to fill in the gaps of a less secure safety net: chip shops giving free fish and chips; a local vicar helping to pay for groceries; taking a risk on a loan shark.

Some people, most achingly, had been without food off and on for so long they were almost resigned to it. This level of deprivation isn’t only about going without a meal or electricity. It’s a psychological assault: depression, severe stress and anxiety were commonly reported, with a few interviewees saying that they had even felt suicidal.

There’s a risk that, with news of surging food bank use and children going without beds or clothes, this type of extreme poverty is becoming normalised. That it is somehow a natural part of any country or that, even if it isn’t, the problem is now so big, so overwhelming, that we can’t do anything to stop it. Of course, this isn’t true. For proof, look at the fact that the researchers found destitution has actually decreased in the past two years – an improvement put down in large part to the less stringent use of benefit sanctions (as well as improvement to the job market and reductions in migration). Further commonsense changes would go a long way towards pulling more people out of hardship, from embedding local welfare funds for families to seek out in times of financial emergency, and addressing debt recovery processes, to adapting universal credit so that the benefit system is no longer characterised by delays, sanctions and freezes.

Above all, there needs to be a culture change that says everyone in this country deserves, at the very least, food in their stomach and a roof over their head – whether that’s a disabled person, a banker, an immigrant or a politician. Destitution should have gone out with the slums and workhouses.
- The Economist takes note of an increasing gap in childhood obesity as one more indication of growing inequality in the UK. And Michael Wolfson comments on the need to define a standard measure of poverty in order to better measure Canada's efforts to combat it.

- Crawford Kilian reviews Jeffrey Pfeffer's Dying for a Paycheck, but notes that any effective response to the toxic effects of work needs to involve collective action by workers. And Ed Finn's review of Joyce Nelson's Bypassing Dystopia hints at a wide range of steps needed to take back power from the corporate sector.

- Finally, Murray Mandryk rightly questions the Saskatchewan Party's decision to put the future of Wascana Park at the mercy of businesses who want to capture one of Regina's most important public spaces.

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