By Dorothy Bruce
The UK. The fifth largest economy in the world, so Tories incessantly boast. So, everything’s hunky-dory then. Even Brexit will turn out fine despite the animated ire about stockpiling. Theresa May talks of stockpiling being a sign of how prudent, how efficient the government is, something we should be reassured and comforted by, and no doubt should also be grateful for. A government doing its work (belatedly and poorly) to look after its population, and we’re told that’s a reason for taking comfort. How dire.
[India and France are only very slightly behind the UK and their economies are growing faster than the UK. India is odds on favourite to take 5th place soon]
No worries – May’s in charge of reassurances
We’re being assured stockpiling is just in case the worst happens. But will it? Of course not. Mrs May and Dominic Raab will get a deal – just as soon as the EU gives up its ridiculous stance and bends its knee to their wishes. So no worries. The government’s strategy is no doubt to lull us into the state of a boiling frog while it careers in the brakeless Brexit bus towards the nearest cliff.
Only it turns out the government doesn’t intend stockpiling. They expect manufacturers, businesses, individuals to do it. Manufacturers say they can’t, they don’t have the space. Half the food we consume is imported and 80% of those imports come from Europe with 90% of those moving through the Dover corridor.
A ‘just in time deal’ with EU would be too late
With today’s just-in-time business methods manufacturers are geared to get components or ingredients delivered, use them, then ship the product out. No waiting around. No storage, no storage costs. To change that would mean renting enormous warehouses at enormous cost, if they could be found. There’s no money for that. Nor is there additional capacity in lorries to transport increased supplies for stockpiling. Much of what is imported is fresh food or other items with short shelf lives and which can’t be stockpiled. 50% of the food we eat is either fresh or chilled, so unsuitable for keeping any length of time. Businesses say the same. They can’t stockpile. Then there’s the problem of drugs and medical products.
The ordinary consumer might be able to lay in a stock of a few tins of beans and tuna and packets of pasta and rice, cram the freezer with frozen veg, pizzas and readymade meals. But there’s a limit to how long that will last. Will the siege be a week or a year? Mrs May hasn’t said, and actually hasn’t a clue.
Overspent consumers have not the money to stockpile
Nor is the ordinary consumer in much of a state to splash out on additional groceries at the weekly shop. According to a recent ONS report UK households’ outgoings have surpassed their income for the first time since 1988, with the average household experiencing a £900 shortfall in 2017.
“To fund this shortfall, households either have to borrow – at which point they could be living beyond their means – or dip into their savings. And our data show they are borrowing more and saving less.
Households took out nearly £80 billion in loans last year, the most in a decade; but they deposited just £37 billion with UK banks, the least since 2011.”
Only the richest 10% have rising disposable income
According to the ONS the poorest 10% of households spent two-and-a-half times their disposable income, on average, in the financial year ending 2017. In contrast, the richest 10% spent less than half of their available income during the same period. “Household budgets are under increasing strain. Rising prices have led to increased spending in recent years, while disposable income has risen only modestly. As a result, the gap between disposable income and spending per head has closed by around £1,100 since 2015, to the narrowest in 11 years.”
After eight years of austerity many people are living beyond their meagre means. The ONS estimates 7 million households (25 per cent) have savings below £1,000 and a third have no savings at all. So where does the money come from for stockpiling? Belt-tightening is the order of the day, not lashing out on stocks of food. If rationing is introduced, irrespective of the colour of the rations books it’s the poorest who will suffer most, not the Ministers in the Tory government.
And many are indeed suffering now, before Brexit’s horrific effect on the economy and on household budgets fully hits. A few years ago, a UNICEF report, Measuring child poverty : New league tables of child poverty in the world’s rich countries, claimed Britain had the highest level of children brought up in severe food poverty in Europe.
“In the wake of statistics following the post-2008 economic crises, the child poverty rate has rarely surfaced.
“In a downturn,” says Sharon Goldfeld, National Director of the Australian Early Development Index, “the first thing that happens is that children drop off the policy agenda.” Yet it is arguable that the child poverty rate is one of the most important of all indicators of a society’s health and well-being. For the here and now, it is a measure of what is happening to some of society’s most vulnerable members. For the years to come, it is a pointer to the well-being and cohesion of society as a whole.”
The report goes on to say: “…poverty in childhood is closely and consistently associated with measurable disadvantage both for individuals and for the societies in which they live. A commitment to protecting children from poverty is therefore more than a slogan or a routine inclusion in a political manifesto; it is the hallmark of a civilized society.”
So where does that leave a UK subjected for over eight years to austerity and which now faces Brexit?
Well, last year in a new UNICEF report “Report Card 14: Building the Future: Children and the Sustainable Development Goals in Rich Countries” 41 high-income countries were assessed in relation to children and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This shows the UK doing better than most countries in reducing inequalities. However it showed the UK to have one of the highest rates of women reporting they experienced sexual violence before age 15. And other indicators revealed that one in five children in the UK lived in relative income poverty.
Selected OECD countries, UNICEF Measuring Child Poverty May 2012
“Being food secure means being sure of your ability to secure enough food of sufficient quality and quantity, to allow you to stay healthy and participate in society. Food insecurity has varying degrees of severity. Early stages involve worry about whether there will be enough food, followed by compromising quality, variety and quantity of food. Going without food and experiencing hunger are most severe stages.”
Another 2017 UNICEF report indicated that 10% of children in the UK are reported to be living in households affected by severe food insecurity.
Worldwide 41% of children under age 15 live with a respondent who is moderately or severely food insecure, 19% live with a respondent who is severely food insecure. In the UK, 19% of children under age 15 live with a respondent who is moderately or severely food insecure, 10% live with a respondent who is severely food insecure.
Children exposed to food insecurity are more likely to face adverse health outcomes and developmental risk. Food hardship among children can lead to impaired academic performance, and behavioral problems.
This is during the period since the 2007/8 crash when Britain’s wealthiest people have seen their worth more than double while a significant number of others in austerity Britain have been consigned to poverty with food bank use reaching the highest rate on record. According to Shelter the number of homeless but working families in England has risen by 73%, with the poorest 30 per cent of UK households worse off by £50 to £150 last year, and with child poverty rising more than 3% over the past year due to changes in the benefits system. And according to the Trussell Trust 1,332,952 three-day emergency food supplies were delivered to people in crisis in the past year.
So many people unable to manage to feed themselves and their families, and so many others just managing to scrape by on a day-to-day basis. Low interest rates have seen people borrowing more to make ends meet, and dipping into savings accumulated over many years, yet the Tory government expects people to stockpile food for a possible hard Brexit. Those who are without the means to feed themselves properly or who struggle to pay bills are highly unlikely to be thinking of which spare bedroom to earmark for storing supplies of tinned and packet food for an undisclosed length of time until the UK government eventually comes to its senses.
So no second helping if stockpiling food or starving is the order. Nor can we feel reassured or comforted by a seesawing government that doesn’t blink an eye over making those already suffering and short of food even worse off, if that’s even possible. A government that condemns children to hunger and poverty is not one we can be grateful to, especially when the Brexit shambles should and could have been avoided in the first place.
As for second referendums, those are still on the cards. The choice political commentators are now touting is a second EU referendum or a general election. In Scotland few see the point in voting in a second EU referendum. Irrespective of how we vote the result will be ignored by Westminster as it was first time around. So what attention here turns on is a second independence referendum. That will give us a second helping and hold out hope fof feeding and giving our kids a second helping too.