So, UK: Exactly How Big A Mess Are We In?

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Every so often, there is a shift in collective thinking and new minds are awakened to the collective problems we are facing together. From my observations, it would seem that we have a new ‘class’ who have just joined those of us who have been awake for a while.

It can be a confusing and difficult experience for the newbie, so this is a ‘Cooks Tour’ of the problems I believe we are all facing in one form or another.

1.     Introduction

As humanity enters September 2012, we are faced with some very serious problems that will affect us all. The crisis affecting the global economy is already at lethal levels for ordinary people and is set to worsen in the immediate future as we enter a global food crisis resulting from drought and crop failures around the world. This is already being felt in rising food costs. These are very serious problems that are affecting a rapidly increasing number of British people and are set to get much worse before they improve.

A healthy society facing such enormous problems will look to their leaders for collective solutions. Regrettably, evidence suggests that many ‘solutions’ being passed by the British government at present do not appear to be serving the public and there is increasing opinion that it favours a very small group whose main focus appears to be maximising private profit regardless of social expense.

In order to full appreciate the seriousness of the problem, it is often useful to find and apply recognised measures of healthy behaviour, both in ourselves as well as in others. By looking at healthy measures, we can begin to appreciate how ‘sick’ we might actually be.

It helps to start with people at the top because any problems here will have a flow-down effect upon the population.

2.     Setting the Standards in Government

In the UK, elected members of Parliament are required to adhere to the following, taken (from “The Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament”) :

IV.  General Principles of Conduct

8.  In carrying out their parliamentary and public duties, Members will be expected to observe the following general principles of conduct identified by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in its First Report as applying to holders of public office.[1] These principles will be taken into account when considering the investigation and determination of any allegations of breaches of the rules of conduct in Part V of the Code.

Selflessness

Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.

Integrity

Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.

Objectivity

In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.

Accountability

Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.

Openness

Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

Honesty

Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

Leadership

Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.”

 

Paragraph 10 of the same document goes on to say this:

 

“Members shall base their conduct on a consideration of the public interest, avoid conflict between personal interest and the public interest and resolve any conflict between the two, at once, and in favour of the public interest.”

 

Given that this Code applies to all UK MP’s, it might be reasonable to assume that these requirements form a part of a Social Contract to govern and if it forms part of a contract, then failure to comply results in a breach of that contact. For example, under UK Employment Law, the Contract is deemed to be an agreement between consenting adults and sets down the standards expected of both employer and employee as well as detailing how serious contractual breaches will be dealt with, up to and including dismissal.

Readers are invited to consider whether they have seen any evidence to suggest that this Code might have been broken.

3.     The Social Contract

Who ever is elected to Parliament takes on the responsibility to meet the genuine needs of the electorate. Because this area has always been a matter of interpretation, setting measures that identify these needs can be difficult. There is one simplistic measure that addresses this in general terms: Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Whilst there are disagreements about how Maslow interpreted these needs, there is general agreement that the first two fundamental needs have remained fairly accurate during 70 years of study. These are:

Physiological needs

For the most part, physiological needs are obvious – they are the literal requirements for human survival. If these requirements are not met, the human body simply cannot continue to function.

Physiological needs are the most prepotent of all the other needs. Therefore, the human that lacks food, love, esteem, or safety would consider the greatest of his/her needs to be food.

Air, water, and food are metabolic requirements for survival in all animals, including humans. Clothing and shelter provide necessary protection from the elements. The intensity of the human sexual instinct is shaped more by sexual competition than maintaining a birth rate adequate to survival of the species.

and

Safety needs

With their physical needs relatively satisfied, the individual’s safety needs take precedence and dominate behavior. In the absence of physical safety – due to war, natural disaster, or, in cases of family violence, childhood abuse, etc. – people (re-)experience post-traumatic stress disorder and trans-generational trauma transfer. In the absence of economic safety – due to economic crisis and lack of work opportunities – these safety needs manifest themselves in such things as a preference for job security, grievance procedures for protecting the individual from unilateral authority, savings accounts, insurance policies, reasonable disability accommodations, and the like. This level is more likely to be found in children because they have a greater need to feel safe.

Safety and Security needs include:

  • Personal security
  • Financial security
  • Health and well-being
  • Safety net against accidents/illness and their adverse impacts

Although it has been subject to greater disagreement and debate, I include the third hierarchy because it provides a pertinent commentary to the previous two needs:-

Love and belonging

After physiological and safety needs are fulfilled, the third layer of human needs are interpersonal and involve feelings of belongingness. The need is especially strong in childhood and can over-ride the need for safety as witnessed in children who cling to abusive parents. Deficiencies with respect to this aspect of Maslow’s hierarchy – due to hospitalism, neglect, shunning, ostracism etc. – can impact individual’s ability to form and maintain emotionally significant relationships in general, such as:

  • Friendship
  • Intimacy
  • Family

Humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance, whether it comes from a large social group, such as clubs, office culture, religious groups, professional organizations, sports teams, gangs, or small social connections (family members, intimate partners, mentors, close colleagues, confidants). They need to love and be loved (sexually and non-sexually) by others. In the absence of these elements, many people become susceptible to loneliness, social anxiety, and clinical depression. This need for belonging can often overcome the physiological and security needs, depending on the strength of the peer pressure; an anorexic, for example, may ignore the need to eat and the security of health for a feeling of control and belonging

4.     How the Social Contract is being applied by the UK Government

a.      Physiological Needs

At present, there does not appear to be any forward planning with regard to food shortages in the UK, although the problem clearly is starting to affect our society.

This is from Wikipedia:

UK Foodbanks

There has been rapid growth in the provision of UK foodbanks since the financial crisis that began in 2007. Most UK food banks are co-ordinated by The Trussell Trust , a Christian charity based in Salisbury which serves as the UK’s only food bank network. Trusell’s first food bank was established in 2000; in 2004 they only ran two. [15] [16] Before the financial crisis, food banks were “almost unheard of” in the UK. [17] [18] In 2007 / 2008 there were only 22 food banks in the Trusell network; by early 2011, Trussell supported 100. As of May 2012, they had 201. By August, 252. The rate of increase has been rising rapidly. In 2011, only about one new food bank was being opened per week. In early 2012, about two were being opened each week. By July, Trussell had reported that the rate of new openings had increased to three per week, and by August, four were being opened each week, with three new food banks being opened in that month for Nottingham alone. [19] [20] [21] [22] Demand for food banks is expected to increase even further when cuts to welfare come into effect in April 2013; several councils have began looking at funding foodbanks to increase their capability, as cuts to their budgets mean they’ll be less able to help vulnerable people directly. [23]

Most UK foodbanks are hosted by churches. About a third of their food comes from supermarkets, with much of it donated by individuals. Trussell Trust aims to provide short term support for people whose needs have not yet been addressed by official state welfare provision; those who have been ‘falling into the cracks in the system’. The Trussell franchise has procedures which aim to prevent long term dependency on their services, and to ensure that those in need are referred to qualified outside agencies. The charity suggests that the credit crunch caused an upsurge in the number of people needing emergency food. Since 2010, demand for foodbanks continued to increase, and at a more rapid rate, partly as austerity began to take effect, and partly as those on low incomes began to draw down savings and run out of friends they of whom they are willing to request support from. Unlike soup kitchens [24], most UK food banks are unable to help people who come in off the street without a referral – instead they operate with a referral system. Vouchers are handed out to those in need by various sorts of professional, such as Social workers, health workers and housing officials. The voucher can typically be exchanged at the food bank for a package of food sufficient to last three days. A small number of foodbanks have been set up outside of the Trussell system, in part as they dont like having to turn away folk without referrals. [19] [25] [26] [20] [21] [15]

People who turn to food banks are typically grateful both for the food and for the warmth and kindness they receive from the volunteers. However sometimes food banks have ran out of suppliers by the time they arrive. Some find it humiliating to have to ask for food, and that the packages they receive dont always seem nutritious. Some food banks have tried to respond with innovative programmes; London street food bank for example has began asking donors to send in supermarket vouchers so that those they serve will be able to choose food that best meets their nutritional needs. [27] [16] [28] [21]

Britain’s prime Minister David Cameron has welcomed the efforts of food banks; Caroline Spelman , his Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has described food banks as an “excellent example” of active citizenship. Labour MP Kate Green has a different view, feeling that the rise of food banks reflects folk being let down by the State Welfare system, saying “I feel a real burning anger about them … People are very distressed at having to ask for food; it’s humiliating and distressing.””

At present, the UK Government appears to be relying upon charity to meet the most fundamental human need of all; food. Whether this policy meets the criteria of social responsibility in a time of crisis remains to be seen but given current forecasts by the World Bank, if there are no government-led responses to these issues soon, it is likely to be failing in it’s duty to the public it was elected to serve.

We can also add a housing shortage and soaring energy costs to the list British people’s physiological needs.

Without food or, in a climate like ours, shelter and warmth then we can reasonably expect people to die. Whether this consequence is already occurring is a matter that needs to be examined by those involved.

b.      Security Needs

The impact of shortages upon peoples’ physiological needs have a direct consequence upon the security of society. Food shortages are known to result in food riots and such events have already been predicted for the UK. An absence of socially responsible initiatives from government is likely to contribute towards such unrest.

When riots occur, as they already have, a healthy government and public would look to the police in containing the immediate problem and restoring public safety. Given the present unrelenting political pressure in favour of privatising Britain’s police services and the already implemented reduction of publicly-funded front line staff, it might be worth considering whether the police are actually capable of meeting this expectation anymore. If we listen to the police, they are raising these concerns themselves. A further concern to the public would be whom this privatised police force would serve especially as some elected officials, in other parts of the world, have openly referred to the police as ‘their private army’.

Further, the demand for health services arising from the failure to meet basic physiological needs is also likely to occur. This is will be happening at a time when the National Health Service is also being subject to unrelenting political pressure to privatise too. If we listen to those involved, they are already reporting the consequences.

To this, we must add the following:

  • reductions in social welfare payments to the sick and disabled via ‘assessments’ utilising methods of questionable ethics .
  • requirements for the unemployed to work, without pay, in order to continue to be eligible for benefit payments. That profitable private industry is the recipient of this unpaid workforce also raises ethical questions regarding what is or is not in the public interest.

This is not an exhaustive list – many other issues have been left out – nor are the issues dealt with in depth because they have been very well addressed elsewhere. Clearly, even with these limitations, there is a very serious picture emerging about the factual condition of British society that is not being thoroughly addressed, as far as I can determine at present, by those whose responsibility it is to do so.

It is my opinion that one of the biggest obstacles to addressing the above is current party politics and this includes all the main political parties of the UK. These problems become much clearer when viewed from Maslow’s third hierarchical need.

c.       Love and Belonging

Each individual will have their own interpretation of the meaning of these terms. In social terms, however, this level of need refers to social inclusion and appreciation.

The following are a list of links that explore various forms of social inclusion in the UK:

http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/very-definition-of-irony.html

http://www.brucelawson.co.uk/2012/hard-working-tory-mps-on-lazy-british-workers/

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/marketforceslive/2012/aug/22/sse-investors-applaud-price-hike

http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2012/08/22/rolling-in-it-the-mps-making-six-figure-sums-outside-parliament/

In the light of the above, it would be reasonable to conclude that social inclusion of all the UK population does not register high on our present Coalition government’s agenda. What is more disturbing is that those political parties whose public duty would be to act as a break to Coalition policy, or to act in opposition, have significantly failed to do so. By failing to act, it would also be reasonable to suppose that present government policies are a result of cross-party consensus. If this supposition is true, then the British people are facing a constitutional crisis alongside all the other crises now occurring.

5.     How this crisis has occurred

When faced with effectively managing this kind of crisis, all contributory factors have to be considered whilst trying to identify workable solutions.  Some factors, such as the food crisis, are beyond human control whereas others, like political agendas, remain firmly within it.

In my opinion, it seems that to all intents and purposes, the UK Coalition Government has chosen to abandon the general public interest at a time of great need. According to the MP’s Code of Conduct, this should not occur:

 

“Members shall base their conduct on a consideration of the public interest, avoid conflict between personal interest and the public interest and resolve any conflict between the two, at once, and in favour of the public interest.”

 

But given the impact of present government policies what is now regarded as ‘public interest’ does not appear to be especially inclusive , as the following links clearly show:

http://socialinvestigations.blogspot.co.uk/p/mps-with-or-had-financial-links-to.html

http://socialinvestigations.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/the-telegraph-think-tank-and-very-dodgy.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mps-expenses/8442756/MPs-who-repaid-expenses-got-money-back-in-secret-deal.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/aug/20/tax-inspectors-clash-mp-expenses?CMP=twt_gu

I would suggest that when MP’s apparently fail to adhere to the standards of the Members Code of Conduct, either individually or collectively, it inevitably follows that the public will suffer the kind of abuses to human needs outlined above. I would also suggest that failures to address the problem point to high levels of collusion amongst those empowered to call transgressors to account.

It is clear that those involved see no problem with their actions and have every intention of imposing further hardships upon those whose needs it refuses to recognise, as evidenced by the following tweet from one of the Government’s ‘think-tanks’, Policy Exchange.

Under this kind of aggressive thinking, unless or until the situation changes, ordinary people can no longer expect any realistic support from their government unless individual MP’s personally choose to place their constituents needs above those of their respective party’s policy. It can be noted that this is starting to occur but whether this marks a true change in political thinking remains to be seen.

If that change were to take root, there is already one strikingly successful solution that could be considered as an alternative to current UK policies.

6.     A Part of the Solution

 

These are all very serious issues that seem to be stuck for ideas when it comes to solutions.

Whilst there are undoubtedly questions to answer about who is responsible and what needs to be done to prevent this occurring in the future, the problem with such discussions is that they do not materially contribute to resolving the immediate problems we are facing. These need to be dealt with at local level. If my neighbour is starving, it is not my MP in Westminster who sees this, but me.

During the last eleven years, I have lived amongst the poor and excluded as one of them. What I have noticed are the high levels of unexpected creativity and practicality when these groups are asked to resolve problems affecting them directly. This can prove to be particularly successful when those involved are given the resources to do it. Such resources may have initial investment costs but these more than pay for themselves over the longer term. Unfortunately, many workable solutions that might be produced by the poor for the poor are likely to be disregarded or dismissed in favour of a form of accepted thinking that is demonstrably failing society elsewhere. The first issue that needs ‘unsticking’ is the belief that those currently labelled ‘undesirable’ or ‘excluded’ have nothing to offer a country in crisis.

The second issue that needs addressing is the assumption that the prevailing ‘Westminster’ view of society is the only opinion available. What may suit London and the South East does not suit other regions. Imposing Westminster solutions will inevitably fail if the region itself has different ideas. Enabling and resourcing regions to support their local communities on their own terms falls into the kind of investment described above. Such investment contributes to the local economy thereby reducing unemployment whilst, at the same time, creating needed social infrastructures tailored to met direct need. These are the politics of social inclusion.

Finally, there needs to be recognition that the private sector may well have something socially worthwhile to offer. Not all those working in the private sector are crooks and liars indeed some are already stepping forward to assist others. In addition, the private sector offers greater legal flexibility than the public. The public sector is only permitted to do that enshrined in law and no more. The private sector may do anything provided it is not prohibited in law. Were a private company to enshrine social and corporate responsibility as part of its operational practice, it may well be able to meet community needs above and beyond the ability of the currently-structured public sector. Such companies have done well in the past so there is no reason to suppose they wouldn’t do well now.

Even in these straitened and increasingly difficult times, there are still opportunities for ordinary people to taken control of their immediate needs if they understand the chance is there and are willing to take the risk. All that is necessary is a change in thinking followed by a change in action.

What we can be certain of, given the evidence above, is that to continue to depend upon Government for solutions at this present time may to prove very hazardous to the life, health and safety of society. Given the impending global famine, it is also likely to be true that the time for discussion is rapidly coming to an end.

These are the problems I can identify with any clarity. The true extent of the problem is far greater and is affecting everyone. Nevertheless, I hope you have enough information now to arrive at your own educated answer to my opening question.

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