I wrote the following blog after reading Jack Monroe’s account of her experience of giving evidence to the All-Party Inquiry into Hunger and Food Poverty. Before I continue, I would like to make it clear that Jack has not seen, nor given any consent to my posting this and therefore bears neither responsibility nor blame for its contents – that is wholly and entirely mine. I stand by my blog and I’m grateful I’m not the only one to have had a powerful response to the piece. Nevertheless, she only has to ask and she’ll have a no-obstruction removal. Her needs take precedence to mine and I do not want to add to her problems.
Jack Monroe has been fair game for politicians, especially the Tories, since she began using her platform to speak for the hungry poor. In that time, Edwina Currie has reduced Jack to tears live on TV. To her discredit, Sarah Wollaston was vanguard to an attempt to destroy her social achievements following Jack’s point of fact tweet concerning David Cameron’s behaviour. There are probably plenty more but after reading about the treatment Jack was subjected to by this Parliamentary All-Party Inquiry she is, in my opinion, eminently qualified her to speak plainly about the standards of parliamentary behaviour. The shocking quality contained within the content of her narrative amounts to psychological torture in my understanding of mental health and the treatment of someone clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress.
It is a matter of synchronicity, that Jack’s piece was published the same day as the report into the CIA’s use of torture. Here is Glen Greenwald who is far more knowledgeable on the matter than I.
On the same day, David Cameron visited Auschwitz, which prompted this post from Mike Sivier at Vox Political. I agree with everything Mike has to say but would particularly draw attention to the following information contained within his piece:
The work capability assessment and suicide – a.k.a. ‘chequebook euthanasia’ | Vox Political. You can find more information about ‘nudging’ here.
Finally, it is important to know that there are direct links between the CIA Torture Report and the British government’s treatment of our hungry poor via the psychologists involved.
“Why aren’t you dead yet?”…. on Human Rights Day.
I have drawn my own conclusions. I leave you to come to yours. For information: I will be raising the matter with my MP since I see he is a part of the Inquiry, which makes this an all-party problem concerning both Houses.
Meanwhile, here’s my tribute to the courage of Jack Monroe.
Today is Human Rights Day. It’s also the day Jack Monroe went public about her experience of giving evidence to The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Hunger and Food Poverty.
It took a few hours for my feeling response to her piece to make itself known. Emotional intelligence is not like intellectual knowledge. The intellect is a top-down process where the mind goes first and other human responses come later. Emotions are different. They are felt first and float up to intellectual awareness in their own time, hence the time needed to begin to understand both how I was feeling and why. Now I know and my fury seems as if it knows no bounds. To understand why, we first need to consider how Jack described her experience of appearing before this committee:
My head in my hands, choking out words, tears rushing down hot, humiliated cheeks, I raised my head to look at the array of varying expressions looking back from the other side of the room; a Labour MP, two Conservative peers, and a Conservative MP looked back, a mixture of horror and sympathy as I publicly crashed and burned. Fear and humiliation and self-loathing leaping on me like a set of hyenas, as I sobbed: “I can’t even answer my telephone, any more. If it’s an unknown number, if it rings early in the morning, or I don’t know who it is. I can’t even open my own front door. It’s not the same front door, as the one I sat with my back to, morning and afternoon, cowering as bailiffs battered on the other side of it. It’s not the same phone number. It’s not the same front door. I’m not in debt. There are no more final demands, no more red capital letters, no more threats. But … I can’t even open my own front door.”
I gave evidence at the all-party parliamentary group inquiry into hunger and food bank use in the UK a few months ago, one of over 1,000 pieces of evidence heard by the committee – expecting to recount a story told and retold at party conferences, charity events, radio interviews, to journalists, again and again and again over the past two and a half years. But the APPG wanted more than ‘hunger hurts’. They asked, probed, dug, questioned, opening up the old wounds, and made notes as I trembled in my seat, recalling nights of wrapping a baby up in a vest and a babygro and a dressing gown before putting him down to sleep. Of going to bed shortly afterwards because there’s nothing else to do, and it’s dark, and cold, and you sold the telly, so you go to bed at 7pm and curl up beside him and hold him, because it feels like the only good thing you have. Of being asked, very quietly, by a member of staff at my local children’s centre if a food bank referral form would help us out “for a little while”, as she noticed us having seconds at lunch, and thirds, and three or four sugars in endless cups of tea, of offering to wash up and boxing up the leftovers to take home, away from the eyes of the other mums in the group.
As someone in poverty myself, I can fully understand where Jack is coming from. Each time a brown envelope comes through my own front door, I always experience panic even before usually discovering they are not addressed to me. Whilst my own ‘trauma triggers’ are not the same as Jack’s, they produce very similar responses. We are not alone – there are thousands, maybe millions, of British people likely to feel the same way as we do, each for our own individual reasons.
The roots of the word ‘trauma’ comes from the Greek: traumat-, trauma wound, alteration of trōma; akin to Greek titrōskein to wound, tetrainein to pierce, and they inform our psychological understanding of what it means to be traumatised. The traumatised individual is understood to experience the following:
“The essential psychological effect of trauma is a shattering of innocence. Trauma creates a loss of faith that there is any safety, predictability, or meaning in the world, or any safe place in which to retreat. It involves utter disillusionment. Because traumatic events are often unable to be processed by the mind and body as other experiences are, due to their overwhelming and shocking nature, they are not integrated or digested. The trauma then takes on a life of its own and, through its continued effects, haunts the survivor and prevents normal life from continuing until the person gets help.”
In her own words, Jack Monroe meets the psychotherapeutic definition of a woman experiencing post-traumatic stress as a result of her personal experiences of poverty. Under such conditions, it takes a very brave woman to publicly and formally step up to the social responsibility of giving evidence to an all-parliamentary-party inquiry into hunger and food poverty. I have nothing but admiration for this young woman balanced only by my furious professional disgust at her treatment when she did so.
So let’s examine how these parliamentarians treated at least one of the witnesses who appeared before them.
We already know how members of both Houses regard Britain’s hungry poor. For example, the following occurring during a House of Common’s debate on foodbanks in December 2013:
As Fiona MacTaggart, the Labour MP for Slough, described how people battled over end of day bargains in her local Tesco, she was almost drowned out by laughter and jeering from the government benches.
Ms MacTaggart could barely be heard over the braying as she described how the supermarket had been forced to draft in extra security and asked “Isn’t that a shocking sign in the 21st century?”
Labour MP for Copeland in Cumbria, Jamie Reed told The Mirror: “I regret to say the laughter from the government benches says more about this issue than words ever could.”
Not for the first time were reports of the suffering inflicted on the poor met with such disdain by the same government that inflicted the traumas in the first place. So anyone who gave evidence to the Inquiry into Hunger and Food Poverty knew they were likely to be facing at least some of the abusers who had inflicted their trauma. It carries the same emotional charge that is known to impact the victims of rape when they face their rapist in court in order to secure a conviction. Just like rape victims, the experience can be as bad as the trauma itself… just as Jack described.
There were over 1000 witnesses to that Inquiry. No doubt some were representatives of organisations involved in helping our impoverished hungry. It is one thing to represent such an Inquiry with professional information as, indeed, Jack had planned to do herself: ‘I gave evidence… expecting to recount a story told and retold at party conferences, charity events, radio interviews, to journalists, again and again and again over the past two and a half years.’ This is psychologically
manageable – it allows our coping mechanisms to remain in place whilst still imparting the necessary information for an Inquiry to draw formal conclusions without causing further trauma or harm to the witness themselves. But the Inquiry did not permit Jack Monroe her boundaries or psychological protections: “…the APPG wanted more than ‘hunger hurts’. They asked, probed, dug, questioned, opening up the old wounds, and made notes as I trembled in my seat…” Factual information and trauma reporting were not sufficient; these MP’s wanted to see blood and made certain than they got it. If they could do that to Jack, who else did they do it to? What support was offered to these witnesses, after these baying-for-blood poverty and hunger voyeurs had finished tearing them open to reveal the still-bleeding traumas beneath their precarious and fragile coping mechanisms? Were they offered access to counselling or therapy in order to recover from their ordeal or were they, like Jack, sent home with wounds raw and untended? How many were sent back to the very same poverty they were reporting to these parliamentarians that seem to me to be indistinguishable from vampires?
As a former psychotherapist, I regard this as unethical, unprofessional, improper, dishonourable, unprincipled, cruel and unscrupulous behaviour towards victims traumatised by the same group of perpetrators, now claiming to be undertaking an Inquiry into how bad it has become. It’s as sick as rapists cross-examining their victims in court. In my book, it quite likely amounts to psychological torture. That well-paid, well-nourished, subsidised, all-expenses-paid professionals should demand that their victims bare their wounds for all to see whilst they remain safe, secure and snicker in their ivory tower is obscene. If all those who gave evidence of their personal experiences of hunger and food poverty were treated like Jack, then the perpetrators of the trauma permitted the traumatised no defence, no protection and no support whilst they fed on the suffering of their victims under the guise of ‘collecting evidence’.
Truly, is there anything in the darkest recesses of human ‘nature’ more sickening?
Should any member of this inquiry think to defend their actions towards Jack and the other victims, I invite you to STOP NOW and discover how it feels to be defenceless because if you weren’t perpetrating this abomination, you were enabling it. There is no defence to either. What Jack Monroe described in her column today is indefensible on all levels of interpersonal or social relationship, and it’s high time you learned what that feeling is like because you won’t change until you do.