Or did they?
Let’s read the actual motion.
That this House notes that the number of people using foodbanks provided by the Trussell Trust alone has increased from 41,000 in 2010 to more than 500,000 since April this year, of whom one third were children; further notes that over the last three years prices have risen faster than wages; further notes the assessment of the Trussell Trust that the key factors in the rising resort to foodbanks are rising living costs and stagnant wages, as well as problems including delays to social security payments and the impact of the under-occupancy penalty; calls on the Government to publish the results of research into foodbanks commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which Ministers promised would be made public in the summer of 2013; and further calls on the Government to bring forward measures to reduce dependency on foodbanks, including a freeze on energy prices, a water affordability scheme, measures to end abuses of zero hours contracts, incentives to companies to pay a living wage and abolition of the under-occupancy penalty.
Jack’s petition simply said:
Debate UK hunger and rise in foodbank use
That’s kind of different from that motion.
There’s no way that government MPs from either Conservative or Lib Dem are going to allow a motion through that calls for them to freeze energy prices, change employment legislation, bring in a living wage and abolish bedroom tax. Whatever you call it. So to some extent the debate is reduced to political point scoring as MPs reportedly giggle about the plebs fighting over reduced fruit and veg. (Check the hansard for poor people in Slough. Although there’s no note about giggling – that may be a twitter/media insert.)
What could we have debated? Could we have got the government to admit that increasing reliance on foodbanks in 2013 is disgraceful? It’s not big society for families to be relying on charity to feed their children. Particularly if many of those families are actually in work. Or when the charities pick and choose who is deserving. But as the government
suppresseddelayed a report into food bank use, we don’t really know what is going on, and aren’t likely to any time soon.
Could we have discussed the tax system which allows companies to pretend they are making no money, and therefore pay no tax, while benefiting from a workforce subsidised by the tax payer? This even has MPs recommending an Amazon boycott, although quite frankly, the practice is so widespread that that seems a little pointless. (This article is on Amazon.com but interesting reading if you can fight your way past the adverts.) Perhaps we could have looked at whether the under occupancy subsidy (yes, bedroom tax) really does compare like with like in social and private renting (short answer: no) and what the actual purpose of it was (save money v free up blocked housing – clue it does neither)
All in all, I find this type of debate wearing. The two political extremes crash on undisturbed in their orthodoxies, people who are attending foodbanks don’t experience any change in their realities, and those of us in the middle froth ineffectively about the out of touch political class. We need a debate all right. We need a debate about why a group of politicians mainly indistinguishable from each other can potter on destroying people’s lives on a whim while doing nothing about the structural inequalities in society that keep people struggling to with decisions on whether to eat or heat. We need to work out whether minimum wage, living wage or basic income is the way to actually promote a fair society. (I’m tending more towards basic income daily.)
We need to discuss whether printing money and giving it to the banks is really the fairest way to boost the economy, or whether distributing it around the population might work a bit more effectively. And we need to discuss why we have basically no politicians who want to do any more than tinker around the edges while taking home their expenses that the rest of us have to pay out of salaries.
You know, I’m beginning to suspect Russell Brand is right. And it massively hurts me to say that. But perhaps voting for any of them does just let them crash on in the pretence they have a mandate when I don’t remember ever voting for any of this, and I’m not sure any of the rest of you do either. I’m heading towards writing “not in my name” on the next ballot paper I see, and at least then I’ll feel that they can’t even pretend they have my collusion.
What do you think?