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Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Food Bank Controversy ...

Food Banks are much in the news at present, and are something of a 'hot' topic in many people's minds. The reason is not hard to find, we are bombarded with news items about the 'rising number' of Food Banks, and the need for them. Add in a liberal mix of politicians all trying to make political capital, abuse of statistics in the media and you have a ready made subject to 'prove' that poverty is on the rise. Recently a friend and former colleague who happens to be legally qualified and does voluntary work for a number of charities who work with those in need, on benefits or in low-paid employment. He had some very interesting things to say about the misrepresentation of the figures on Food Banks, and pointed me to a website which provides even more interesting information. 

The Trussel Trust is a major provider of food banks, and there website has a range of very accessible and readable statistics. According to their figures they have provided 913,138 people with 'emergency food supplies' sufficient for three days. Note that the numbers are for 'people' NOT 'families', and one more point of note in this is that each time a person returns, that person is counted as a 'new' customer. My friend informs me that this is further complicated by the fact that the referring charities hand out the food bank vouchers to individuals, NOT families, so a single adult applying and qualifying will receive one voucher, a second for a partner and another for each child. And they will receive the same number each time they reapply. Thus, someone who comes in say every fortnight and receives five food bank chitties is going to appear in the statistics as 26 times 5 people - 130 people in the years statistics.

Of course, not everyone does that, and the suggestion from the participating charities figures is that probably fully two-thirds of those in receipt of this assistance don't. The second half of this is, of course, to put the numbers into a proper perspective. As I said earlier, we are talking individual people NOT 'families'. Next we must look at it against total population in the UK, and we find that even with the 'repeat users' it is still actually quite a small percentage of the population. 

The Trust keeps a record of why people are drawing on the Food Banks, and now we find really interesting statistics on why people are 'in need'. The top three, in order, are -

1. Delayed Benefits
2. Low Income
3. Benefit Changes.

The fourth is equally interesting. It is listed as 'Other', but this includes those who persist in believing there is a horse somewhere, that will make them rich. Unsurprisingly, Debt and Unemployment come next, with Homelessness, Domestic Violence, and Sickness in that order. Certainly, in our society, the top three may be addressable, and numbers five, six and seven should be. 

Sadly, there is little one can really do about those who spend their wages (and family's domestic subsistence) in the local betting shop, short of shutting such premises altogether. However, we need, once again, to look at this in a balanced manner. Once again, the news papers and the 'word on the street' has been somewhat misleading. What it has failed to mention when reproting the 'increase in reliance on food banks' is that there has been a change in the way certain 'Benefits' were dealt with. 

'Benefit' is probably the wrong word to describe what used to be called a 'Crisis Loan' which was issued by a Local Authority and was supposed to 'tide a family over' a temporary shortfall in income. As of 1st April 2013, a change in the law switched off these funds, but switched it to an alternative system. Crisis Loans had to be repaid, which meant that ultimately all you were doing was deferring the crunch. Under the new system most Local Authorities issue 'Food Vouchers' which are redeemable at a Food Bank and give three days worth of food. These are not 'means tested' so anyone can, in an emergency, qualify. Naturally, those who would and could benefit most are the elderly, young folk struggling to get started, the homeless and the sick. 

We must also look at the sudden increase in the number of these food banks. Once again, it goes back to the changed legislation. The rise in the use of the food banks directly correlates to the rise in the number of these facilities. Did they increase due to demand, or did usage increase due to availability. It would seem to be a bit of both, not least due to the removal of a 'cash loan' system and its replacement with the vouchers redeemable only in food. As my friend put it, the loans had to be repaid, and there was no guarantee that the money handed out wouldn't wind up attached to a betting slip in the local bookmakers. Now, at least, those who receive the vouchers, get food on the table. 

Yes, it is a great shame that we need them, but the fact is we do. Almost 70 years of political meddling to 'lift people out of poverty' haven't achieved it, nor are they likely to. Human nature is, by nature, inclined to certain behaviours, and some of those tend to drive people toward poverty. So we have food banks, and more food banks are being opened, but it doesn't mean more people are 'falling into poverty' because the usage is increasing. Changes to the benefit of 'Emergency Loans' mean food vouchers, not money for the betting shop or the pub. 

Unfortunately, the stigmatising of Food Banks by the ignorant is putting off many who should be making use of them. That is something that concerns my friend very deeply - to the point it makes him extremely angry when he encounters those he considers 'numpties' who are grinding ideological axes founded on complete ignorance of the subject. As my friend wrote to me - 
Finally with all the do gooders shaking their heads in disgust at the foodbank, they have by default made them unavailable to many folks who wont accept the vouchers (my experience), because there is a now a stigma about them, thanks to all the best meant criticisms. Many are too proud to be seen going to them. They are usually the proud OAPS and genuinely most needy.
Yes, it's sad we need them, but they, like many things in life, are a necessary evil, and I plead with everyone to be careful when ranting about them that they don't by accident stigmatise them and the people who need them.
And the next person I hear using foodbanks as a cheap political point scoring tool “wull get their heed pood aff”

For those who don't speak Glaswegian, that bit in parenthesis translates as - "will get their head pulled off". In my view, they will deserve it.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Turkey 'Aiding and Abetting' ISIL?

One gets the strong impression that Turkey is covertly aiding and abetting the Islamic State murder machine. Reading the argument over support for the Kurdish fighters defending Kobani, and how 'porous' the Turkish border with the territory now controlled by ISIS/L is, one wonders what all those Turkish troops are actually there to prevent. I suspect their orders are not to stop ISIS/L, but to prevent any Kurdish fighters from escaping IS thugs.

The Turks have watched this tragedy unfold, and they have made no effort whatsoever to stop the steady flow of 'Jihadis' rushing to join ISIS/L. One can only speculate on how much in the form of weapons, munitions and 'materiel' for the fight is being supplied directly to the ISIS/L fighting machine by the Turkish Army and across this border. If I were a NATO Commander, I would be seriously looking at how much 'Intelligence' material I gave my Turkish 'Ally' about anything planned against ISIS/L.

Turkey does have a problem with this little war, one which will come back to bite them very, very hard I think. A large part of their reluctance to do anything to prevent the slaughter on their border is that the victims are, largely, Kurds. Roughly a quarter of the existing 'territorial area' of modern Turkey is populated by Kurds who have long cherished the desire to have their own 'nation state'. This would include the area of Iraq and the portion of Syria that includes two major cities - one of them Kobani - and the Turks have fought a long and very bloody campaign to prevent this. It now sticks in their collective craws, that their 'enemy', the Kurdish PKK, is the only force that seems to be having any success against ISIS/L. Should the Kurds win, the Turks will face a battle hardened, rearmed and very determined army of Kurds who will want their independence from an oppressive regime that is currently prepared to see their people sacrificed in order to prevent just this scenario from arising.

Both ways the Turks face a major problem here. If they aid the Kurds - as other NATO members are doing - they will have to address the political ambitions of their 'enemy within'. If they allow the Kurds to be defeated, and allow the genocide to go unpunished and unchecked that will follow, they will, within a short time, face the ISIS/L Jihad to include their country in the 'Caliphate'. If the Kurds win ... Well, I don't have to paint a picture.

One thing is very clear, Turkey faces a 'no-win' situation of their own manufacture, and now the only thing they can think of doing is to prevent the Kurds from winning. So the are covertly helping the 'enemy of my enemy' in the hope the venomous ISIS/L will not turn and bite them when their objectives in Syria and Iraq have been achieved.

If the rest of NATO and the world have any sense at all, they will not allow this to continue. And they will not allow ISIS/L or their supporters anywhere in the world, to continue, to receive arms, or to 'fade back into the crowd'. Those that wave the black flag of ISIS/L anywhere must be hauled into court and face the full penalty of the law for their support, encouragement and participation in mass murder, genocide and religious oppression. Make no mistake, if the ISIS/L win in Kobani, they will not stop there, and the Turks know it, but are paralysed by their fear of a Kurdish 'settlement'.

It will destroy them. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Meet the Archbishop of Canterbury

A fascinating interview with the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury, ++Justin Welby.

It is just over an hour, but well worth spending the time listening to his responses to the questions from Canon Jeffrey John. Humour, humility, confidence, faith, personal tragedy ... The making of an Archbishop for the present.

So much he says in this accords with my own experience of faith, it is almost frightening.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Race or Religion?

Listening to a discussion yesterday on the conflict and tensions between 'Palestinians' and 'Israelis' one of the debaters, an earnest young woman, clung to her theme that 'Jews' are simply members of a 'religious movement' and not a distinctive 'race'. Her argument is the familiar secular/humanist one that revolves around the diversity of Jewish genetics, and the relative comparison with 'Palestinian' Arabs. Both, it can be said, are 'Semitic' peoples, and therefore, it is argued, the only distinction is 'religion'. This argument misses a key element of 'Jewishness' - which is that the 'religion' does not, as Shakespeare would phrase it, 'a Jew make'.

Anyone can 'convert' to Judaism, but that does not make them a 'Jew'. To be a Jew, you have to have been born of a Jewish mother. In typically pragmatic fashion, the Jewish 'Law' of inheritance states that 'a man may have many fathers, but only one mother' and therefore inheritance is through ones mother, not your father. As the admirable programme for the BBC by Simon Sharma on the History of the Jews explains, they are a very diverse population. A true 'rainbow' nation, and Judaism (the religion) is just as diverse. It is a monumental mistake to claim they are 'just followers of a religion' and not a 'people' of distinct lineage, whatever the 'genes' indicate. Unless one is completely isolated from contact with other human tribes for, I suspect, at least a thousand years, the chances of retaining one particular 'pure' genetic lineage are pretty remote.

One has only to look at the modern human population of Europe to see this. What makes anyone English, German, French, Scottish or Swiss? Genetic samples of any population with produce matches across the entire spectrum. Does this make us all members of some Pan-European 'tribe? Are all Scots inflicted with red hair and blue eyes? Of course not, but those who argue that 'Jews' are not distinct as a racial group try to advance that argument. In fact, they are misled by their own propaganda, since whether a Jew has his most recent roots in Europe, the steppes of Russia, or the US, there are a number of particular 'markers' in their genes that link them. Once again, that simple statement of 'many fathers, only one mother' comes into play. It is something that should be far more carefully considered - especially in relation to the Jews, who, as Simon Sharma so ably points out, have been the world's 'whipping boys' since the beginning.

So, if their genes are as diverse as everyone elses' (barring the already mentioned unique markers) why is their religion such a unifying force? After all, there are probably as many Jews who do not believe or practice it, as there are those who do. Why, as Simon Sharma tells us, do even those who do not believe or regularly 'practice' the religion, still call themselves 'Jews' and why do they still mark the major festivals following the timeless rituals? That is what seems to confound the secularists, because the 'religion' is a product of the 'race'.

What we call the Old Testament is a remarkable document. Though much of it is allegoric narrative, particularly the first five books, parts are a historical narrative of folk memory, and later parts are the moral discourse on the abuse of power and wealth by the political classes that lead, eventually, to the dispersal, it is a remarkably cohesive story. It is the story of the creating, the welding together, of a people, 'The Jews', as a single unit even in a worldwide 'diaspora'. Few, if any, people on Earth have such a cohesive identity as the Jews. It is far more than their genes, and it transcends their religion, but it is a mistake to attempt to categorise the one without the other. The Bible underpins both the Jew as a race, and the 'Jew' in religion, but, once again, one has to realise that the 'religion' and the 'race' are not just intertwined, but are both badges of 'indentity'.

Yes, they are, by and large, a Semitic people, but that is simply a 'category', a 'label' for those who love to force large issues into small pigeonholes so they can ignore the more complex matters in dealing with them. That, I suspect, is why we have so many problems politically in the world today. By reducing everything to the 'lowest common denominator' those in power, and those on the peripheries who love to voice an opinion on such things, try to ignore and suppress the very real, and far more complex issues such actions are intended to hide. By denying the Jews a distinctive 'Racial Identity' the 'problem' of Israel/Palestine can be reduced to one of 'religion' and from there, the belief can be advanced, that 'religion is the cause of the conflict'.

Convenient, but far from accurate, and a major reason that no solution is likely to be found anytime soon. When those who bandy about the idea that 'being a Jew' is the same as 'being a Muslim' finally realise their assertion does not stand up to scrutiny, we may perhaps begin to find solutions to many more problems in this post 20th Century world.