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This hunger is no game – it's ConDem Britain 2013

Malnutrition, hunger, debt and homelessness. That’s the price increasing numbers of ordinary people are paying for ConDem austerity as the fiction of “economic recovery” passes the majority by.

Cases of malnutrition treated at NHS hospitals in England have nearly doubled since the 2008 economic crash, as the costs of heating and eating rise and incomes are driven down.

Primary and secondary diagnoses of malnutrition – caused by lack of food or very poor diet – rose from 3,161 in 2008-09 to 5,499 last year.

Increasing desperation to avoid starvation in one of the world’s richest and unequal countries has seen the number of visits to food banks rise to around half a million a year, according to Oxfam.

The largest food bank operator, the Trussell Trust, fed 26,000 people in 2008 – but the number has risen to more than 350,000 in the last five years. Adrian Curtis, its UK director, said: “It’s not surprising that rates of malnutrition have also increased. We see people coming to food banks who’ve gone without food for days.”

Now, a second food bank is opening in prime minister Cameron’s Oxfordshire constituency. Carterton mayor Lynn Little said she took the decision to open one in the town because so many people use the existing facility in nearby Witney.

She said: “There is a need for it because over the last few years we have had the recession, utility bills have gone up and the cost of food has continued to rise.”

Hard-up parents, brothers and sisters are joining pupils at one in five of the schemes run by charity Magic Breakfast. Founder Carmel McConnell said: ‘More and more schools are giving out food to parents and siblings. Families have seen the cost of food rise and rise while wages have stayed the same.”

There are also an estimated 80,000 children homeless, according to the housing campaign Shelter.
Cameron himself will be celebrating the latest figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development which raised its growth forecasts for the UK amidst more gloomy predictions for the rest of the world’s economy. 

The OECD, which groups the world’s richest countries, increased its estimates for UK growth to 1.4% this year and 2.4% next year, significantly higher than its forecasts in June. 

The OECD is urging the ConDem government to press on with its combined programme of austerity and cutting government debt, saying it was “important to maintain existing consolidation plans to restore fiscal sustainability”.

This will be no consolation for the millions whose mounting personal debts, intensified by the bedroom tax and capped universal benefit, are pushing them over the financial knife-edge. 

personal debt in the UK totals 1.43 trillion

Average household debt is now £54,000 – almost twice the level a decade ago. Total personal debt in the UK totals £1.43 trillion, close to its all-time high. According to the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), households owe the equivalent of 94 per cent of the UK's economic output last year. Only Ireland has a higher ratio of personal debt to GDP amongst European countries.

Much of it stems from mortgages, but the CSJ is warning that poor people are hit hardest by unsecured consumer debt which has almost tripled in the last 20 years to nearly £160bn. 

Those already deep in debt, those driven to add to it through door-step or online lenders, and those who opt for the Help to Buy scheme which is pushing house prices up are facing the imminent prospect of harsher terms.  

The OECD is not alone in nervously warning of dangers ahead when the inflationary consequences of credit growth mean the UK and the US are obliged to increase interest rates from their historic lows. 

The CSJ said more than 26,000 UK households have been classed as “homeless” by local authorities in the past five years, and warned that the number could increase if interest rates rises. Some 3.9m families do not have enough savings to cover their rent or mortgage for more than a month.

The benefits of the economic “recovery” are visible only to the hedge funds and shareholders of the global corporations, but for the majority who are paying for it the daily struggle for survival can only intensify.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor
20 November 2013

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