Thursday, 14 September 2017

Jacob Rees-Mogg and the Conservative Party: A Reality Which Is Protected by Financial Cycles

Usually, here in Financial Regulation Matters, posts will start with a quick introduction to the subject at hand, and then will dive straight into the analysis. However, in today’s piece, it is important that we depart from this format and spell out, precisely, the sentiment of the following piece. Firstly, regular readers of Financial Regulation Matters will know that the posts often confront political issues, as is necessary given the interconnectedness of politics, financial regulation, the economy, and society moreover, but it is rarely from a biased angle; the posts are not on the ‘left’ of the political spectrum, because they are pro-business, and they are not on the ‘right’ of the spectrum because they do not subscribe to the pro-market sentiments that are often, and correctly associated with the political ‘right’. However, this post will be focusing on the political ‘right’ and the Conservative party in particular. Additionally, the posts attempt to offer a (somewhat) balanced assessment before concluding as the author sees fit, but in this post the assessment will be unapologetically critical of the Conservative Party and particularly of its increasingly-infamous back-bencher Jacob Rees-Mogg, who today was quoted as saying that the increased usage of food-banks since the Financial Crisis is ‘uplifting’ because, rather incredibly, the Tory party have made people aware of their existence in opposition to the Labour Government that went before: ‘to have charitable support given by people voluntarily to support their fellow citizens, I think is rather uplifting and shows what a good, compassionate country we are’. This sentiment, based upon previous posts here in Financial Regulation Matters, will be challenged and in the strongest possible terms – such a sentiment serves only one purpose, and that is to confirm the brutality of the Conservative ideology, and the fundamental requirement of financial ruin to be present for that ideology to prevail.

The usage of food-banks, particularly since the onset of the Crisis, has been covered before here in Financial Regulation Matters. We first saw how 40% of the working population in Britain have savings of less than £100, with 2.6 million struggling with severe debt problems and 8.8 million struggling financially; the majority of these struggling people subsequently turned to pay-day loan companies, with 77% of those in 2013 alone doing so to pay for food. Then, in another post, we saw how even University students are being negatively affected by the economic environment, with the establishment of University food-banks for their students now coming into effect, just as investors flock to the student accommodation sector which has resulted in marked increases in rental costs for all students, including those who are financially disadvantaged. Yet, there are more aspects which have been alluded to along the way, because the focus on the systemic causes of these problems dictates that different pieces of evidence will be used at different times. Now that we are looking directly at this problem, because of Rees-Mogg’s comments, we can discuss how over the last year the Trussell Trust provided for over 1.1 million ‘three day emergency food supplies’, of which nearly half a million were provided for Children; the most prominent reason for the usage of Trussell Trust food-banks was ‘low income’. On the one hand it will hardly be a surprise that the brutal changes to the benefit system, which includes the widespread usage of ‘sanctions’ for benefit claimants, has resulted in a marked increase in food bank usage from those sanctioned claimants, although that situation is not just reserved for those that have been sanctioned, with an increased usage of food banks being the result of botched benefit decisions, the changing to ‘Universal Credit’, and also the associated effects of the increased testing of disabled-related benefits, which have seen a record number of people put through the reassessment/appeal/tribunal processes. Readers in Britain, and those familiar with the British system, will not be surprised by this; it is almost commonly accepted that the poor and vulnerable will be the first to be negatively affected by Conservative policies, which is a remarkable statement to make but should not garner much opposition. Yet, it is the post-Crisis development of working families attending food banks which has differentiated this latest onslaught against the general public, with a number of people from across the working spectrum being affected. Although obtaining any precise figure of the usage of food banks by those in employment is extremely difficult owing to the disjointed nature of the food bank network (the Trussell Trust represents a large proportion, but there are hundreds of independent endeavours assisting those in need), and also that defining the nature of ‘in employment’ is problematic because of the effects that seasonal or DWP-enforced work can have, there is evidence to suggest that those in employment which is classified as part-time, or ‘insecure employment’, are increasingly turning to food banks, with a sample taken in Glasgow revealing that 20% of food bank usage came from those in steady, but low-paying employment; it seems the BBC’s statement that ‘the best inoculation against needing a food bank seems to be a full-time permanent job’ is correct, but the decrease in the availability of those jobs since the Crisis puts that comment into perspective. All of this addresses the visible issues associated with food bank usage, but there are other issues that will not be addressed in this short piece that are important to remember, such as the increased mental health-related problems that are associated with such levels of poverty, the impact upon the social mobility of the adults and children trapped in this particular system, and many more. However, apologetically moving on from such concerns, a look at the actual comments of Rees-Mogg before we conclude will be revealing.

Speaking on the LBC radio station, Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested that ‘I think there is good within food banks and the real reason for the rise in numbers is that people know that they’re there’, after which he stated that ‘I don’t think the state can do everything… it tries to provide a base of welfare that should allow people to make ends meet during the course of the week, but on some occasions that will not work’. This latest demonstration of his, and his parties’ sentiments came just days after his interview on early-morning television on which he declared his opposition to abortion in all circumstances including pregnancy as the result of rape, and also his absolute opposition to same-sex marriages. These incredible clarifications of his views are all overshadowed by the potential for his leadership bid for the Conservative Party, which is something he denies but is becoming an almost consistent suggestion. However, in relation to Rees-Mogg’s views on food bank usage, the analysis above is clear that the development and increased usage of these food banks is not something to be praised, in fact it is quite the opposite.

If we look at historical and economic patterns, there are trends which can be identified. Quite often in British politics, it will be the Conservative Party that is elected to oversee periods of economic recovery, with their ruthless approach to economic cuts and pro-business strategies perceived as being required to correct the imbalances that cause economic crises/downturns. We can see this in the recent past, with the Conservative-majority Coalition elected in the wake of the Crisis embarking upon a regime of savage cuts across the board, but particularly against the poorest in society. The benefits of this approach, in relation to the ideologies associated with the Labour Party as the main opposition (in whatever guise that party may be representing itself) is not the point of this piece. The point is that the sentiment put forward by Rees-Mogg is indicative of his and his party’s culture – one must look after themselves, often through such absurd defining factors like ‘hard work’. This sentiment is particularly absurd and cruel because its fundamentally discounts the effects of external forces upon a person’s development, and Rees-Mogg and his multi-million pound investment fund business can never experience those forces. Is it Rees-Mogg’s fault that he was born into wealth? Obviously not. Is it Rees-Mogg’s fault that he is a white male given an array of privileges that many in society will never experience? Obviously not. But, is it Rees-Mogg’s fault that he turns the discussion regarding food bank usage away from the causes of its increase and towards the issue of making vulnerable people aware of their existence? Absolutely. People like Rees-Mogg, whether they accept or not, have been blessed with tremendous wealth, opportunity and influence, and it is their duty to advance the collective wellbeing; yet, what he does, repeatedly, is advance his wellbeing and the wellbeing of what he knows. Some may argue that this is not his fault, that he cannot know how people at the other end of society live, but this is no argument. There have been many men and women who have been afforded great wealth but committed themselves to utilising that privilege to the benefit of others; this is simply not the case here. Rees-Mogg’s approach to dealing with the effects of venality within society is to ignore it and tell those affected that a. it is not the job of others to help them and b. that they should be grateful that organisations like the Trussell Trust are helping them. In reality, this portion of society has been abused by the venal, and charged for their actions. In reality, this portion of society have been attacked, are now being told by a representative of that attack that any help they get to deal with the consequences should be gratefully received. This is Rees-Mogg’s right to say these things, but it is also this author’s right to say that if Jacob Rees-Mogg is a. not challenged properly on his horrendous and regressive beliefs and moreover b. elevated to anywhere near the leadership of the Conservative Party, this country will no doubt experience one of the darkest periods in its modern history – the level of Rees-Mogg’s regressive attitude is that serious.

Keywords – Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative Party, Politics, Poverty, Food Banks, Economic Cycles, Wealth. 

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