News-Foodbank box

Are all banks bad? Not so, say Anglican and Roman Catholic Church clergy who used their Easter sermons to speak out about poverty and destitution. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, used the growth of UK Foodbanks to show how people still suffer in the UK – not just in Syria and the Ukraine. Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster spoke of those who feel ‘excluded from the fruits of the Earth’ whilst the Bishop of Truro, Tim Thornton said welfare cuts were having ‘sinful consequences’. Then they banded together with a few hundred other clergy to send a letter to the coalition government demanding more action against poverty, claiming that more than half of Foodbank users are in that situation because of welfare reforms.

The UK’s largest Foodbank provider, the Trussell Trust has confirmed a 51% rise in useage in the last couple of years with young, single adults now matched by single mums, families and OAP’s.

One manager said: ‘They’re not all unemployed. Many are working on minimum-wage salaries or zero hour contracts or training in part-time jobs like security guarding’. The Foodbank users blame their situation on price rises as well as benefits cuts – something which government departments have leapt upon to deflect criticism. Although the Prime Minister has praised the work of Foodbanks the Dept. of Work and Pensions has hit back at criticism of welfare cuts. The Civil Servants have suggested the real problem is high food prices due to global trade protectionism (e.g. the EU Common Agricultural Policy?) They point out that global energy prices trebled between 2003 and 2010 whilst environmentalists continue to reject the costs of energy independence – nuclear power, coal-fired power stations and fracked gas.

There’s nothing new about ‘turbulent priests’ having a poke at government policy but at least they don’t get their heads chopped off for doing so nowadays. The debate echoes last Autumn’s announcement by Business Secretary Vince Cable that HMG was investigating whether ‘zero-hours’ employment contracts should be regulated. The findings of the review commissioned from Cambridge University by his Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) certainly suggests so. It concludes such contracts are ‘damaging to the mental health of most employees’.

Researchers Alex Wood and Brendan Burchell spent a year talking to shopfloor workers and union officials in an ‘unnamed supermarket chain’ before concluding ‘Workplace flexibility is thought of as helping employees but has become completely subverted across much of the service sector to suit the Employer – and huge numbers of workers are suffering as a consequence’. Their parallel study of an American supermarket chain produced similar findings. I think I know who they’re talking about.

‘People and their families are suffering enormous levels of anxiety and even mental illness because of what is fast becoming common practice’.

‘Extreme’ part-time contracts and ‘key-time’ contracts which offer a small number of guaranteed hours and ‘frequent labour-matching’ where managers rearrange shifts to meet customer demand are blamed for creating job insecurity and stress. Employers often promote them as ‘work when you want’ but in reality managers use them to hit local sales targets whilst head office pursues a hidden agenda of reducing NI contributions and dodging employment legislation. ‘It’s the invidious way that vulnerable people at the lower end of the labour market are forced to live their lives that requires scrutiny’ the Cambridge researchers conclude. ‘People and their families are suffering enormous levels of anxiety and even mental illness because of what is fast becoming common practice’.

Aren’t you pleased that you’re self-employed? This sounds like another problem for Justin Welby to sort out once he’s dealt with Gay marriage and Payday loan Companies.

In the UK in 2012 there were 8,100 cases of TB transmitted human-to-human.

On a less serious note the press has exposed a couple of excellent stories for cat-lovers. After vets diagnosed several cases of feline tuberculosis followed by two cases of TB amongst cat owners the Public Health authorities went into overdrive. Cat-lovers were reassured Moggie isn’t a ticking time bomb on the sofa. Bertie Squire, Professor at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine pointed out ‘The real problem of human TB in the UK has nothing to do with cows, badgers, or cats – it’s humans.’ He confirmed that you’re much more likely to catch TB (or something far less curable) from that charming foreign waiter you met on holiday. Also that in the UK in 2012 there were 8,100 cases of TB transmitted human-to-human and only 26 from animals to humans – and they were all from cattle. This news came as a welcome bonus to badgers who also learnt DEFRA had cancelled it’s experimental cull in Somerset. HM Government has now switched investment from incompetent marksmen to vaccines for badgers and cattle. This should save £30million of compensation paid-out to cattle farmers each year.

And finally: Zero hours working and job-sharing have finally spread to Downing Street. The Prime Minister has forced the ‘Chief mouser to the Cabinet Office’ – ‘Larry’ Cameron into a job-share with streetfighter and former stray ‘Freya’ Osborne. Larry’s persistently low kill-rate has been boosted by Freya who has survived Cat TB and the mean streets of Notting Hill without any Foodbank assistance. Armed police cross the street and avoid her when she strolls past.

Show her some respect.

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