Malnutrition, austerity and eugenics.

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Earlier this year, I reported that figures released by The Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed 391 people died from malnutrition in 2015. There were 746 hospital admissions for malnutrition in just 12 months. The statistics also showed two people in the UK are admitted to hospital with the condition every day in what campaigners have called a “national scandal.” 

Official figures more recently from the Department of Health reveal that people with malnutrition accounted for 184,528 of days in hospital beds taken up in England taken up last year, a huge rise on 65,048 in 2006-07. The sharp increase is adding to the pressures on hospitals, which are already struggling with record levels of overcrowding and limited resources because of underfunding.

 

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Critics and campaigners have said the upward trend is a result of austerity and rising absolute poverty, deep cutbacks in recent years to meals on wheels services for the elderly and inadequate social care support, especially for older people. 

Theresa May has made it clear there will be no end to Tory austerity, she said:“What I’m clear about is we’re going to continue as we have done in Government over the last six years – ensuring that we’re a country that can live within our means.” 

The figures once again directly contradict the glib claim from government ministers that the rise in the use of food banks is linked to the fact that there are now more of them. Ludicrously, millionaire David Freud has claimed that people use food banks just because they provide a  “free good”.  However, research shows that people turn to charity food as a last resort following a crisis such as the loss of a job, the delays and problems accessing social security benefits, and through benefit sanctions. 

People may only be referred to a food bank by a professional such as a social worker or GP. If someone turns up without a voucher, food bank staff put them in touch with relevant local agencies who can assess whether they need a voucher and signpost them to the right services. The number of people receiving emergency food is disproportionate to the number of new food banks opening: following the welfare “reforms”, by 2013, numbers helped by food banks increased by 170% whilst there was only a 76% increase in new food banks opening. 

Over 50% of children living in poverty in the UK are from working households and many of the people helped by food banks are in work, with the rising cost of living combined with no rise in low wages causing many to hit a crisis where they can’t afford to met basic needs such as eating.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, unearthed the latest figures in a response to a recent parliamentary question submitted to the health minister Nicola Blackwood. He said: 

“These figures paint a grim picture of Britain under the Conservatives. Real poverty is causing vulnerable people, particularly the elderly, to go hungry and undernourished so much so that they end up in hospitalOur research reveals a shocking picture of levels of malnutrition in 21st-century England and the impact it has on our NHS. This is unacceptable in modern Britain.”

In a very wealthy first-world  democracy, it is completely unacceptable that anyone is left hungry, malnourished and in absolute poverty.

The Department of Health figures showed that the number of “bed days” accounted for by someone with a primary or secondary diagnosis of malnutrition rose from 128,361 in 2010-11, the year the coalition came to power, to 184,528 last year – a 61% rise over five years.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence classes someone as malnourished if they have a body mass index of less than 18.5, have suffered the unintentional loss of more than 10% of their weight over the last three to six months, or if they have a BMI under 20 and have unintentionally seen their weight drop by more than 5% over the previous three to six months.

The worrying decision by the chancellor, Philip Hammond, not to fund the NHS or social care with any more money in his autumn statement last week will only worsen this already unacceptable situation.

Ashworth said: “The reality is the government have failed this week to both give the NHS and social care the extra investment it needs while also failing to invest in prevention initiatives to foster healthier lifestyles. The cuts to public health budgets along with an emaciated obesity strategy are both utterly misguided.” 

Figures are not available for exactly how many patients accounted for the 184,528 bed days last year, but information supplied to Ashworth by the House of Commons library shows that 57% of the patients were women and that 42% were over-65s.

Worryingly, four out of five people who needed inpatient hospital care because of malnutrition were admitted as an emergency, which suggests their health had deteriorated significantly in the days before they were taken in.

Not enough health and social care professionals have the time or knowledge to correctly identify malnutrition.

Stephen Dalton, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals, said: “Our members take malnutrition seriously. Good nutrition is a fundamental human right our citizens can expect, and vulnerable, particularly older, people are most at risk of serious consequences if denied basic compassionate care. At a time of unprecedented demand on health and social care we need to be alert and will take seriously any reliable evidence of basic care not being delivered.”

Time and time again, when challenged and confronted with overwhelming empirical evidence of the harm that their class-contingent austerity policies and welfare “reforms” are inflicting on citizens, the government simply deny any “causal link”. They say that the increase in absolute poverty, malnutrition and hunger, deaths and distress are unrelated to their policies, which they claim to be “working”.

With no sign that the government are going to emerge from behind their basic defence mechanism of collective denial – nor are the Conservatives remotely interested in investigating a clear correlation between their blatant attacks on the poorest citizens via their draconian policies and the terrible hardships people are suffering –  we do have to wonder what the real intention is underpinning such clearly targeted austerity.

Conservative ideology seems to be founded on the hypothesis of an inborn and “natural order” – a society that is based on a human hierarchy of worth. The Conservatives feel justified that they are part of a superior class in society and therefore they have an entitlement to hold power. Their policies don’t include the majority of us in their design or aims. The government are not democratic, they are authoritarians. Conservative policies act upon ordinary citizens and have become increasingly detached from citizen needs.

I was accused of the terrible crime of being an “interfering do-gooder” recently by someone with social Darwinist ideals. I couldn’t understand his ferocity. Then I made a connection, the proverbial penny dropped. Again. I suddenly felt very weary, disgusted and shocked – the recognition froze me. Again

Historically, eugenicists thought that misguided “do-gooders”, by giving poor people help and support, were allowing them to survive “unnaturally”, and were consequently interfering in human “natural selection”, a benign force which they thought was “deselecting” the people with the “weakest” genes and the “moral defectives”.  The Conservatives moralise about people who are poor and their punitive anti-welfare policies indicate plainly that they think that poor people have moral deficits.

The Conservative message that poverty is caused by character or behavioural “defects” and not socioeconomic and political circumstances should have been ringing alarm bells very loudly everywhere. The problem with authoritarian governments is they usually have sufficient power, one way or another, to mute the alarm. The first base of power over public perceptions that all authoritarians build is invariably facilitated by the corporate mass media. 

Austerity, “the national debt”, “a country living within its means”, “hardworking families”, the scrounger/striver rhetoric, “hard choices” and the “culture of entitlement” has all been a smokescreen for eugenic policies.

We cannot find any comfort in the belief that the government are simply neglectful policy makers. The persistent and loud denial regarding the increasingly precarious existence of the poorest citizens – especially disabled people – and the loud refusal to investigate the correlation between austerity policies and social outcomes that are damaging and harmful, and to consider the empirical evidence of humanitarian harm presented by citizens, academics, charities and campaigners, indicates a government that is not ignorant of the consequences, yet has no intention of changing their policies. The Conservatives are appallingly unconcerned about the terrible harm they are inflicting on invididuals and on our society.

 “Eugenic goals are most likely to be attained under another name than eugenics.” – Frederick Osborn

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20 thoughts on “Malnutrition, austerity and eugenics.

  1. Is it worth pointing out that even if you were a strict believer in eugenic darwinian principles (and of course it´s more than questionable how if at all they might apply in a complex civilised welfare state) the survival or otherwise of people past reproductive age will have zero effect on the ´fitness´ of the community, except in so far as the need to support them, the social burden they represent, makes it less likely that their close relatives will give birth. This seems too weak a link to be credible under modern British circumstances.
    Indeed, if people did take care of their elderly neighbours and relatives, we´d hardly be seeing the malnutrition figures you quote. I´m actually quite shocked that there are communities where people are allowed to quietly starve themselves to death. They can´t all be eccentric recluses can they?

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    1. It’s more about “the social burden they represent”. Notions of “fitness” have been conflated with wealth and economic productivity, which I did mention at one point. But then there is the added justification narrative regarding “behaviours” and morals – character references – that props up the punitive welfare regime.

      I take it your last paragraph was tongue in cheek.

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      1. ¨I take it your last paragraph was tongue in cheek.¨

        No, I was asking a genuine question. Are you saying that up and down this land so-called ¨ordinary decent people¨ regularly stand by while their neighbours starve almost to death? For that is what hospitalisation for malnutrition must imply? That people will feed a stray cat but not a fellow human? (I´m starting to sound like Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells aren´t I?)

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      2. Neoliberalism tends to isolate people, and keep them busy getting by. It discourages collectivism and cooperation because it’s founded on a market philosophy of competitive individualism. Many don’t know that others are suffering absolute poverty.

        “Ordinary decent people” have permitted the Conservative cuts to welfare and social services. They got back in government on the backs of “ordinary decent citizens”. And here are the consequences. Make of that what you will.

        I honestly thought you were being sardonic.

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      3. Kitty, I am certainly cynical when it comes to politics and most politicians, but I am trying to hang on to at least a vestige of my faith in human nature, in the belief that on the whole people will work together and assist one another. Without that what really is the point of anything? We might as well all commit mass suicide like one of those weird religious cults.

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      4. Politicians are not a separate species though. And people generally are susceptible to being influenced in what they believe. Power and greed have corrupted those in power, it isn’t just the politicians, it’s also the corporatocracy that are shaping what people think. We are being told that some lives matter more than others, that we don’t have equal human rights, that if you are poor, it’s because of your behaviour, and the public are subjected to these messages day in day out. “Human nature” is being shaped by the media and social media. It’s always been malleable. Not everyone will “work together and assist one another” because those days of collectivism are now sen as an anachronism. Neoliberalism demands we compete for “scarce” resources. That’s the very antithesis of cooperation and collectivism. The entire political and socioeconomic framework is rotten, and shapes to some extent how people see each other and relate. Anyone who is not completely self sufficient economically is seen as a burden on the state.

        It’s down to the likes of us to change it. To keep up an alternative narrative, and to keep faith that things can be so much better than this.

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      5. ¨Anyone who is not completely self sufficient economically is seen as a burden on the state.¨

        What then is the purpose of the state? If everyone were self-sufficient there would be no need for a state, everyone would be their own independent ´nation´. That would be a sort of extreme survivalist type of anarchy, as opposed to the more social and co-operative visions of anarchy.

        The idea that some people are inherently more equal than others has deep roots, I happened to read this the other day :

        http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2016/11/27/what-is-it-about-evangelicals/

        As to whether politicians are a race apart, that´s probably an empirical question. Are there particular psychological or sociological factors that lead people into conventional party politics? I must admit that I´ve never personally known a politician, beyond the occasional community councillor or minor Green Party official, though I´ve know plenty of people involved in all kinds of protest and self-help movements etc. When very occasionally an MP has addressed some event or other they´ve always been accompanied by minders and have generally made a quick exit after giving their spiel. So I wonder to what extent they are really in touch with ´normal folks´?

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      6. The purpose of the “small state” is to police the policy of economic self sufficiency and the “market place” of human relationships. And to keep on making neoliberal policies which protect the interests of the ruling elite. It’s more of an authoritarianism->totalitarianism than anarchy, with survival of the fittest chucked in for the masses.

        Yes the hierarchy of worth led us from the poor law and workhouses to the Nazi Holocaust and then, the international formulation of human rights.

        There are some who identified certain traits associated with left and right wing politics. And of course there’s the studies about highly functioning psychopaths seeking and securing positions of power – many in the finance sector and so on.

        The left are traditionally more democratic than the right, and tend to value consulting with the public more than the right. Though new labour presented some paradox there… The right stay purposely out of touch, being more inclined towards authoritarianism. Though we have witnessed authoritarian “left” leaders too.

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  2. Thank you for once again putting so well this latest news on the rise in hospital admissions due to malnutrition into context. I clicked ‘like’ on your article yet it is the writing I like not the tragedy of what you are reporting. I have shared on FB and will be re-posting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know what you mean. I don’t like writing them, either, but do so because I feel I must. Like many others bearing witness to these strange and terrible events and trying to make sense of the insanity of neoliberalism and social conservatism. Thanks very much for sharing

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  3. There will be no genetic defect in the many elderly who will die this year because of poverty, unless the Darwinian natural selectionists considers the gene that governs and enables ageing to be a defect in and of itself. The many elderly who will die this winter will simply be surplus to requirements, a drain on resources which belong to the already empowered and a burden to those who still have monetary value to offer, whilst the elderly have served any useful purpose and therefore, are of no consequence and must be disposed of by whatever means come to hand. Unnecessary austerity will do the job very nicely. You do of course realise, that if the elderly are disposed of in this quiet but efficient way, savings can be made in that they will no longer need to receive pension payments, they will not require a hospital bed, since they will be very comfortable in their caskets and their homes will serve others equally well. So many problems resolved, especially if the same policies can serve to reduce the numbers of disabled, jobless and homeless. What a stroke of genius this eugenics by stealth is. There is one draw back that comes to mind, though, what happens when all of those already mentioned are out of the picture, who will be at the bottom of the pile and next for the heave ho then?
    Oh dear, “it’s nothing to do with me” will become” “oh s**t, my turn next”.

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  4. Earlier in the year there was a study published looking into the relationship between pension cuts and deaths. This article notes that the cuts of pension credit and winter fuel payments have indeed been correlated with the increases in excess mortality, and notes that these have lead to a 1.4% increase in deaths in 2012 from reductions in pension credit spending and 2.7% increase in deaths associated with a drop in the numbers receiving pension credit.The article also notes that the introduction of winter fuel payments had lead to a large fall in excess winter death rates under the last (Labour) government.

    Another report which I can’t find the reference to ATM showed a correlation of between deaths and reduced social spending – for every 1% cut there was an increase of 0.6% in the death rate. Of course poor nutrition is a major part in all this.

    http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2016-03-16-pension-cuts-have-significant-link-death-rates-among-older-pensioners

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