New Beestonian! / The Beestonian Movie / Special Guest Post From Nick Palmer: Foodbanks.

The new issue of The Beestonian is sitting in the printers ready for me to collect once I finish typing this, it’s a corker featuring Shane Meadows; Vicky McClure; The Guardian’s Ali Catterall; Nottingham’s Robin Hood, Tim Pollard; a **PRIZE** crossword and all your usual stuff.

Two stories we covered have thrown me a bit. We have a bit of a scoop on the cover, as we report on the Ladbrokes. As readers may remember, they turfed the wonderful and effective Young Potential charity shop from their premises in the old Lunn Poly shop opposite Iceland. There urgency to get in didn’t allow Young Potential to find new premises, and they’re still without a shop. Weirdly, Ladbrokes are still not in. A single shopfitter has apparently not even entered the shop.

A bit of investigation later and we found that Ladbrokes have taken out a long lease, somewhere between 10-15 years, but intend to leave it empty. Yes, really.

Why? I chatted to a few people who are wised up on this sort of thing, who I best not name due to their closeness to the issue. Apparently there are two possible reasons. One: this is what is termed ‘sterilised capitalism’. By Ladbrokes acquiring the shop they prevent other bookies moving into an ideally situated premises. If a rival finds another premises, then Ladbrokes open up quickly and swamp out their competitor.

The other reason could be potential legislation. There is a growing social problem with hardcore gamblers becoming addicted to Fixed Odd Betting Terminals (FOBT). These machines allow gamblers to bet vast sums of money every few seconds, and work on the psychology of impulsiveness and addiction to keep the gambler pumping in money. They’ve been described as ‘the crack cocaine of gambling’ and are blamed for a steep increase in problem gambling. Banned in many countries, and even in some British towns (Fareham Council, Brighton and Hove City Council and Preston Council all voted in favour of restricting FOBTs last week. This follows on from Liverpool City Council and Hackney Council passing similar motions last month, with Liverpool calling for a total ban) . Only four can be situated in one shop.

There is talk of banning them: even a fiscal Tory might see that the tax revenue gained is tiny compared to the social costs they rack up. Yet the gambling lobby are very, very powerful, and are busy now trying to block any banning legislation, and overturn the four-per-shop ruling.

So it’s not unreasonable to assume that Ladbrokes are sitting on the site, waiting for legislation to go it’s way, while keeping an eyesore of an empty shop on the High Street indefinately. This is not right in any way, and is entirely detrimental to the town. I await a response from Ladbrokes from an email I sent asking what is going on. I’ll keep you up to date.

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Some good news: The PCC have now agreed that a settlement between The White Lion and Mail Group Newspapers can’t be brokered, so are going to launch an investigation (see Beestonia passim). The Mail also agreed to remove the site from the internet during the process, after we pointed out the longer it was up, the greater damage done, and in turn, the more we can sue for. Should get a response in a couple of weeks. Let’s see if the PCC prove they’re not as awful as often cited.

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We’ve made a film! Well, that would be nice, the truth is we’ve shot all the bits of a film and are now in the incredibly tricky part where we try and stitch together a decent documentary. I’ll explain more later, but here’s a trailer to whet that appetite of yours…

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Another article we talk about in the new Beestonian is food banks (we have our own one in town, at the Hope Centre. As we were compiling the issue, the Commons voted on the huge rise in food banks needed further investigation. Tories jeered as opposition MP Maria Eagle told stories about the desperate plight of her constituents, Ian Duncan Smith slipped out before he could be called to account and the motion was voted down. Need I say which way our own MP voted?

Why, as the seventh richest counry in the world we have a system that forces family into such extreme poverty they can’t eat, while dishing out tax cuts to the rich and letting multinationals skip their tax obligations. I could write a furious piece, but I’ve got my paper-round to do, and my blood pressure needs lowering for what is meant to be a season of peace. Instead, I asked our former, and likely future MP Nick Palmer for a piece. Here’s his measured take. Comments welcome please, and Soubry can be contacted though as always, don’t expect a response. Over to Dr Nick:

A recent Parliamentary debate was called by Labour to discuss the rise of food banks and urge the Government to take action against the causes. It’s fair to say that the governing parties were notably uninterested (IDS wandered out of the debate in the middle), various specious comments were made that were frankly out of touch with reality, and Broxtowe’s MP voted with the government, as per usual, to dismiss the call for action.

The issue here is what is causing the undoubted rise in food banks both in Broxtowe and elsewhere. There are, I think, three reasons:

1. The cuts in welfare support are hitting a minority of people hard, again and again. I’m well aware that the general idea of “cutting benefits” has majority support in the opinion polls, and no doubt government MPs feel that makes it all right. Most people are not affected, and many vaguely think that all that’s happening is that life is getting tough for scroungers. That isn’t, generally, the case.

The fact is that if you have difficulty getting a job – for instance due to mental or physical health difficulties – the support system is being quietly, steadily whittled away. I’m not currently the MP, but I am still getting quite desperate letters from people about it, and they are heart-breaking to read. Unemployment has remained low as people have accepted real wage cuts to hang on to jobs, but if you’re out of the job market and, say, suffer from days of intermittent depression, or have difficulty in walking, your chance of getting a job is very small at the moment. It’s a cruel deception to make you jump through all the hoops of JSA when everyone involved knows the outcome. Yes, help people get into work wherever possible, but support them decently meanwhile.

2. The system is cumbersome, slow, and doesn’t offer support when you need it. The MAJORITY of people visiting food banks say the reason is that their claim for support is stuck somewhere in the system. Many say that Job Centre staff have quietly encouraged them to go to food banks to tide them over while their problems are considered. This is also the reason why Wonga and the like do well. If you literally have no money, the fact that the system may eventually help you is irrelevant. You can visit a food bank, take a high-interest loan, or go hungry. You do not have any other choice.

3. There remains a fair amount of endemic poverty in our society. In general, the last government was quite good for the “working poor”, because of working tax credits and the minimum wage, not so good for people with long-term problems getting work. The position has worsened under the current government. So the availability of food banks has offered a little relief in one aspect of life. All parties including my own need to pay attention to this, and I’m glad that Labour picked the issue as the one it wanted to debate on the rare Opposition Day when they could put down a motion.

Food banks are a good thing in the current situation and the people who run them are doing a fantastic job. But they should not be seen as a long-term part of the system that makes up for the gaps. They are a symptom of things in our society that are very wrong, and the governing parties are flatly wrong to look the other way. It is not the Big Society, but the Failing Society.