Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Charity is Not the Solution to Poverty

Ten years ago food banks in one of the richest countries in the world would have been unthinkable. The poor - the working poor - have been forced to queue at church halls and other outlets for a box filled with food. Workers give their free time and food to make these places work so that children can be fed.

Food banks have become a growth industry. There are now 1300 food banks in the Trussell Trust's network, compared with fewer than 100 in 2010, as well as hundreds of independent food banks.

In an article in the GUARDIAN, Frances Ryan writes:

"As squeezed social security, low wages and high rents have left 2.4 million people living in destitution everything from clothes banks to hygiene product drop-off points have cropped up nationwide. When your zero-hours contract doesn't pay out, you get your shampoo from a donation bin instead of bots. If you have cancer and have been rejected for disabilility benefits, fruit and veg comes not from Tesco but your local food bank. Nowadays, Britain has an entire ecosystem of charity to meet our basic needs: donated dignity filling in where the state once stood" (30 07 2021).

Ryan's answer, predicable for a GUARDIAN journalist is "sweeping reforms".

Most if not all capitalist political parties follow and enact reform programmes. The Tories are doing it at the moment with their "Levelling-Up Policy". Most if not all reforms are enacted to make capitalism more efficient and the working class more productive. They are not enacted to improve the pay and working conditions of the working class. Reforms can be taken away as quickly as they are enacted and they also suffer from unintentional consequences like equality legislation forcing women to work for another five years before they receive their parsimonious state pension.

Politicians believe the profit system can be reformed. Traditionally the Labour Party believed it could reform capitalism in the interest of the working class as a whole; it believed it could end poverty. Aneurin Bevan once boasted that "when the next election occurs there will be no housing problem in Great Britain for the British working class" (HANSARD, 14 July, 1948, Col. 1202. He also bragged that under Labour, "destitution has been abolished" ('LABOUR AND THE NEW SOCIETY', 1950, page 5). Merely to recall theses claims is to expose the futility of reformism and the abject and historical failure of the Labour Party. And Frances Ryan wants more of this failure.

When in government Labour has had to make cuts to social services and health care. Past Labour governments were forced to introduce and later to increase NHS prescription charges, abolish free milk in schools in 1968, and reduce planned spending on housing and school buildings. It had to rein in public spending in the face of a periodic war or trade depression.

Why does Ryan think Labour under the leadership of Sir Kier Starmer will be any different to the failure of past Labour leaders. A future Labour government might even like the idea of retaining and supporting food banks because it keeps the cost of social security down. The Tories are not "evil" for imposing austerity. All capitalist governments, including Labour ones, have had to do this. They defend capitalism and the interest of the capitalist class. The Labour Party just does not admit that this is precisely what they do too.

So much effort spent on reforms could have been spent of establishing socialism. In Socialism two factors associated with food banks would be useful but not in the perverted way they are under capitalism. First socialism would have to its advantage free and voluntary labour. In socialism there will be no employment, labour market, buying and selling of labour power or the exploitive ages system. Second there would be free and direct access to what people needed to live decent and active lives. Production would be directly for meeting social need. There would be no commodity production and exchange for profit. In short production and distribution under socialism will be informed by the socialist maxim "from each according to their ability to each according to their need".

Free and Voluntary Labour

We might be wage slaves and exploited at the point of production. However there is free and voluntary labour under capitalism. The work of socialists giving up their time and energy in the struggle for a better world is a laudable example.

However there are organisations like the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) who also give up their time for others. They undertake voluntary co-operation in dangerous conditions giving a lie to the bogus claim that we are all unredeemably lazy, greedy and selfish and not cut out for socialism.

Recently the RNLI came to prominence in the media for its lifeboat volunteers rescuing migrants at risk from drowning in the English Channel. Nigel Farage, appearing on GB News, claimed the RNLI were being used as a taxi service for "illegal trafficking gangs". He is being paid a handsome salary to air his spite and bile against the vulnerable and insecure.

Some ignorant workers on the beaches where the RNLI volunteers had landed with migrants they had saved at sea, booed and swore at the RNLI crews. Years of anti-immigrant propaganda in the capitalist media had reduced these workers to throwing insults at members of their own class rather than direct it at the media barons who want the workers split and at each other's throats. Divide and rule it is called.

Since GB News is only a platform for the Rabid right the RNLI were not allowed to reply. In an interview with the GUARDIAN, Mark Dowie of the RNLI said it was their "moral and legal duty to rescue migrants in danger of the sea" and that "he was proud of its humanitarian work (GUARDAN 29.07.2021).

Many of the migrants trying to get to Britain are fleeing civil wars, poverty and drought caused by global warming. War, poverty and global warming are all caused by capitalism. They are caused by an obsession for profit. In a world socialist society there would be no artificial boundaries, countries and border guards. Human beings, many of whom are children, would not be kept in filthy and decrepit holding centres with guards, barbed wire and conditions of abuse and violence.

In a world with no trade routes, competing capitalist interests, private ownership of resources like oil and gas, and spheres of strategic influence there will be no war and conflict. In a social system which balances human need with environmental bio-systems there will be not be despoliation and degradation of the Earth for profit.

And in socialism there will still be the need for men and women to freely give their time to save people out at sea. In socialism, all labour would be voluntary and freely given.

Socialism is the solution to Poverty

The failure of Labour governments the world over to make any appreciable difference to the condition of the working class bears eloquent testimony to the soundness of our claim that, so long as capitalism is accepted by workers, it can only be run in the interest of the capitalist class not of the workers. As a consequence poverty will remain and so will the scapegoats. Only capitalism wins.

And look at the Social democratic parties of the world. They are shrinking in numbers and support. An ugly popularlism, expressed in the politics of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson has taken centre stage. A nationalist poison seeps out from the capitalist media.

Socialism is the solution to poverty: the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. We can create a better world than the one we endure at present. We can create working class unity sufficient for a socialist majority to democratically and politically replace capitalism with socialism.

Capitalist politicians cannot enact reforms to make capitalism run in the interest of all society. They do not exist for that purpose. Charities, like food banks, also cannot end poverty. They act as bandages to the cuts and bruises of the profit system and that is all. The root cause of working-class poverty, worldwide, is the fact that we do not own or have access to the means of production so we are forced to sell our labour power to get the means to live, a wage or salary. The cause of poverty is capitalism and until capitalism is abolished poverty will still persist no matter which capitalist political party is in government.

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