@pippatips facing legal action from Pippa Middleton

Someone is sore about being outsold by their parody.

The creators of the @pippatips Twitter account are facing legal action from Pippa Middleton, according to the Independent. The account, which parodies Pippa Middleton's terrible party book Celebrate with helpful advice like "smoke can be sign of a new pope or that something is on fire", "beat stress by not worrying about stuff" and "remember to write 2013 instead of 2012 now it's no longer 2012", led to a book being published in June this year.

When One is Expecting: A Posh Person's Guide to Pregnancy and Parenting isn't doing too badly – in fact, it's outselling Pippa's own book on Amazon.co.uk, coming in at a respectable #961 in the charts compared to #3,370 for Celebrate – which might be what prompted Harbottle & Lewis to take action. According to the Indy, they've written to the book's publishers to demand that @pippatips be deleted.

At the time of writing, the account is still there – although it's been dormant of late, not tweeting since 14 June – and the new burst of publicity might do the book a world of good. Getting it back in the front of people's minds just as Babygeddon is about to hit… you couldn't get for a better Streisand Effect than that if you tried, could you?

Still, in case they get their wish, here are my favourite Pippa tips, archived for posterity:


Sad news: realPippa probably is outselling fakePippa by around 200 times, according to @iucounu who looked up the numbers on Bookscan, the main database for book sales in the UK. That means that fakePippa is getting more of her sales from Amazon, while realPippa is doing much better in physical bookshops. In a way, that's unsurprising: in bookstores, Celebrate isn't right next to a bunch of one-star reviews; and a book launched from a twitter account was always going to do well in an online bookshop.

But it does make realPippa's nastygram just that bit more vindictive.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Be a glitch in our benefits system, and the punishment is to starve

Faceless bureaucrats are tipping claimants into hunger. 

So it’s official. If anyone still doubted that benefit sanctions are linked to food bank usage, a study by the University of Oxford and the Trussell Trust has found “a strong, dynamic relationship exists” between the number of sanctions in local authorities, and the number of adults receiving emergency food parcels.

The research examined the impact of tougher sanctions imposed by the Coalition government in 2012. For every extra 10 sanctions per 100,000 claimants, there were five more adults needing food. By contrast, when sanctions declined by 10, there were roughly 2 fewer instances of adults needing food. 

The study questioned whether a system that creates food poverty is “a fair penalty” for those who intentionally or inadvertently break the rules surrounding benefits payments.

Indeed, benefits sanctions can often, on appeal, seem brutal. Take the man who missed his Jobcentre appointment because he was in hospital after being hit by a car, or the woman who received her letter a day after the proposed meeting was scheduled. 

But what the study doesn’t chart is the number of people plunged into food poverty simply because of a bureaucratic mistake. A 2014 report by MPs, Feeding Britain, noted benefit-related “problems” was the single biggest reason given for food bank referrals. 

It found that many of these problems were avoidable: 

“We heard that one such problem arose as a result of Jobcentre Plus staff having to rely on two different computer systems, each on different screens, in order to calculate and process a claim, if more than one benefit was involved. This was likely to delay the processing of a benefit claim.”

In other words, the system we pay for with our taxes is failing us when we need it.

Claimants often find themselves at the bottom of an unaccountable power structure. Gill McCormack, who is the manager at the Glasgow North West food bank, has a son with Down’s Syndrome and brain damage, and lost her husband at just 21.

As an unusually young widow, she repeatedly has had to show benefits officials her husband’s death certificate, and fight for her son’s Disability Living Allowance. At one point, her benefits were stopped, and she lived on bags of frozen peas.

She told a fringe event at the SNP conference: “The amount of times I have been back and forth with this system – the only way I can describe it is as a ping pong table.”

If administration errors can leave people this hungry – and when I was a journalist at The Mirror I heard from readers about dozens of similar cases – we are heading for a world where large gaps in support are institutionalised.

Universal Credit, the new benefits system being rolled out across the country, only kicks in after six weeks. Claimants can apply for an advance. But if this is not properly communicated, six weeks is long enough to starve. 

As the study acknowledges, modern food poverty does not just exist in food banks, which are a very specific type of lifeline. The Facebook group Feed Yourself For £1 a Day has nearly 70,000 members. Some are simply frugal mums or house proud retirees. But many of those who post are desperate.

One reason is illness. A single mum, recently wrote that the group was a “lifeline” when she was coping with breast cancer: “I have never been so poor.” Another wrote back that after being diagnosed with breast cancer, she lost her home and her job, and was forced to spend 10 days living in her car.

Others are simply women going back to work, who lose their benefits and have to wait for wages. A mother in five wrote in asking for cheap meal ideas as “I’ve got £50 a week to live off as starting work”. 

So what is the answer to this kind of hidden hunger? The government is still consulting on a “Help to Save” scheme, that will provide more incentives for low-paid workers to create a rainy day fund. Groups such as Feed Yourself for £1 a Day should be encouraged, because they are valued by their members and teach families how to eat healthily for less. But shifting responsibility to those on the breadline only works so far. After all, you cannot easily save if you are an unpaid carer. You cannot cook from scratch if your gas meter has run out. And you can't keep to a budget if food prices, as predicted, start to rise.

The latest research into food banks should reignite the debate about sanctions. But it should also raise wider questions about those who administrate and enforce our taxpayer-funded welfare state, and how, in the 21st century, faceless officials can tip unfortunate people into something close to famine. 

Not recently, many commentators found it hard to believe the plotline of Ken Loach’s latest film, in which a man is denied disability benefits because of a computer glitch. Perhaps they're not to blame - after all, since Jobcentres are removing the free phones that would allow claimants to kick up a fuss, many are effectively silenced. But so long as the food banks stay open, there is more listening to be done. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.