First, I would like to thank the Morning Star for giving me the opportunity to write a regular column for the paper on austerity Britain and the paper’s support against those who wish to exclude me permanently from the Labour Party, which is much appreciated.
Over 85 years this paper has been an essential voice for social justice and peace and is needed now more than ever.
Last week saw the Queen’s Speech and, as we are growing to expect, the detailed key points that Jeremy Corbyn and Labour MPs gave in response to proposals for more austerity in the speech — most notably on the issue of further rises in tuition fees — received less media coverage than the ongoing warfare in the Tory Party over the EU referendum.
The Queen’s Speech represented a continuation of the same economic strategy of recent years that has seen the richest 1 per cent watch their wealth double while ordinary families struggle to make ends meet.
We need to be clear that cuts have consequences and the longer the Tories’ austerity project goes on the clearer and more widespread these become.
Disgracefully, the Queen’s Speech only mentioned poverty and deprivation in the terms of the following sentence: “To tackle poverty and deprivation, including family instability, addiction and debt, my government will introduce new indicators for measuring life chance.”
Yet recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) findings showed that in Tory Britain a third of the population experienced poverty at some time between 2011 and 2014, with the poverty rate in 2014 standing at 16.8 per cent of the population.
As statistician Richard Tonkin from the ONS commented: “In the UK, compared with other countries, people have a relatively high risk of slipping into relative low-income poverty.”
Contrary to government claims that it is making work pay, just under two-thirds of children and working-age adults in poverty are in working households.
This confirms the analysis of the Poverty and Social Exclusion website which reported in February that while living in a workless household increases the risk of child poverty — mirroring official statistics — a substantial majority of poor children — 60 per cent — live in households in which at least one adult works.
Additionally, the Institute for Fiscal Studies recently predicted that absolute child poverty would rise from 15 per cent to 18 per cent.
And, as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation corroborated last month, not only is poverty an issue, but levels of destitution are horrifying in our country today.
The foundation argues that the general public considers people to be destitute when they cannot afford to buy the essentials to eat, stay warm and dry and keep clean.
Britain is the 5th largest economy in the world and yet about 1,252,000 people, including 312,000 children, were in this situation at some point during 2015.
Furthermore, these levels of poverty and destitution are in a situation of inequality that is out of control. We now have the joint sixth most unequal incomes of 30 countries in the developed world.
In austerity Britain, while the top fifth have 40 per cent of the country’s income and 60 per cent of the country’s wealth, the bottom fifth have only 8 per cent of the income and only 1 per cent of the wealth.
These are the human costs of austerity and this is why the labour movement and progressive forces need to restate and explain the reality that austerity is a political choice not an economic necessity.
This couldn’t be more important, as is explaining what the actual human costs of the Tories cuts are and why Labour’s credible and coherent economic alternative can not only achieve sound and sustainable economic growth, but use this to provide the quality of life for all we need.
Responding to the aforementioned ONS figures, Oxfam’s poverty programme head Rachel Orr absolutely hit the nail on the head, commenting that “the fact that such a large proportion of the British population have recently experienced poverty proves that getting people into work isn’t the route out of poverty that it should be,” and that “the government needs a clear and coherent strategy to tackle poverty or cuts to social security will see poverty rates reach even greater heights by 2020.”
A Labour government elected on a programme of investing in our future — not ideologically driven cuts that heighten poverty and inequality — can provide this clear and coherent strategy. Then, with a better, re-balanced economy, our children and grandchildren can grow up in a world where things get better.
First published in the Morning Star