The Tories are breaking Britain

Their cuts are destroying the fabric of our society but the Tories have no solutions to increasing poverty and insecurity, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE.

OVER the last five years more than 500,000 workers in Britain have fallen into working poverty, it was revealed this week in the UK Poverty 2018 report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

It also showed that the number of people with a job but living below the breadline has risen faster than employment, further destroying the Tory myth that their policies make work pay.

Four million workers are now in poverty in Tory Britain, meaning around one in eight in the economy are working poor, and eight million people live in poverty in families where at least one person is in work.

The JRF defines the poverty line as being when households earn less than 60 per cent of the median income, adjusted for the household’s type and size. In 2016-2017, the average median income for UK households after housing costs was £425 a week (£22,100 a year.)

This development is clearly linked to the Tories’ policies, with working parents finding it harder and harder to earn enough money to pay for food, clothing and accommodation.

Austerity has meant working families facing a toxic mix of weak wage growth at the same time as the cost of living has risen, alongside an ideologically driven erosion of welfare support and tax credits.

The report cites parents getting stuck in low-paid work – which of course includes the casual and zero-hours contract sections of the economy which have mushroomed under the Tories, a key driver for the increase.

As a direct consequence of this development, the report also revealed that half a million more children have become trapped in poverty over the last five years, last year reaching an astonishing 4.1 million, with the number of children who slipped into poverty from a working family rising more steeply than at any time for 20 years.

To spell out exactly what this means to readers, in a typical school classroom of 30 children, now nine would come from a household in poverty.

The overall picture is that about one in five of the population, more than 14 million people, are struggling in poverty in one of the richest economies in the world.

8.2 million are working-age adults, 4.1 million children while 1.9 million are pensioners.

This JRF report comes on top of the UN envoy on poverty to the UK slamming the human impact of austerity policies and research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies showing that government cuts made under David Cameron and George Osborne left the poorest 10 per cent in society much worse off than the richest since 2015.

This disgusting situation should not – and must not – become the norm.

The JRF rightly said more companies could pay the real living wage to help alleviate in-work poverty.

The JRF also called on the government to end its four-year freeze on benefits, which began a year earlier than planned in 2016, saying it would help lift 200,000 people out of poverty and give 14 million people on low incomes an extra £270 on average in 2020-21. This is a humane policy, as Labour has said, and one which we could easily afford.

The fact that the Tories are no longer fit to govern isn’t just shown by how they can’t win votes in Parliament (as illustrated by their defeats on the Brexit legal advice this week and previously on amendments to the Finance Bill), it is also shown by how, as the very fabric of our society is being torn apart, they have no policy solutions or ideas to tackle the growing crises caused by their failed austerity policies.

Alongside the Tories’ botched approach to Brexit, this inaction – and indeed lack of compassion – means that it is becoming clearer, by the day and to more and more people, that it’s time for them to go.

As Jeremy Corbyn said in response to Theresa May’s G20 statement, “our country has the lowest wage growth in the G20, the lowest investment and poor productivity,” and the reality is that “ten years on from the global financial crisis this prime minister [has] failed to learn the lessons of that crash” and to move beyond the economic framework that caused the crash.

Forcing the Tories out and winning an election for Labour must therefore be the priority of all progressives and every part of the labour movement.

This includes by fully backing the recently and timely launched People’s Assembly Britain is Broken – We Can’t Afford the Tories campaign and national meeting tour.

But of course it is not enough to just oppose the Tories.
Labour’s renaissance – both electorally and as a mass movement – since Jeremy Corbyn became leader has been due to their willingness to both criticise Tory failures and consistently oppose austerity whilst also articulating a genuinely credible, coherent and transformation economic alternative.

With Jeremy Corbyn in No 10, Labour will address the problems highlighted in the JRF report including by ending the social security freeze, introducing a £10 per hour Real Living Wage and building the affordable housing so desperately needed to lift people out of poverty. A Corbyn government will also invest in our future to ensure sustainable and shared economic growth, moving us beyond the increasingly discredited and failed neoliberal model, so we can build a better society, for the many not the few.

First published by the Morning Star.