The Tories have pushed one in five Britons into poverty

The UK Poverty 2017 report highlights that overall 14 million people live in poverty in Britain — over 20 per cent of the population. This spiralling poverty and ever-increasing use of foodbanks show just how out of touch the Tories have become, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE.

Alongside even the government’s own social mobility commission resigning over the Tories’ failure to act, two different pieces of news illustrated starkly how cuts have consequences and that the longer the Tories’ austerity project goes on the clearer and more widespread these become.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation state of the nation report confirmed a 700,000 increase in the number of children and older people in poverty.

The UK Poverty 2017 report highlights that overall 14 million people live in poverty in Britain — over one in five of the population. This is made up of eight million working-age adults, four million children and 1.9 million pensioners — 8 million live in families where at least one person is in work.

Britain is the sixth largest economy in the world and yet we can’t make work pay, ensure dignity in retirement or guarantee a life free of poverty for children.

As Labour shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams put it: “The last seven years of flatlining wages and austerity cuts, now combined with sharply rising costs of household essentials, is a truly terrifying prospect for millions trying to make ends meet.”

Furthermore, “the cuts to universal credit, which were not addressed in the recent Budget and mean that ‘work does not always pay,’ will push even more children and working age adults into poverty.”

The recent Tory Budget 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, as starkly confirmed by these latest figures.

It’s also important to remember that these levels of poverty 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 20 per cent have 40 per cent of the country’s income and 60 per cent of the country’s wealth, the bottom 20 per cent have only 8 per cent of the income and only 1 per cent of the wealth.

Indeed, this shocking report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation about millions of people living in poverty in Britain came out soon after the Trussell Trust charity revealed that it was expecting the busiest Christmas yet in terms of the use of foodbanks.

A closer look at the reasons behind people’s use of foodbanks is a stark illustration of the Tories lack of humanity when pursuing ever deeper cuts to our welfare state and public services.

It should just be common sense that the social security system should not increase the need for foodbanks, yet we know that the Tories’ botched universal credit roll out and their freeze to social security are causing people to visit foodbanks to make ends meet.

Additionally, issues of rising debt and more insecure employment are among the reasons that people have to turn to foodbanks for help.

Nothing has changed with regards to the prospect of yet more austerity being confirmed by the recent budget and, if the Tories stay in charge, all the indicators are these problems are going to get worse and we are set to face a heightening cost-of-living crisis.

The aforementioned pieces of news have shown yet again why we need change in Britain and the sheer scale of poverty and desperation under the Tories’ seven years of austerity, which is ruining our public services, squeezing the living standards for the majority and driving millions of people including children into destitution.

Yet what we have seen from the Tories and their supporters in the media over recent weeks?

All we see again and again is orchestrated attacks on elements of Labour’s leadership and their supporters in order to distract from their clear and credible economic alternative, and yet more spin from the Tories and their friends in some of the media that Theresa May is a moderate Conservative seeking to bring Britain together.

The reality of her record shows the exact opposite — she is pursuing a divisive and ideologically driven agenda which will further deepen poverty and inequality at the same time as hitting the living standards of the majority as real wages start to fall.

The human costs of austerity are astounding and this is why the labour movement and progressive forces need to restate and explain again and again 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.

Only 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 we can deliver a £10 an hour minimum wage, end zero-hours contracts, transform our social security system and build the genuinely affordable homes Britain needs. And, 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.