On 13 July 2016, the new Prime Minister Theresa May took to the steps of Downing Street to deliver her first official statement. She said: “When it comes to taxes, we’ll prioritise not the wealthy, but you. When it comes to opportunity, we won’t entrench the advantages of the fortunate few. We will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you.”
I have to admit, despite constant political disappointments, I naïvely felt a little bit inspired. It was refreshing to hear a Tory government being so vocal about social mobility and social justice. I even thought she was being honest (ridiculous, I know) and would do her best to help make a fairer, more equal society.
How totally, utterly, depressingly wrong I was.
This morning, research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has revealed that around 400,000 more children and 300,000 more pensioners have been plunged into poverty in the past four years of Conservative government – and Theresa May’s administration is doing very little to help them.
As #solveUKpoverty trends on Twitter, these are the key points of the report:
- Poverty among children and pensioners has risen in the last few years. 30% of children and 16% of pensioners now live in poverty
- One in eight workers live in poverty – 3.7 million
- 47% of working-age adults on low incomes spend more than a third of their income on housing costs
- 30% of people living in a family with a disabled member live in poverty, compared to 19% of those who do not
- Nearly a quarter of adults in the poorest fifth of the population experience depression or anxiety
- 20% of those in the poorest fifth have ‘problem debt’. 70% of people in work are not contributing to a pension
As the JRF study shows, rising housing and rent costs are making life harder not just for young people but for all ages. And the economic stress of poverty is causing real and lasting damage to mental health. “Nearly a quarter of adults in the poorest fifth of the population experience depression and anxiety – more than twice as many as those in the richest two fifths of the population,” the study says.
Wherever you stand politically and whoever you support, you surely have to accept that this represents a breakdown in our economy and a failure of government. And after seven years of Conservative government, the blame for this is entirely their own.
The poverty figures are also a total betrayal of everything Theresa May promised on the steps of Downing Street. Instead, the government has become entirely consumed by Brexit – which will more than likely harm the economy and make the financial situation even worse for the poorest in society. And don’t think this can be explained by broader economic trends, the richer, property-owning classes have only gotten richer in this period.
After the Great Recession, we were successfully sold the lie by David Cameron and George Osborne that austerity was essential. That the economy would tank without it. This wasn’t true. Austerity was – and still is – a political choice to move the economic burden from the wealthy and the privileged to the poor and the powerless. That’s why it’s so insulting to read Osborne’s campaigns on how to reduce poverty in the Evening Standard:
There’s even evidence of this political decision to make the poor and powerless shoulder the biggest burden in the JRF report. It says: “The prospects for solving UK poverty are worrying. The continuing rise in employment is no longer leading to lower poverty. Changes to benefits and tax credits for working-age families are reducing the incomes of many of those on low incomes.”
We can’t go on like this. Britain needs radical solutions. One person suggesting ideas that could genuinely help to change things for the better is, of course, leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn.
In his manifesto from earlier this year, he offered policies that would help to bridge the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest in our country; more money for the NHS, raising taxes on the wealthiest people, free school meals for all school kids, scrapping the public sector pay cap, 100,000 new council and housing association homes every year, getting rid of tuition fees and scrapping zero hours contracts.
So when the headlines move on, don’t forget about this shocking rise in poverty in the UK. Don’t forget how the Tory government has turned its back on poor children and OAPs.