It’s been a while since I’ve written. I edit and publish blogs for the Avenger but I lacked the headspace I needed to write. Editing is one thing but to actually formulate something and put it out into an article yourself takes a lot. And I just haven’t been able to sift through the overwhelming political material that has been hitting us left right and centre
Because anger without being mentally or physically able to take action for me is just wasted energy and it leads to frustration. I didn’t have the capacity for that.
However some things cannot be ignored.
Some things rip you out of your hiatus and put fire in your belly. And I can’t switch off any longer and really neither should any of us. That fire needs to go somewhere. For many in poverty this is now a matter of life or death.
So here I am. Writing. Putting my energy somewhere.
What pulled me out of it? Well that’s an interesting question because let’s face it we have a whole treasure chest of things to choose from: Brexit, The Government in contempt of Parliament, Brexit again, Theresa May facing a vote of no confidence, the absolute mess of negotiations and oh wait…
The. United Nations Report on Extreme Poverty. Here. In the UNITED KINGDOM!!!
Yes. The U.K. ‘Great’ Britain. Blighty.
Our wonderful little island… has been investigated for its ‘cruel’ austerity policies. The UN has gone so far as to call it “social engineering”.
Up until now, I knew we had a poverty problem caused by austerity. I’ve seen the statistics. I know that 1 in 4 children in the U.K. now live in poverty. I’ve seen the figures for foodbank usage. I also know that there are 130,000 homeless children in the U.K. and there are so many more depressing figures to report on. Each statistic is worthy of its own dedicated blog. The Trussell Trust and Shelter are awash with depressing facts and figures.
I’ve seen commons debates over the universal credit roll out. I’ve seen Corbyn trying desperately to halt that rollout. He’s managed to delay it quite a bit but the inevitable has happened and we are now almost peak rollout.
So with baited breath I forced myself to read the report. I delayed it slightly because I knew that once I read it there would be no going back for me and that I wouldn’t be able to shut off from it any longer. My ‘red pill/ blue pill Matrix’ moment has arrived.
The special rapporteur of extreme poverty and human rights Professor Philip Alston, conducted an investigation spanning a few months.
He traveled the length and breadth of the U.K. interviewing, those in poverty, from a wide range of backgrounds. He went on a fact finding mission, along with in depth analysis of our benefit system and austerity measures, interviews with ministers, local councils and charities to name but a few.
He did not hold back on what he had to say. The report was scathing and harshly worded and rightly so. I have summarised his report statement below:
• U.K. is the fifth largest economy with a system of government that is the envy of many countries.
• So it is therefore unjust and contrary to British values that so many are in poverty.
• He highlights the growth in homelessness, including rough sleepers and foodbank usage. It’s exponential rise has been since 2010, when austerity measures were introduced by the Conservative government.
• Local councils have been “gutted” with library closures in record numbers, which compounds the breakdown of community
• 14 million people in the U.K. are now in poverty.
• 4 million of those in poverty live 50% below the poverty line.
• 1.5 million of those are destitute. Meaning they can not afford basics such as food, or shelter.
• An estimated 40% of children live in poverty although the official amount is 1 in 4.
• He calls it “social calamity” and an “economic disaster”.
• He calls the government a “lone stubborn actor” in this mess. Councils, charities and other organisations have tried to step in.
• He says the government are in a “determinedly state of denial”.
• He uses words like “callous” and “social engineering” to describe our government.
The full statement and official summary of his report is here https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23881&LangID=E
These are strong words. This is a damning report. He makes no bones when he says that “austerity inflicted on people” is “unnecessary because it hasn’t saved any money but it has cost a significant amount to implement these policies”.
He admits that the government are overturning the Beveridge report, which is what preceded the implementation of the welfare state.
But he did commend the work of charities and local councils who try to do their best and be creative under terrible circumstances, as well as local communities.
Worryingly though, he said that, overall the British nature of being “compassionate towards those who are suffering is now being replaced with a mean spirited approach to those less fortunate than themselves.”
A sorry state of affairs.
Not only are people in this country being subjected to the cruelty of Universal Credit, which he states is the “ultimate embodiment of the promotion of austerity and the dismantling of the welfare state”. But the very nature of us as a nation, once known for our compassionate nature, is being worn down by a callous government.
So what is next for us a nation?
Well Professor Alston predicts that if things carry on the way they are that the economic uncertainty around Brexit and the continual fall of the pound, coupled with the continuation of the Universal Credit rollout will lead to a 7% increase in child poverty by 2022. That’s on top of the staggering figures we’ve seen in the present day.
He does say that as a nation these problems and the extreme poverty could “easily be reversed” if the government follows a set of recommendations that he makes. They are pretty clear and prescriptive.
Will this conservative government implement his changes?
Did the British media react with the outrage that this report deserves?
The simple answer is no.
While lots of media outlets touched on this report, many did not give it the attention it deserves.
Whether or not that is because they are preoccupied with Brexit and the Conservative party currently imploding, remains to be seen.
My personal view is a lot more cynical than that.
When this report was presented to Amber Rudd, the DWP Secretary she reacted with complete denial, and disgust.
Not towards the figures.
Not towards the plight of millions of people that she is supposed to represent.
Not towards the fact that money was available to the treasury to avoid and stop this problem.
No; she was disgusted that this report was even written!!!
So even with the vote of no confidence tonight… even with the government being held in contempt of parliament, and the complete pantomime that has occurred in this last week in the House Of Commons… all since this report was published, even with all that the conservatives still haven’t learned.
There is no ounce of shame. No ounce of humility. No sign of remorse .
Even if Theresa May loses this vote tonight; she will be replaced by someone in her party who will not give any regard to the abject poverty and suffering of so many people in this nation.
People have died, with no food in their stomachs. People would starve if it were not for British people donating food. Children are entering foodbanks and vomiting when they finally have the chance to eat.
So, for many, unless this conservative Government is ousted, it will be a matter of life or death.
We now have it in writing from a completely independent well respected source. One that is not politically motivated.
These words are not from the opposition. But from a well respected United Nations Professor, who is politically neutral. And Australian. He has no political points to score. He said “Austerity and the rise of poverty since 2010 is a political choice” made by the government. The Conservatives. Fact.
Owen Jones said “when the next Election comes it will be the fight of our lives” and he is absolutely right.
So when that time comes we absolutely have to do everything in our power to fight against this. Because it could be our friends, our family, our neighbour. And one day it could be you.
The Trussell Trust
United Nations Special Report on Poverty in the U.K.