At the Heart of the Economic Recovery

Two weeks ago it was the Queens Speech. All the associated pomp and pageantry hid a deeper, almost darker message. The Coalition has simply run out of ideas. Some of the legislation proposed, while of noble intent, will not deal with the profound challenges that Britain faces. The largest of these is the rampant inequality in our economy and society. The United Kingdom is one of the most unequal economies in the developed world. In 2014, one in three people now live in poverty which means the poverty rate has more than doubled in 30 years.

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Infographic from Oxfam.

The Office for National Statistics reported that the richest 1% of the UK owned the same amount of wealth as poorest 54%. Cutting the 50p tax rate for top earners quickened the pace of inequality. The starkest impact of inequality is that those living in the richest parts of London will live 17 years longer than those from the poorest. Inequality is not just an economic concern, but a human one. The Conservative Party have no answers.

By 2020 it is estimated that 5 million children will be destined to a lifetime of poverty; a shocking rise of 41% over the next 6 years. The Trussell Trust, a network of foodbanks, alone reported a 163% increase in the numbers of people who received a three day emergency food package between April 2013 and March 2014. Tell me how is it right that in 2014 that we have over 900’000 people who simply cannot afford to eat without the help of charities, including 300’000 children?

The ‘cost of living crisis’ is not just a snappy political slogan, but a real human tragedy – one that we should all be ashamed of.

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Graph from Save the Children showing the shocking rise of child poverty over the next 6 years.

Conservative politicians have desired to ‘make work pay’ by pushing down benefits, forcing the unemployed to take a low paid, insecure job. This hasn’t worked. Work is no longer a guarantee pathway out of poverty. Two-thirds of the UK’s poorest children live in working households. If politicians really wanted to ‘make work pay’ then they would push the incomes of the poorest up. Not through tax cuts, but through a living wage. This would benefit everybody, even the Exchequer through reducing social security payments and increasing tax receipts.

The question must be asked: why? Why is it that in the 21st Century those in poverty are more likely to be employed than unemployed? Why does the massive expansion of foodbanks fail to elicit anger and despair? Why is society seemingly immune to the deprivation and distress of the most vulnerable? Why is the government willing to condemn a generation of children to a lifetime of abject poverty through inaction? Why are politicians refusing to implement a fair, living wage for all when the benefits are so clear?

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Volunteer at a Foodbank

The economy is not working for ordinary people. Ken Clarke, the Conservative MP and Cabinet Minister, was correct to say that most people are yet to feel any sense of a recovery. Under the Coalition inflation has increased faster than wages for most of their time in office; households are, on average, £1600 worse off now than they were in 2010. Inequality and poverty is at the heart of the Coalition’s economic recovery. It is time for change. The poorest and most vulnerable in our society need and require better.

By Ben Cooper.