We all owe a debt of thanks to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation for its work to reveal the depth of poverty in British society today.
The Foundation’s latest report reveals that – even by standards that have slipped since the Coalition government came into office – in-work poverty has galloped ahead of that suffered by those in workless and retired families – proving once and for all that, under the Tories and Liberal Democrats, work doesn’t pay!
But the situation is actually worse than the figures suggest, because the poverty line is always 60 per cent of average (median) income – and incomes in the UK have been dropping. Some say the average is now seven per cent lower than in 2010; others say nearly 10 per cent.
This means that, if we add in the people in working families who would be below the poverty line if it had remained at, say, 2008 levels, another two million people would be considered to be in poverty. These people are no better-off than they were before the poverty level slipped; they can’t buy more than they could before – in fact, their money goes a lot less far because inflation, even at 2.7 per cent, has hugely outstripped pay increases.
Add in the number of workless and retired families who are also in poverty – 6.3 million – and we have 15 million people in poverty in the UK today. That’s a quarter of the population of the seventh largest economy in the world.
And George Osborne wants us to congratulate him for his achievements over the past three years. Well done, George. You have conclusively proved that you are the worst Chancellor in British history – heading up the worst government in British history.
Let’s look at some of his successes:
The fall in average incomes in the last two years alone has wiped out all the gains made by Labour in the previous decade – and George has another year and a half to put people in even more serious trouble.
Worse still, incomes for the poorest 10 per cent of the population have been falling since 2004/5, because the neoliberal New Labour government did not protect them. These are the people for whom the four ‘D’s – debt, destitution, desperation and despair – will hit hardest.
The proportion of low-paid jobs increased in 2012. Remember that, when the government tells you that more people are in work than ever before. They are not telling you that these jobs keep people in poverty. They are not telling you the fact that, under the Coalition, work most certainly does not pay.
Among those in work, the number paid less than the living wage rose from 4.6 million to five million in 2012. This means 400,000 more working people are having to claim benefits to make ends meet. Work does not pay. The five million figure is one-sixth of the total workforce and includes two million people who had never previously claimed.
Meanwhile, those in benefit are being pushed into very deep poverty by sanctions, the effect of overlapping changes to social security benefits – which the government has again and again refused to measure, and the falling value of benefits due to the Chancellor’s one per cent uprating cap.
More sanction referrals were made on the unemployed between 2010 and 2012 than there are people currently claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance (1.6 million, against 1.48 million claimants) – and 800,000 benefit stoppages or reductions were approved. This impacts on the government’s jobless figures, which do not include the number of jobseekers under sanction. Think about it – 800,000 is more than half the number that official figures show are out of work. Also, we know that Workfare is being stepped up, in order to fiddle the figures even more seriously.
The Bedroom Tax and council tax benefit cuts have hit 400,000 families, of whom around 267,000 families were already in poverty.
It is in this context that Iain Duncan Smith feebly attempted to distract attention away from the damning facts by telling the Telegraph that 50 families were each earning around £70,000 in benefits before his benefit cap (the £26,000-per-year, not the one per cent uprating limit) was brought in.
While this may be a shocking figure for some people, he did not provide the full details. How many people are we discussing, per family? Will the cap push them below the poverty line? Considering the facts laid out above, would a job relieve poverty for these families – or make it worse?
Smith – or ‘RTU’, as we call him here (it stands for ‘Returned To Unit’, a reference to his dismal Army career) – has yet again insisted that his diabolical changes are making the system “fair”. Anybody who repeats an assertion such as this, as often as he has, knows that nobody believes it.
Today, he is due to go before the Commons Work and Pensions Committee to account for his persistent interference with the statistics. Expect bluster and bravado but do not expect the facts.
For example, he will never admit how many people have died from the poverty caused by his assessment regime for Employment and Support Allowance.
That figure alone could bring down this government.
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