Poverty in a cold economic climate

26 July 2013

The gap between Foodbanks and City Banks is a daily reminder of the severe inequality that exists in this country.

Some 13  million people in the UK live below the poverty line; the Trussell Trust’s foodbanks fed almost 360,000 people  last year, one third of them children. 

The Trust’s aim is to have a foodbank in every town.

In contrast, RBS, the bank at the centre of the crash in the last decade, now has a majority public stakeholding and although it made a £5 billion loss nevertheless managed to pay £1 million to over  90 of its staff last year.

 There is rising unease that inequality is making our society less cohesive particularly when the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that “ by 2015–16 median incomes will still be no higher than in 2002–03” while millionaires received a huge tax windfall from the Tory government at the beginning of this tax year.

If there existed a yearning for a continuous cry of rage clamouring for government action from a public fully conversant with the existence of such injustice, then the sad truth is that this yearning for radical action remains just that, a yearning.

 While there is large-scale agreement amongst the public that the gap between the rich and the rest in society is unacceptable, there has been no resultant strong demand for a radical redistribution of incomes.

 So how can we stir the conscience to become more concerned about poverty when, in a cold economic climate, some people turn inwardly to protect what they have ?

Decisions made by rich and powerful people and their institutions determine to a large degree the level of inequality in a society.

 Countless communities across the country were broken by years of Thatcherism which destroyed much of the manufacturing industry that gave its members an income, fed their families and gave them a sense of identity.

 The Thatcher “revolution” made many of them poor and vulnerable.

 These are not people who are the casualties of  their own irresponsibility and fecklessness as some people might believe.

 And they are not work-shy; many poor people are in work and have a job.

 Others are out of work having lost their jobs.  

In our communities today poverty is more relative than absolute; more about struggling to have the everyday things needed to function in today’s society than just the bare, basic essentials.

Many suffer, some in silence.

Unlike the poor who are visible in our communities, the rich do not live amongst us

They are out of sight and therefore out of mind.

Some believe that the rich are entitled to their wealth because they have “earned  it”

But illuminating events such as the rewards given for spectacular failure in the banking sector make a mockery of how such money was “earned”.

And as a recent study has shown, when we examine trends in inequality in inherited wealth, these are twice to three times the inequality in the distribution of incomes.

Increasing public support for action on poverty requires a great effort of persuasion particularly when so much of that opinion is, not just misguided, but wrong.

Earlier this month a new survey commissioned by the Royal Statistical Society found that of those questioned :

*29 per cent thought that more is spent on Job Seekers Allowance than on pensions.

(The actual amounts are £4.9billion on JSA and £74billion on pensions in the UK in financial year 2011-12)

* that the average amount spent on benefits that is claimed fraudently was £24 out of every £100.

(The official figure is 70p per £100 )

*  26 per cent of people questioned thought that overseas aid is one of the biggest items of government expenditure when it accounts for just over 1 per cent.

Some thought  more was spent on overseas aid ( £7.9billion) than on pensions (£74 billion ) and more than on Education (£51billion)

The Society recommends that:

“ politicians need to be better at talking about the real state of affairs of the country, rather than spinning the numbers”, that the media should not “ use statistics to sensationalise” and some original thinking,  “ better teaching of statistical literacy in schools, so that people get more comfortable in understanding evidence.”

So there is a great deal to be done.

We need to persuade many more that structural factors in the economy impact upon poverty, unemployment in particular ,along with underemployment, wage inequality, the level of job opportunities, and impediments to employment such as high childcare costs.

The influential book “The Spirit Level “is subtitled  - “Why Equality is Better for Everyone”.

It says:

“inequality is related to significantly higher mortality rates” and “states with bigger increases in inequality between 1970 and 2000 had less improvement in life expectancy than those with smaller increases.”

It also shows that social mobility, lower murder rates, less obesity, greater trust in government and in members of neighbourhoods, higher educational attainment, all correlate with less inequality.


Everyone benefits in a fairer society.

Our real goal should be that no town has  need of a foodbank at all.

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