By Helen Rowe, writer and social researcher
Poverty is unacceptable and yet, if we are honest, it is accepted.
There is a world of difference between alleviating poverty and actually trying to eliminate it, but with a realistic and holistic outlook, it is possible.
Should a political party seek to end deprivation on our Isles, the leadership would need to accept two unpalatable truths. The first is the short timeframe of five years. With no guarantee of re-election, the aim must be to finish the job in a single term of office. The second is that it cannot involve tax rises. Our political history is clear on this point – parties are not elected into government if they say they will raise taxes. It is a recurring and unequivocal ‘no’. How then could it happen in a country such as ours with an enormous national debt? How would we fund it?
Three core concepts are essential: compassion, focus and a detailed plan which works in conjunction with the green agenda, and one that can be clearly articulated to the public during an election.
Even with 14.4 million living in poverty, the stereotype of the undeserving poor perpetuates. This Victorian judgement has been handed down through generations and has benefitted certain politicians who have used it to distance themselves from dealing with the country’s problems. Eliminating poverty in Britain can only be achieved by a leader who genuinely understands the country they are leading and who has enough wisdom to use the power they hold in their hands thoughtfully.
The pandemic showed us how broad and rapid action can be made in unfathomably short timeframes. The same type of focus would be needed to break poverty’s hold over our country. Five years is not a long time for an issue this large and complex. Fortunately, child deprivation is particularly responsive to interventions and so could be the first success of the poverty elimination programme.
A holistic and expansive plan (as detailed in my book) would require a combined effort from across society. Led by Downing Street, it would need to encompass the civil service, devolved and local governments, expert nonprofits like Greater Manchester Poverty Action and the voices of those most affected by deprivation. Money from the Royal Bank of Scotland shares that the government still owns, changes in departmental spending, fewer follies like Boris Johnson’s failed Garden Bridge over the Thames (which cost £43m for nothing) and a new system of socially responsible gilts for investment funds, would provide enough money to get the programme started.
We can have everything we want for our country, but only if we eliminate poverty. We can have:
- shorter waiting times on the NHS – poverty makes people sick
- better attainment in schools – stress and hunger stop the brain functioning properly and change our DNA
- a lower crime rate – serious youth violence and poverty are intimately connected
- a protected environment – we cannot deal with climate change unless we deal with poverty
- a stronger economy – for growth to begin, people need money in their pockets to spend.
Poverty affects every person in our country. It permeates broadly and exhausts people and services alike.
We have more knowledge, understanding and connectivity than our species has ever known. If we decide not to try this now, when do we do it? In five, ten or fifteen more years? Now is the best time. It is not impossible, it just requires compassion, focus and a plan and then we would create a society which is fit for everyone who lives in it.
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