A society divided by poverty

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By Ivan Lewis MP

The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated recently,

“I reject the idea that there are vast numbers of people facing dire poverty in this country. I don’t accept the UN rapporteur’s report at all. I think that’s a nonsense. Look around you; that’s not what we see in this country.”

In the context of poverty, we sadly do not live in one society, one nation or even one city region, we are deeply divided. A society where the world of work and social networks increasingly means people on different levels of income have little or no contact. This is socially regressive.

One of the great virtues of the best Children’s Centres are that they bring together parents of all social classes. This is mutually beneficial for the children but also for adult relationships and community cohesion. However, the cuts to early years provision and the absence of a meaningful child poverty strategy undermine any efforts to break the cycle of Intergenerational poverty which blights too many families.

The impact of austerity has fallen disproportionately on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Women, ethnic minorities, children, single parents, asylum seekers and people with disabilities have suffered the most.

Since 2010, the Government has made more than £30billion in cuts to welfare, housing and social payments. Social and living standards have not improved and for too many have worsened since the global economic crash of 2008.

Every day we see the impact of the breakdown of much of our social fabric in the form of people sleeping rough on our streets. It is hard to celebrate the growth exemplified by the cranes in the skies of our major cities when down below too many people are huddled in doorways and under archways seeking shelter and sanctuary.

The Child Poverty Action Group has stated that an additional 300,000 children will be living in poverty by the time universal credit has been fully implemented in 2023-2024. The two-child policy is not compatible with our national commitment towards children. We owe a duty of care to all children, not just the first two, to enable families to foster healthy environments in which they can flourish.

Our social security system is intended to function as a safety net to support and assist people through situations such as low-pay, sickness, long term disability and unemployment. Instead, too often it has become a source of despair and misery with the most vulnerable in society beholden to the seemingly arbitrary rules which dictate how much universal credit one is entitled too.

A new Prime Minister will rightly be expected to resolve the Brexit stalemate. But alongside this, he or she must recognise the economic and social imperative to reduce levels of poverty which help to fuel (division) in our fractured society. The stark division in our country between Remainers and Leavers is corrosive. But so are levels of poverty which consign too many of our fellow citizens to poor life chances and a poor quality of life. It is a human tragedy for those trapped in this cycle of despair, but it is also undermining our economy in a world where human capital is at a premium.

This is in our country, all around us, and it isn’t right.

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