The report published today by the Church of England, H.M. proxy Opposition and including representation from all the main political parties, delivers a hefty body blow against a government which a week ago told us that, if they won the election, they would take the country back to the Britain of the 1930s. Even before we get there, the revelations in the report about Britain today are bad enough and already make grim reading. In the last 18 months 835,000 individuals were sanctioned (i.e had their benefit stopped and therefore were left penniless for at least 4 weeks, often for trivial reasons). A high proportion of them were sanctioned twice, which meant they were deprived of all income for 13 weeks. This is, unsurprisingly, the main cause for the huge proliferation of food banks, of which there are now over 500. When asked to explain this, the Tory business minister, one of Osborne’s acolytes, made the fatuous remark that it was “because more people know about them”. He then added that “the truth is that poverty is coming down” when in fact the truth is it’s rising fast. He also referred to the growing number in jobs and that that was the “single best way” out of poverty, blithely ignorant that there are now more working households in poverty than those dependent on benefit.
Hunger now stalks large parts of the country for hundreds of thousands of families across Britain. This is the first time this has happened on this scale since the 1930s, and it is no accident. Osborne deliberately chose to tackle the deficit through prolonged austerity rather than continuing the much more successful policy of Alastair Darling before 2010 in bringing down the deficit much faster, more productively and far less painfully by expanding the economy and creating jobs, growth and higher incomes. Osborne then compounded his mistake by savagely cutting benefits, abolishing the last-resort Social Fund for those in the most desperate need, pushed up rents in so-called ‘affordable housing’, forced tens of thousands out of their homes by the cap on housing benefit and through the infamous bedroom tax, and compelled thousands of seriously disabled persons to accept work or ‘work-related activity’ through the notorious Atos-led work capability assessments, on pain that they would otherwise be deprived of their benefits.
This is a very nasty, vicious, punitive policy unprecedented even among Tory governments since the war. It is not however going to change because of a report, only if feedback from the report swells into a a major social movement of resistance. That is what the Labour Party should now be leading.