The Poverty Gap – A return to Victorian Britain

Firstly I need to apologise to any followers of this blog for my protracted absence, I dislocated my wrist and damaged the ligaments in my hand rendering me unable to type. Add that to a seemingly never-ending Christmas period hangover and you end up with no blogs! So apologies for that.

The first topic I will tackle as part of my prodigious return is the ever-widening gulf between rich and poor in the UK. A gulf that Thatcher herself once said we should “glory in”, but one that leads to stories like that of Mark Mullins; the ex-army PT and his wife that took their own lives to avoid another winter below the bread line (see my last post). We are rapidly approaching levels of social inequality not seen since the reign of Queen Victoria, whilst being sold the propaganda that this is somehow good for us.

The recent mediation of Tory spite towards “shirkers” will do little to fool a more politically aware public that are seeing daily the effects of voting in the “nasty party” during a period of recession. What this country needs is not aggressive spending cuts (spending cuts that leading economists denounce across the board), neither does it need sustained attacks on those living on benefits or welfare – it needs strong leadership, compassion and real strides towards rebuilding the economy. Where are the policies to boost the economy? Where is the help for construction, manufacture, small business?

Nothing that has been put into place by Osbourne has helped the UK into growth. He has provided tax breaks for millionaires, he has managed to sell his second home for a profit (the second home that we the taxpayer, bought) and kept the money – he has also made the gesture to stop claiming child benefit. How wonderful, George, that you should stop claiming something that you have never needed and are stopping soon anyway. We should be beholden to you and your benevolent chums at number 10.

Those same gentlemen would have you believe that the reason people live in poverty is because they are “shirkers”. Their thinking is “they don’t want to work – why shouldn’t we freeze (read: cut) benefits for people who can’t be bothered to work?” This is a diatribe you will hear trotted out up and down the country. When I hear this I ask one question and as yet I have not heard one feasible answer – how do you expect people to work their way out of poverty, when the figures show that there are on average 6 job seekers for every job? Are people really shirking, when there is no work for them to do? The infuriating thing is that George and Dave and the majority of Tory voters seem to honestly believe that people choose to live with nothing, go without meals to feed their kids – unable to heat their houses. In their minds the only reason these people aren’t rich is down to a lack of hard work. Birthright and privilege don’t seem to come into it.

To add insult to widespread injury, this lack of equality between income and standard of living actually negatively impacts the capitalist market. Increasing amounts of money in decreasing numbers of pockets has a damaging effect on the economy. The less money there is in the collective pool to be spent, the less that gets put back into the country. Your Rockerfellas and Rothschilds don’t spend huge amounts of money and neither to their (slightly) poorer financial relatives – it is generally the middle and lower classes fueled by consumerism that pump cash into the economy. The wider the gap becomes, the weaker the financial system will be. Given our current state of recession, anything that negatively impacts spending is fatal.

We currently have the largest gap between rich and poor in the Western world. Think about that for a second. In a country that recently spent £25bn (yes, billion) on two nuclear submarines – we are coming close to levels of poverty not seen for over a century. In the infamous word of Tony Benn, if a country can find money to kill surely it can find money to help people.

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6 thoughts on “The Poverty Gap – A return to Victorian Britain

  1. An excellent piece which I find hard to disagree with. But in some cases, I do.

    I am a firm believer in the principal of living within your means. If you cannot afford it, you should go without. But what happens if the things you cannot afford are the basics of life? a roof over your head, a warm meal etc.

    I am also a firm believer that charity is required because of corporate/Government failure and to a certain extent, so are benefits. The gap between those who have and those who do not has never been greater but I do believe a lot of time and resource is wasted on those who ‘believe’ they should be labelled as ‘have not’s. Those who prefer not to work. Those who do not want to aspire to a better way of life. Those willing to blame their problems on others while expecting others to support the NHS, the Education system and in this case, the all-important benefits systems.

    There are towns and villages up and down this country that have close to 90% unemployment rates because traditional local employment has dried up. Areas where coal mining, shipping building, steel work etc. was popular 20/30 years ago have become economic disaster areas. Many people born in these very areas, into poverty and living on welfare who consider themselves ‘failed’ by the Government.

    But at the same time, we have a high level of skilled migrants coming to the UK and successfully getting work in growing areas. Those Eastern Europeans that are willing to work longer for less as they have never grown up with the various safety nets we have in the UK that go by the names of child benefits, jobseekers allowance, housing benefit, income support.

    My question is, if ‘Johnny Foreigner’ can come here and make a living, why are so many of our very own failing to do so? Shirley this cannot be the governments fault?

    • I do agree with you on the points you raise about those unwilling to work or those in a “culture of unemployment” as it’s called, but the facts indicate that this is a very small percentage. Ian Duncan-Smith’s favourite little soundbite about “generations of jobless” has been proven to be false (article here) too. I think that there are of course people out there exploiting the system, however we would waste far more money trying to root them out (how would we ever find them all?) than we do by giving people the benefit of the doubt – excuse the pun.

      I think the point about migrant workers generally is that they move to where the work is and will take jobs that aren’t favoured by the indigenous population. Whereas families that have lived in a certain area for generations might find it hard to uproot themselves and just up and move (no family support, childcare, social groups), migrant workers don’t have that issue. They also seem to have a stronger sense of community and will help each other find jobs, build businesses together etc. Something that was lost in British culture some years ago in most areas.

      We can certainly blame the government for this – firstly by allowing employers to make jobs that appeal soley to migrant workers. Keeping pay low, working conditions at unnacceptable levels, split shifts etc. they alienate British workers looking for jobs who have been taught (and rightly so) that they shouldn’t have to work like that.

  2. I will be a victim of the ‘bedroom tax’ come April. I don’t get all my rent paid, but I do get some help towards it because I am on a low income and still have a dependant living at home. In April my housing benefit will reduce by 14% as I have a spare bedroom, then in September, when Bex goes off to Uni, it will reduce by 25%. I can manage this as I will take on more work, I won’t be forced to move from my home that I’ve lived in for over 8 years! Many people WON’T be able to manage this though, it’s bloody ridiculous! The Government’s answer is to move to a property with fewer bedrooms or take in a lodger! Moving home can be very expensive, I’m sure a lot of low income families would struggle to do this!

    • Yours is a perfect example of how unfair this bedroom tax is. You have always worked, for some years as a single parent, paid for your property with some help from the state (which you are entitled to) and are now being punished for what? For your children moving out of the home – something that is a natural progression in life. People that buy their own homes or rent privately aren’t subject to bedroom tax and those on HB should not be any different – the point of housing benefit is to help you to afford a place to live, a basic human right and part of the reason the welfare state was created. That doesn’t now mean they have total control over what you and your family do. It’s an abuse of power by the government, looking to cream extra money from those struggling most in society to fill their own pockets.

  3. Not one to go over covered ground, I find myself drawn to your point about migrant workers and the general desire for individuals to better themselves.

    “…Whereas families that have lived in a certain area for generations might find it hard to uproot themselves and just up and move (no family support, childcare, social groups)”

    I think the balance here in Britain is totally wrong. Thinking back to stories told to me by my grandparents and their friends in the early 90’s makes me believe that nothing has changed over the last 40 years. My grandfather took a job from British Rail in the 60’s and left Barbados with nothing but a small loan (about £1000 in today’s money), some clothes and a desire to provide for the family he left. Four years later, after having to rent floors, then later rooms, then flats till he got his own home, he was able to provide a home over his wife (my grandma) who herself found work here in the UK in an instant despite the fact the 70’s were meant to be all doom and gloom.

    Do not get me wrong, they government are not doing the best to help people but then on the flip side of that, people are not doing the best to help themselves. Expecting wages to be a certain level has driven competition out – Count how many products you own that are British made? We pride ourselves on our consumer appetite for the latest iPhones, best Audis, finest clothing brands but how many of the British public would be willing to work on assembly lines? I honestly would put everything I own on this…

    If we were to take everybody off benefits and they were given a job that gave them 10% more than their total benefits ‘package’, I bet you that over 50% would prefer to go back on benefits.

    As harsh as this sounds, not every Englishman is entitled to a castle.

    • I fully accept what you’re saying and if you do have the gumption to get up and do what your grandfather did, even today, you might get somewhere (as you pointed out, immigrants to the UK right now are managing). The problem is that not everybody can do that – there aren’t enough floors to sleep on, employers to sweet talk and the bottom line is that there are not enough jobs. Even in the capital, even in London I have friends that are qualified sparky’s etc that can’t currently find work. I do agree that the balance is wrong and I do agree that people could be more proactive but if we accept that en masse they aren’t, we do have a social responsibility to ensure that people can eat and stay warm.

      Your last point I do have a problem with – nobody should have to work a full week for benefits + 10%. Even benefits + 100£ would come to what? £104 a week? If you force people to work for a wage that low it is proven to have a demoralising effect. You’re also stripping away the entire reasoning behind minimum wage. Benefits + 10% is around £58 per week! Maybe not every Englishman is entitled to a castle, but every Englishman should be entitled to a roof over their heads and enough food to eat. Especially when some Englishmen (the ones that own the real castles) are they reason that the poorest are out of work.

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