Monday, 1 June 2015

What ever happened to the great British value of we look after our own?

After the atrocities of the second world war, Britain wrote and became a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In the same period the then labour government set up the welfare state. The ECHR was agreed and signed by the countries of Europe and is a declaration to the world that the horrendous atrocities that had been seen during the war, must never be allowed to happen again. The welfare state was set up in response to the Beveridge report of 1942 to end rampant poverty in Britain and to look after everybody “from the womb to the tomb.” Both acts were an unequivocal statement of declaration that whether rich or poor, Britain looks after it’s own and such atrocities have no place in a modern society.

Fast forward seventy odd years and of course a lot has happened. We have had numerous wars including the Falklands in 1982, the Gulf in 1991, Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011. Cars are now seen on our roads everyday, the television was invented, we now have machines to wash and dry our clothes, it is now possible to communicate with people on the other side of the world with just the touch of a few buttons and we have made huge advancements in the development of weapons of mass destruction.

But most damning of all in my opinion is that in one of the most powerful nations of the world, with a population of 60million people we have 4,100,000 children living in poverty. Almost a third, or 32% of British children are living in poverty.       Britain is the 6th richest nation in the world, with a GDP of more than £1.6trillion and in 2014 we had one of the fastest growing economies in the world, yet in some areas between 50%-70% of children are growing up in poverty, figures from the Child Poverty Action Group show. The figures also show that 66% of children growing up in poverty live in a household where at least one parent works, proving beyond doubt that work does not provide a guaranteed route out of poverty in Britain, despite the tories to the contrary. How did we end up here? What happened to the great British value that we look after our own?

Well despite our best intentions way back in 1945, we never did manage to eradicate child poverty and in 2005/06 there were 3.8million children living in poverty according to the Department of Work and Pensions. This was a rise of 200,000 children since the year before and was described as “a moral disgrace” by children’s’ charity Barnardo’s. Despite numbers falling over the next three years, they had risen again to 3.8million by 2010. In March 2010 the Child Poverty Act was passed, legally binding the government to a commitment to eradicate child poverty in Britain by 2020. For the first time ever, government and local authorities have been set targets to end childhood poverty for good. However almost have way to that target, the figures from the Child Poverty Action Group show that our government is moving backwards instead of forwards.

Given the previous coalition governments’ ruthless commitment to austerity measures, a consequence of the UK banks irresponsible lending and by 2014 had lead to a cost to the British taxpayer of £1.3trillion, it’s no wonder child poverty numbers are rising. The cuts to welfare benefits have seen a cap of £26,000 for any working age adult across all benefits, the introduction of the bedroom tax, a reduction in the child element of working tax credit, cuts to child benefit, cuts in the number of children receiving free school meals, it is no wonder the number of children living in poverty is rising. There is no doubt that by the end of the coalition governments’ reign there were more people in work, the figures speak for themselves. However at least a portion of those new jobs were either low paid, zero hours contracts or self employment. None of which provide any security for Britain’s hard working families that the conservative like to talk about.

Considering their track record in coalition with the liberal democrats, does not speak well for our new conservative majority government, with their plan to cut £30billion from public spending, £12billion of which will come from the welfare budget. Although the government have not yet laid out exactly which benefits will be effected, I fear greatly for our children and those who through no fault of their own, are least able to defend themselves and can least afford further cuts.

People are poor for a great many reasons. But explanations that put poverty down to drug and alcohol dependency, family breakdown, poor parenting, or a culture of worklessness are simply not supported by the facts. Child poverty blights childhoods. Growing up in poverty means being cold, going hungry, not being able to join in activities with friends and it has long lasting effects. By age sixteen, children who receive free school meal achieve 1.7 grades lower than their wealthier peers. Leaving school with lower grades translates into lower earnings, with little prospect of improvement over the course of a working life.

Children have no choice about whether they are born into a rich or a poor family and very few people, if anyone in the history of mankind has ever made a conscious decision to be poor. We have forgotten the commitment we made in 1945 to eradicate child poverty and are well on our way to failing second time around as well. By it’s very definition, in a democratic society there is no such thing as poverty, it simply does not exist. In a democratic society there would not be a scenario where a handful of RBS bankers would receive £484million in bonuses, while 4.1million children did not have their most basic needs met, including enough food, warm clothes and a safe home.

Therefore I submit that Britain clearly is not a democracy.

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