With good news on the economy, with the headline rate of unemployment falling yet again in the latest figures, and with wages rising, we might all heave a sigh of relief. Comparing October to December 2014 with July to September 2014, the number of people in employment increased by 103,000 (to reach 30.90 million), the number of unemployed people fell by 97,000 (to reach 1.86 million) and the number of people not in the labour force (economically inactive) aged from 16 to 64 increased by 22,000 (to reach 9.05 million).
But the government continues to wage war on the poor by cutting benefits. Just last month there were further cuts in housing benefits to the poor. Housing costs are a major factor in pushing families into poverty.
A measure of a just society is how well the poorest do during a recession. Austerity has been unkind to the poor who have born the brunt of the cuts in welfare. Official statistics show that between 14 and 15 million people live in absolute poverty in the UK after housing costs are taken into account. That is 23% of the population. It is about 3 million more than before the recession and austerity. It is a staggering figure. What gives a lie to the idea that it is the 'feckless' and 'work shy' is that absolute poverty has increased most in working households with a significant impact on children living in poverty.
The poorest have been hit by the cost of housing. Yet, last month the government cut local authority budgets for discretionary housing payments by 24%, or £40 million (from £165m in 2014 -15 to £125m for 2015-16). It is another example of how the poorest are made to carry the brunt of cutting the deficit. Whilst wealthy tax dodgers get away scot free, the needy are forced deeper into poverty.
The government has instigated a systematic campaign against the poor. The bedroom tax, benefit cap and now cuts in local housing allowances — have left many families with a gap between their rent and housing benefit, which they cannot bridge. These are hard working families. Families with at least one working member in the household, earning poverty wages to keep the wealthy rich. Even as we come out of recession the poorest are being squeezed.
We had the bedroom tax in an attempt to drive hard working families from their homes. We had flawed disability assessments driving the disabled to despair and, in some cases, suicide. The coalition has been a shocking government — a government without a moral compass. It is time it stopped. They have chased the poorest and allowed the wealthiest to get away with it. The wealthy have become the 'untouchables'. The poorest 10% in the UK pay proportionately more tax than the wealthiest. The poorest 10% of households pay eight percent more of their income in all taxes than the richest – 43% compared to 35%. That is something the tax dodging rich should be ashamed of. Taxpayer's money subsidises the lifestyle of the wealthy.
We need to bring back into focus social justice at the heart of measuring outcome of economic strategy. To grow the economy is not in itself sufficient to ensure social justice. The rich simply get richer. Of course growth is important, but we must all have a stake in that growth. Currently the poorest do not.
Falling unemployment is good news. But there is another story behind the frontline statistics. More people are now 'self employed'. Whilst this is good news in that they are at least earning a living, the income of those self employed has dropped by 22% during the recession. That is a massive hit and many struggle at a time when benefits are being cut. This is why the latest cut in discretionary housing benefit is so severe. Opportunities for more secure employment with decent wages has fallen. The increase in 'self-employed' is not a feature of 'entrepreneurship' but of people getting by in a fragile job market.
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