Mon, 15 July 2024

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Austerity has proven a failure – but this Government is still locking millions into poverty

3 min read

Even the smallest respite to those in poverty is at risk under this Government – they must commit to ending the benefits freeze in April 2020 as promised, writes Peter Dowd

One in every five people are now living in poverty in the UK – 14.3 million citizens. We’ve heard many promises of halcyon days ahead over the last nine years of Conservative rule, but austerity has only worsened this picture - pushing a million further people below the breadline.

No policy is more symbolic of this government’s intentional immiseration than the benefits freeze. The Work and Pensions Select Committee stated that cutting the real value of people’s benefits is “predicted to increase poverty more than any other policy.” Shelter described is as “directly stoking the homelessness crisis.”

According to research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, families are on average £560 a year worse off as a result of the freeze. This amounts to three months’ food shopping for an average low-income family. JRF also believe that over 200,000 people were pushed into poverty as a direct result of this policy, though many more will have felt its effects in combination with the multiple, vicious cuts that have hit those with the lowest incomes the hardest.

It would have been of little comfort to those affected by the freeze to know that the policy was designed to last for four years. It was due to end in April 2020, at which point benefits would presumably rise in line with inflation once again. Though they have been eroded over the last four years, at least there would be no further cuts. This was confirmed to me by the last Chief Secretary to the Treasury in May.

Sadly, however, it seems that even this small respite is now uncertain under Johnson’s administration. The Chancellor Sajid Javid and his team were asked twice last week whether ending the benefits freeze remained government policy. They refused to answer each time. It seems that they are backing away from the commitment to end this pernicious measure, leaving the door open to further cuts to low income families. This will only lead to even higher levels of poverty, in the fifth richest country in the world. 

Meanwhile the Prime Minister seems content to propose billions of unfunded tax cuts to the richest in our society. Only those battling poverty have been forgotten by the party of the few.

This can’t continue. The longest fall in wages since the Napoleonic era under this government has undermined the faith we once placed in work as a route out of poverty. At the same time, social security support for those in and out of work has been cut beyond recognition. Austerity has proven a failure, and it is those with the least that have paid the highest price.

But Labour has a plan to bring about economic justice. We’ll not only put an end to the benefits freeze once and for all but will scrap the hated Universal Credit. Introducing a system of social security support which we can all rely on in our time of need. Alongside this, we will immediately introduce a minimum wage of £10 an hour, available to all regardless of age.

The Tory ‘nasty party’ has done enough damage to our communities. It’s time for a Labour government to bring us back together.

Peter Dowd is Labour MP for Bootle and shadow chief secretary to the Treasury

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