The best gift the 3 million excluded could wish for this Christmas is the promise of security
[The Chancellor] fails to admit stringent criteria cut millions off from receiving any kind of benefit at all as if he hopes that the problem will go away on its own, writes Munira Wilson MP. | PA Images
The government is not only ignoring the 3 million excluded from financial support, but has even condemned them as money-grabbing fraudsters trying to cheat the system. It is vital we fill the gaping holes in these schemes.
“We have hot water once per week, buy the cheapest food we can...and I’m racking up the borrowings on various credit cards.”
Across the country, there are millions of people struggling to get by on scant savings with wages cut to the extent they barely cover the essentials. Families who were once financially comfortable are now struggling, relying on food banks to feed themselves and their children, and selling vehicles to be able to pay the mortgage next month.
Of course, such desperate measures have not been totally ignored by MPs. The 3 million excluded from the government’s emergency coronavirus financial support schemes have been mentioned hundreds of times, and the largest ever All-Party Parliamentary Group has been formed to champion their cause.
The government refuses to accept that these individuals and families exist. They ignore those who have gone from successful small business owners to people unable to afford central heating this winter, do not acknowledge those in their 60s and 70s unable to give up work, turn a blind eye to those cashing in their pensions without hope of recouping any of their hard-earned money.
These are more than the mere anomalies the government is trying to convince us they are. Those excluded from financial support schemes account for 1 in 10 of the UK workforce. Worse, the government has gone so far as to condemn these people as money-grabbing fraudsters trying to cheat the system.
Adopting some of the simple solutions that have been proposed to fill the gaping holes in existing schemes is absolutely vital
The Chancellor merely repeats the same lines about how many his schemes have helped, how a programme erected so quickly will naturally have imperfections, how Universal Credit remains an option open to those who are struggling to get by in the circumstances. He fails to admit stringent criteria cut millions off from receiving any kind of benefit at all as if he hopes that the problem will go away on its own.
The characterisation of the excluded as people taking advantage of a benevolent government scheme is not a fair one. Many of these individuals have paid taxes their entire working lives, and never claimed any government support. They find themselves in a foreign situation, unsure where to turn when their government had failed to support them in their hour of need.
It is an unfortunate truth that hard economic circumstances do not simply impact the individual alone. Shockwaves extend to the entire family, with elderly parents worrying about how their children can make ends meet month on month without support. This in turn negatively impacts the mental health of people up and down the country, with several hundred respondents to surveys citing symptoms of depression and anxiety, developing as a result of the immense financial pressure that they have unexpectedly found themselves under.
With Christmas fast approaching, the best gift that the 3 million excluded could possibly wish for is the promise of security from the Chancellor.
Adopting some of the simple solutions that have been proposed to fill the gaping holes in existing schemes is absolutely vital, not just for their physical and mental health, but also to help kick-start the economic recovery we desperately need as we try to scramble out of and beyond this dreadful pandemic.
Munira Wilson is the Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham and Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Health and Social Care.