The return of absolute poverty in the UK

Michael Meacher gave a great speech on Jan 13th which seems to have attracted little attention in the media:

It is clear that something terrible is happening across the face of Britain. We are seeing the return of absolute poverty, which has not existed in this country since the Victorian age, more than a century ago. Absolute poverty is when people do not have the money to pay for even their most basic needs. The evidence of that is all around us. There are at least 345 food banks and, according to the Trussell Trust, emergency food aid was given to 350,000 households for at least three days in the last year. The Red Cross is setting up centres to help the destitute, just as it does in developing countries. A study that was published two months ago shows that even in prosperous areas of the country, such as London, more than a quarter of the population is living in poverty. This point is really scary: according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, for the first time, the number of people in working families who are living in poverty, at 6.7 million, is greater than the number of people in workless and retired families who are living in poverty, at 6.3 million.

The Department for Work and Pensions published new data two months ago—it was pretty reluctant to do this, and one can see why—showing that the use of sanctions, which means depriving people of all their benefits for several weeks at a time, had increased by 126% since 2010 and, most strikingly of all, that 120 disabled people who had been receiving jobseeker’s allowance had been given a three-year fixed duration sanction in the previous year. Figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government—these are the last that I will quote, although there are many more that I could quote—show that there are now more than 2,000 families who have been placed in emergency bed-and-breakfast accommodation after losing their homes. The 5% rise in the overall homelessness figures last year included nearly 9,000 families with children, which is the equivalent of one family losing their home every 15 minutes.

What are the causes of the emergence of absolute poverty? The biggest cause is the huge rise in sanctioning: depriving someone of all their benefit entitlement for a month in the first instance, for three months in the second instance and, on a third infringement, for three years!

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