A report by the Resolution Foundation says that more than a quarter of the UK workforce will remain trapped in poverty despite the rise in the national minimum wage as a result of cuts to welfare and tax credits. Observer 27th October.

A report by the Resolution Foundation says that more than a quarter of the UK workforce will remain trapped in poverty despite the rise in the national minimum wage as a result of cuts to welfare and tax credits. Observer 27th October.

Benefit Street: Media Industry urged to be more responsible

There is a really worrying trend going on in our TV industry attacking the dignity of both working and workless people on low incomes.  TV chiefs are not standing up to morally bankrupt bankers and their continuing huge bonuses or to wealthy tax dodgers who deprive the Treasury of millions. Instead TV programme commissioners seem intent on making programmes  ‘standing up to’ communities facing poverty,  rooting out the most extreme examples and presenting them as the norm. ‘ Benefit Street’ is the most notable of these programmes targeting people in poverty and showing them in the worst possible light, fueling a pervasive sense that everyone on benefits is lazy, deviant and playing the benefits system. ‘Benefit Street’ focused on a road in Birmingham, but ‘Skint’ was another programme from Channel 4 portraying a community in Scunthorpe struggling with de-industrialisation in a negative light. Channel 5’s  ’Benefits and Proud’  also had a subtext that just being on benefits is a crime. Even the BBC programme ‘The Future of the Welfare State’ seemed to suggest that Britain was living in ‘an age of entitlement’. This programme was heavily criticised by the BBC Trust for breaching impartiality and accuracy rules but it is easy to see how some people can be seduced into believing that everyone on benefits is just looking for hand-outs. This stream of programmes dis-informs the public and leads to a completely distorted view.   For example, polls show that people on average think that 27% of social security payments are lost to fraud when the real figure is closer to 0.7%. Only 3% of the benefit budget even goes to unemployed people...

Is the economy recovering?

The supposed economic ‘recovery’ does not sit well with newspaper headlines such as ‘Thousands in court for council tax arrears as benefit cuts hit home’. Structural causes of poverty and inequality are conveniently overlooked, while benefit claimants, a large proportion of whom are working-age families with children needing housing benefit and tax credit to survive, are made the individualist targets of government rhetoric suggesting, by implication at least, that benefit claimants and recipients are idle and not wanting to work – ‘scroungers versus strivers’ – and that billions more must be saved by taking away even more of what little they have left.  Feedback from charities such as Citizens Advice, and surely from most peoples’ own experience, suggests that most people do not want to claim benefits, and that if they do need them, they want to get out of them as soon as possible. Even apart from the unfairness of targeting draconian cuts on the poorest in society, (including many with mental and physical disabilities and with sometimes drastic consequences including attempts at suicide, and where sanctions such as failure to meet targets eg the correct number of job applications can result in loss of benefits), when it is accepted by nearly everyone of all political persuasions that the financial crisis has been caused by the recklessness of the banks and lax financial regulation, there are counter-productive  consequences for the economy at large (especially with yet further huge cuts on the agenda), for example contributing to avoidable use of the NHS including crisis services, failure to keep disabled people in work, and of course with even less income,...
All in the same boat – poverty or inequality?

All in the same boat – poverty or inequality?

The political rhetoric that talks about everyone being in the same boat as part of the justification of austerity measures to reduce national debt would be laughable if its consequences were not so serious.  In part the real agenda is about reducing welfare to a minimum and likewise the overall role of the state. It’s about allowing ‘market forces’ to dictate what happens not only to the economy, but in the wider society with government focusing on property rights above human rights. If this sounds extreme think about the on-going attack on human rights legislation with the government threatening to withdraw from international human rights legislation. At the same time it actively works on behalf of the City to ensure that bankers pay is not limited, while cutting the higher rates of tax for those earning over £100,000. Politicians appear to be programmed to either open or end every statement with reference to ‘hard working families’ and the need to do the right thing by them. Yet it is this group and particularly families in low paid employment that have been hardest hit be government policies. The government is less happy about talking about the consequences of its austerity policies as evidenced by its failure to seriously address the growth of foodbanks and the fact that a significant number of people using them are the ‘working poor.’ There is also little if any debate about inequality and the fact that it continues to grow. Poverty seems to be regarded almost as a ‘natural fact of life’ rather than the consequences of economic policy. We need to continually remind ourselves...