Poverty in the UK 2013…


The strivers/skivers language used by our present government is a shameful smokescreen over what is happening to whole sections of our society.

I make no apologies for this assertion- I have seen it with my eyes, and now there is this;

Senior welfare experts have urged the government to reconsider benefit cuts coming into force next week that will disproportionately hit the poorest families and push a further 200,000 children into poverty.

In an open letter to David Cameron, published in the Guardian, more than 50 social policy professors warn that the welfare reforms, coupled with previous tax, benefit and public expenditure cuts, will result in the poorest tenth of households losing the equivalent of around 38% of their income.

They say the changes will undermine public support for the welfare state – which they call “one of the hallmarks of a civilised society”.

“Welfare states depend on a fair collection and redistribution of resources, which in turn rests upon the maintenance of trust between different sections of society and across generations.

“Misleading rhetoric concerning those who have to seek support from the welfare state, such as the contrast between ‘strivers’ and ‘shirkers’, risks undermining that trust and, with it, one of the key foundations of modern Britain.”

The letter argues that such rhetoric does not reflect the reality of a UK where families move fluidly in and out of work and in and out of poverty.

It adds: “In the interests of fairness and to protect the poorest, as well as to avoid the risk of undermining the consensus on the British welfare state, we urge you to increase taxation progressively on the better off, those who can afford to pay (including ourselves), rather than cutting benefits for the poorest.”

As I read this, I can hear ringing in my head the voices of people who regard poverty in this country as almost entirely the fault of the poor- their poor planning, fecklessness, gambling, smoking, drinkings, laziness, refusal to get out there and find a job. I hear them tell me how benefits are the problem- removing the imperative for change and industry in those who then become a sponge on the productivity of society. ‘Nobody needs to be poor in this country’ I hear them say. ‘Nobody can be regarded as poor if they wear designer trainers and sit on their arses playing X-box all day.’

People who say these things, even those who grew up in poor households, they have rarely had any contact with those living in poverty- whose confidence and hope have been undermined by the brutalising effect of living as a non-citizen in post modern classless Britain.

I too grew up in a poor family- the child of a single mother who often did not eat so we could go to piano lessons, or have a new pair of shoes. I remember still the shame of this life- the feeling that I was less than my peers, and that no matter what I did to try to hide this, it was as if I wore a big badge saying ‘poor’. This was nothing to do with choices that I, or even my mother had made. There was nothing romantic about this experience, nothing that might be regarded as character building. What I became has always been built on these very shaky foundations.

I was reminded again of this when reading this;

A separate report compiled by academics from six UK universities concludes that Britain’s poorest are worse off today than they were at the height of the cuts imposed by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in 1983.

The Poverty and Exclusion project reports that 33% of British households lacked at least three basic living necessities in 2012, compared with 14% in 1983. These include living in adequately heated homes, eating healthily, and owning basic clothing items such as properly fitting shoes.

“Despite the fact that the UK is a much wealthier country, levels of deprivation are going back to the levels found 30 years ago,” says the report, titled The Impoverishment of The UK.

Some of the findings are featured in an ITV Tonight programme titled Breadline Britain on Thursday evening.

The report found:

• Around 4 million adults and almost 1 million children lack at least one basic item of clothing, such as a warm winter coat, while 3 million adults of working age (including over a fifth of those looking for work) cannot afford appropriate clothes for a job interview.

• Roughly 4 million children and adults are not fed properly judged against what most people consider to be a minimally acceptable diet – meaning they do not eat three meals a day, including fresh fruit, meat, fish and vegetables. Over a quarter of all adults skimped on meals so others in their households could eat.

• One-third of all adults can’t afford to pay unexpected costs of £500 (such as if a cooker breaks down), 31% can’t afford to save at least £20 a month, and 1 million children can’t afford to join sports training or drama clubs.

• About 11 million people cannot afford adequate housing conditions and nearly one in ten households are unable to afford to fully heat their home.

The project measures who and how many people fall below what the majority agree are “necessities for life” in the UK today. The list of necessities also includes consumer items such as a washing machine and a telephone, and social activities like visiting friends and family in hospital.

“The results present a remarkably bleak portrait of life in the UK today and the shrinking opportunities faced by the bottom third of UK society,” said the head of the project, Professor David Gordon of Bristol University. “Moreover this bleak situation will get worse as benefit levels fall in real terms, real wages continue to decline and living standards are further squeezed.”

What gets me most about our present government and the politics they espouse is the grubby defensive self serving flavour of it all. Our ambitions for society have become, at best, to carve for ourselves some individual security, and let those who lack our ambition go hang.

How do you find ambition if you feel nothing but defeat? If the zeitgeist all around you is redolent with hopelessness?

My mate Graham posted this quote the other day;

I stored this from a wonderous mailing called ‘Friday night theology’ back in October and is written by someone called Roger Sutton. Most of this could as easily be read by a person with faith or no faith. I love the way that it points us to the other and is not the usual motivational self, self guff. Great for Holy Week:

‘When you believe life is limited, with only so many resources to go round then you naturally hold on to what you have, you grasp and hoard and defend. It’s an ugly place to live, with fear and anxiety at its heart. But if you believe life is unlimited, abundant and providential then you can respond with a grateful heart for the bread we receive each day knowing there will be more bread just around the corner. We can give and bless others and take care of those who are the most vulnerable, knowing that true compassion knows no limit, it has no fatigue element. Stewardship then replaces control, where we take responsibility to make sure the resources are allocated in fair and just ways, but always knowing that we bring our small offering of loaves and fish. It’s simply what we have, and the force of abundance adds to those humble gifts and multiplies them.

We need to challenge our propensity towards anxiety, believing that life is out to get us. We need to trust again in the God of harvest time, the providing abundant force in the universe. The future, as Daniel O’Leary in Passion for the Possible tells us: “is a mother waiting for us with outstretched arms, and a father who is crazy about our  freedom and our fulfillment and longs only for us to let him love us”

Where my friends is this kind of politics, this kind of economics, this kind of social policy?

This kind of religion?

17 thoughts on “Poverty in the UK 2013…

  1. This is an article that is lovely to read. Yes, I have fallen on hard times. I worked from the age of 15 and helped my brother with his paper round for the 5 years before that too. I worked, I loved working and I worked so hard due to that passion for achievement, life-satisfaction and to provide better for my family. Sadly one day I became ill, it led to loosing my job, my hope, my confidence and my freedom. I didn’t ask to have this happen to me but it did and it can happen to any one of you out there, no matter how much money you have or how hard you work or dont work. Illness or disease dont see stature, wealth or class. it will attack whoever it pleases whenever it pleases. Why should anyone have to be punished for this?! Why should anyone be penalised for being in the lower classes, for struggling to find work when there are so many people going for every job that goes out there.
    As I say, it could so easily be you.
    Now I have had to fight and fight hard and have just recently won my appeal to prove how ill I really am. I attended ATOS’s WCA to have the report tell nothing but lies about my appointment with them, this was overturned and 6 months later, I had to go back to ATOS. Only this time they lied all the more. My decision was not overturned and I have had an agonising 12month wait for a tribunal date. I attended and was truthful, presented evidence, statements, and witness statements of what people see of me. I WON!
    Now over the last 12 months of waiting I have had my hopes dashed at every turn, my stress levels have risen worrying about if they didn’t believe my reality and how would I support my family. It caused me to start having really severe panic attacks, anxiety and depression. Yes, I was physically ill before all this, but now I also have to contend with mental illness that could so easily have been avoided had the WCA’s been fit for purpose, had they never been introduced or had the government not felt it necessary to scapegoat all the last few years hard luck in Britain on the poorest rung of society!
    This was all brought on by banks, bankers bonus’s and bad government policy. Why then, can someone out there please tell me, why is George Osbourne wasting tax payers money on securing large increasing bonuses for bankers instead of holding them responsible, instead of punishing and penalising them, why has Britain not followed suit with Iceland and done away with all their corruption in banking and government??
    People are so blind to that which does not directly affect them but it will one day, everyone will be touched in some way by what is happening in this country and then it will be too late as no-one acted when it mattered!
    I would just like to say, I used to be a confident, high grade achieving, target driven, hardworking girl. Now I feel as though the country as brought me to my knees and kicked dirt in my face while I’m down. I am just waiting for the next unnecessary battle now too.
    Please think when making mindless comments that are misguided and based on nothing more than government propaganda and the lies they tell you to go along with their wills and wants. Please take a good hard look at the streets of Britain, at the suffering of the people and the detrimental effect that all these backwards thinking government policies and realise the truth of all of this. that we have corruption ruling our country, ruling the country for themselves and their likewise rich friends and disregarding all that the lower and working classes have to say and need. Once they are finished with us, who is to say that you aren’t next?? How will they blame you for what has happened UK wide?? It could be anything so open your eyes and see the truth of the matter. The UK is lost unless WE the PEOPLE act, as those currently ruling as certainly not acting for us. they act for themselves and noone but themselves. thank you for reading my ever so long winded comment.

    • Vicki,
      That was wonderful. Would you mind if I quote you, with a link back to this blog as the source? I’m writing an unpaid article for Our Place Our Base an organisation actively helping the homeless in Plymouth http://www.ourplaceourbase.org/ and I think everyone reading their website would love to hear your very moving words for themselves.
      Lots of love to you and your family.
      Laura Quigley

    • Hi Vicki,
      That was a wonderful response, so beautifully written. I was wondering if I could quote you for an unpaid online article I’m writing about the 5th November for Our Place Our Base http://www.ourplaceourbase.org/ who actively help the homeless in Plymouth. With your quote, I’ll refer back to this blog so people can read your wonderful words for themselves. Is that okay?
      Lots of love to you and your family.
      Laura Quigley

      • Hi Laura,
        Thank you for responding to my comment. I would be most honoured for you to be able to quote anything from my account.
        If possible please do let me know where the article is published. I would be most interested to read it and see other people views and opinions on what is happening to the most vulnerable and in need in our society. I look forward to reading your piece. thank you for including my experiences in it. I am most privileged.
        Kindest regards, n love to you and your family,
        Vicki Cooke.

    • Hi Vicki,
      Thank you so much for permission to quote you. As you’ll see in the article, which you will find here: http://news-opob.com/rememberremember , I refer people back to this blog so they can read your exact words rather than quote some of your words out of context. I’m a history writer, so it’s a piece about the relevance of 5th November. You’ll find a great deal on the site about Our Place Our Base helping the homeless, the vulnerable and the community at large. I write ‘news’ pieces that hopefully draw people to reading the site. I do hope you like the piece.

      I’m thrilled to see a documentary maker interested in your story and look forward to seeing more. I hope that everyone gets to learn more from your efforts – you have achieved so much.
      With very best wishes for your future.
      Love, Laura Quigley

      • Have just read your article Laura and thank you so much for including some of my comment. Its a wonderfully written, thought provoking piece and I am being sure to share it on some great groups and pages to help spread the word and raise more awareness.
        Once again, thank you so much for contacting me and for writing a great piece at a very poignant time.
        I hope that you continue to do such amazing work and raise further awareness for the homelessness crisis we are also suffering today. Having been in that position in the past and lived in a 2 man tent in a small wooded area for 3 months, I know all too well just how soul destroying these experiences can be.
        I will continue to keep an eye on the page and look forward to reading further fantastic pieces such as these.
        I am so thrilled. Its brilliantly written. Thank you once more. Stay healthy, stay safe and stay strong. 🙂

  2. The religion you espouse is my religion. What a pity so many have lost sight of it. I’m at present on welfare, having hurt my back and lost my job. I struggle but I don’t worry for myself. I know I will be fine in the end. I worry for those with children, those who will never get better, those who have no hope. I wish and pray I could do something to help them. Come polling day, I will do what I can. Until then, it grieves me that so many who could help just turn away, either pretending they didn’t see, or pretending that what they saw was somehow able to fit their belief that this couldn’t happen here.

      • Thank you. The back has its moments, but it could be much, much worse and I am aware of that.

    • Thank you for your comment Hilary. This is precisely the problem. Too many are willing to turn their backs on people so in need, for fear of losing out themselves or self preservation, who knows. If people just stood up, opened their eyes and saw what was happening right in front of them, things would rapidly change in Britain today.
      I really hope that your back gets better soon and that you can return to some normality very soon, leaving you not trapped in this system that refuses to help those that need it.
      My heart and thoughts are with you. Get well very soon hun.
      Kind regards and love,
      Vicki cooke.

      • Thank you. In a way I am better off than most because I am a writer and thus I can continue to work towards making a living even while I can’t get out and about. In fact, the play I recently finished is about people affected by the welfare reforms and the sort of people who enforce them. You never know. If it’s produced, and one person sees it and realises what is going on out there, it will all be worth it.

      • That sounds like a wonderful piece you have devised. I used to love drama and performance arts before all this, having done GCSE and BTEC National in Drama. I know how effective pieces like that can be and as you say, even if only one or two people see it and see the truth in it, then it would be well worth it. I’d love to see it produced and in performance.
        I am so pleased that you are able to continue towards some form of work whilst your back heals. xx

      • The day I can’t write is the day I die. 🙂 It’s been a bit Heath Robinson at times, writing lying down when I couldn’t sit, balancing the laptop on its side so I can type – after a fashion. But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. And God gave me the talent and the awareness of the things that need fighting for a reason.

    • Hi Sean, I have replied to your email. My apologies for the late response. I have had some great trouble being able to sit up long enough to answer any replies today but would be most interested in speaking to you. Please do let me know if there is anything that I can do in order to help shine a light on those most affected by these brutal cuts and new procedures. Thank you for reading what I had to say. It means so much to me.
      Kindest regards.
      Vicki Cooke

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