The Conservatives’ privatization of welfare is a disaster for the poorest
April 1 marks a turning point in the long history of the British welfare state. On this day, not only do families face the biggest reduction in their standard of living in at least 50 years, but the social security system will meet only half of the financial needs of millions of families benefiting from the credit. universal.
According to Loughborough University’s Minimum Income Standard – compiled from what members of the general public believe to be a family’s basic living costs – a couple on Universal Credit with two children aged three and seven-year-old needs £511 a week after paying rent and council tax. From next week all they will receive is £274 net of council tax. If they have a third child, they will be subject to the two-child cap and will need at least £600 a week, but will only receive £298, less than half of their needs. Singles fare a little better, and for thousands of people, what’s known as the “benefit cap” sets an even more miserly upper cap on payments, meaning Universal Credit only covers 45 % of their needs.
But April 1 signals a watershed change in the government’s treatment of poverty that is even more disturbing. His removal from welfare now becomes so important that charities must take the place of the state as our country’s basic safety net. Voluntary organizations – not the Department for Work and Pensions – become the essential lifeline for families, with food banks, clothing banks, bedding banks and baby banks – not our security system social – the provider of last resort. After cuts in the real value of family benefits in seven of the last ten years, child poverty will rise another 500,000 this year to 4.8 million, then it is estimated to hit a record 5 million in 2023.
Child benefits are now worth 20% less than in 2010, condemning more children to poverty than even during Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s. Then it was mass unemployment that caused poverty. Today, for three out of four poor people, it is a low salary.
This arithmetic of deprivation confirms the dramatic picture painted by Save the Children of parents walking precariously on a tightrope with an already threadbare safety net beneath them that is being systematically shredded point by point. When we hear of privatization, we are conditioned to think of railways, buses, telecommunications and public services, the basic assumption being that market forces will provide a service hitherto guaranteed by the state. Over the past decade we have witnessed the unannounced but creeping privatization of welfare – a sadly unmistakable downward trend, devastating to our collective consciousness, and whose origins lie in old but entrenched prejudices about “the poor unworthy”.
Now, in 2022, local charities are being asked to fill the void and do the impossible. In addition to its nurseries and crèches, its food and after-school clubs and its support services for mums, the largest family center in my country of Fife, the Cottage (of which I am the godmother), runs a Dads Club, a pioneering group that helps fathers learn the skills that can make them better parents. He hosts a Grannies Club to teach people skills that can help their grandchildren. Filling a void left by the NHS’s failure to adequately fund mental health, it now employs its own mental health advisers.
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When last October the government cut the extra £20 weekly that local households on Universal Credit received during the Covid crisis, a cumulative total of £33million was withdrawn overnight at just a little over 30,000 low-income families in Fife. With the help of Amazon’s John Boumphrey, the family center amassed its surplus goods in a newly rented warehouse, and in conjunction with the health and social work centers of 60 local charities and schools, up to 6 000 surplus goods are distributed weekly to families in need. .
As these community groups and food banks do all they can to make up for the losses families have suffered from benefit changes, the best we can hope for this year – even after an unprecedented wave of local philanthropy in a community that doesn’t have much to start with – is to hand over an extra £6m to make up for the £60m families are now missing after food and fuel inflation. So for families who now have to choose between feeding their gas and electricity meters and feeding their children, charity can’t do enough to fill the void. And across the country, the picture is no different from Fife. Birmingham, for example, has a school swap shop offering free school uniforms, a ‘pay as you like’ catering service and a ‘food to your door’ service as well as food banks – but those these cannot prevent poverty from continuing to increase.
The Scottish Poverty Alliance recently listed some of the heartfelt pleas from mothers who feel guilty because, without cooks in the home, they cannot prepare hot meals; their children do not have the clothes or the pocket money to go out with their friends, and cannot participate in school sports because they do not have the kit, nor attend after-school clubs. It’s the new face of poverty: a left behind generation of young boys and girls who can’t participate in what the rest of their friends are doing because they just don’t have the money to keep up, deprived of opportunities and activities that most of us take for granted. It will mark an entire generation of children and permanently divide our society.
For too long the welfare debate has revolved around the “unworthy poor” when the truth is that the majority of the poor work all the hours and still can’t make ends meet. No region of our country is immune to this crisis and it is time for charities, churches and faith groups, local authorities, mayors and devolved administrations to unite in a coalition to revive and rebuild public support for our welfare state and call for a concrete resolution plan that will end family poverty.