While our attention was focused on the unfolding horrors in Gaza, two reports were published that show the serious impact 13 years of Tory government have had on the lives of many in the UK, including children. Both reports show that any pretence that the lives of all citizens matter no longer exists.
The first report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), published on 24th October, describes how over 1 million children in the UK experienced destitution last year. Destitution means that their families could not afford to adequately feed, clothe or keep them clean or warm.
The study also found that severe material hardship is no longer a rarity, with rates of destitution more than doubling in the last five years as a result of benefit cuts and cost of living pressures.
Half of destitute households tried to get by on less than £85 a week after housing costs, with, shockingly, a quarter reporting no income at all. The impact on the children is severe. It includes physical ill-health, undernourishment, mental illness, social isolation, school absences and poor classroom behaviour. The report also revealed that adults described that they often could not afford more than one meal a day, often going without to ensure their children could eat.
The JRF’s chief executive, Paul Kissack, said: “This was nothing more than a social emergency”. He went on to call for immediate action from all levels of government to tackle this crisis.
Less than a week later a report by the Institute for Government, described as the UK’s leading independent think tank, was published and showed that public services, including hospitals, courts, councils and many other institutions in Britain, are in a state of crisis.
They found that eight of the nine services covered in the study are performing worse now than they were in 2019-2020.
The report also mentions that, whilst the pandemic is no longer directly affecting public services, the country’s ability to bounce back from Covid has been severely hampered by historical capital underinvestment. This is evidenced by crumbling schools, dated NHS computers and inadequate prisons. At the same time, the rate at which experienced staff are leaving is ringing alarm bells. Along with pay and working conditions, particularly the demanding shift patterns of 24-hour, seven day a week, services, the report refers to the “dissipating goodwill” of workers who feel unappreciated. It is seen as a matter of concern that current spending commitments will lead to further cuts in the budgets of those services on which we all depend. Only defence has been protected.
Neither reports should be seen in isolation. Whether the welfare state was created to provide an essential safety net out of philanthropy, or as a preventative measure against revolution, there is no doubt that everyone will have depended on at least some of the services at some point in their lives. For those experiencing hardship, either as a result of poverty, disability, mental or physical illness (all of which can be inter-linked), these services are not a luxury but a necessity. There are huge levels of deprivation both within and between geographical regions in the UK. Despite London containing some of the most expensive and exclusive suburbs, it has the highest level of poverty in the UK. 38% of children are growing up in poverty compared to 31% elsewhere. However, the majority of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the country lie in the north. These include Middlesbrough, Hull, Liverpool, Knowsley and Manchester. Whole communities are being written off.
When public services fail, people’s lives fail. In the sixth largest economy in the world, where the cumulative wealth of the top ten billionaires in the UK increased 281% between 2009 and 2022, this is nothing short of ‘criminal neglect.’