Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

ANALYSIS: “ALL IN THIS TOGETHER”?

In R.Richardson on March 13, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Do you think that the present Government’s policies make for greater inequality within our society? Most would surely answer with a resounding “yes”. But many might think that while the poorest are severely disadvantaged, the rich are sitting pretty.

But it’s not as simple as that, says Kate Pickett, professor of Epidemiology at the University of York. According to research which she undertook with Richard Wilkinson, inequality has a negative impact on a society as a whole. For example, imprisonment rates, homicide rates and mental illness are higher , and life expectancy and welfare provision are lower.

THE STATISTICS:

Here in the UK, the richest 20 per cent are seven times richer than the poorest 20 per cent, while in Sweden they are only four times richer. And, more worrying, in the Unicef index of child wellbeing measured against income equality, the UK ranked bottom amongst the wealthy countries.

Recent legislation regarding the one per cent cap on benefits has hit the headlines. This will affect the poorest families most and will include half of Britain’s working households. These cuts are particularly hard to stomach when one bears in mind the cut in top rate income tax from 50 to 45 per cent last year. There’s little chance that Cameron might emulate his French counterpart Francois Hollande in raising top-rate taxes to 70 per cent – thus going some way towards reducing inequality.

DISPERSING THE POOR:

A few weeks ago, Polly Toynbee wrote an article in the Guardian on how new legislation will affect homeless families. The cap on the rent allowance in a particular area means that local authorities have to look further afield for cheaper accommodation. Inner city areas look to the outer boroughs which in turn are squeezed. Families can end up being housed many miles away from their home borough. Children are taken away from schools and parents from their support network, where indeed their families may have lived for generations.

As Polly Toynbee points out, the richest areas are purged of all their poorer residents and so no longer bear the cost of providing for them. Thus the inequalities in our society are magnified.

THE MYTHS:

The present Government (aided by certain elements in the media) has attempted to win general support for its divisive policies by encouraging a few myths. The case of families housed in £100,000 a year mansions was one. It emerged that there were just five of these temporary oddities. Another myth set the “shirkers” against the “strivers” – with a clear implication that the unemployed didn’t want to work.

In fact government policies have hugely increased the number of long-term unemployed. And the benefits cap will hit half of Britain’s working families as well as those without jobs.

In addition, under-25s will no longer be eligible for housing benefit, thus forcing them to stay at home unable to seek jobs or apprenticeships elsewhere.

As Polly Toynbee says, “those born workless in Knowsley or Hull can never leave.” Are these young people to be labelled “shirkers”?

FACING THE FACTS:

In a recent “Face the Facts” programme on Radio 4, John Waite outlined the huge problems that boroughs in London and the Home Counties face. Although guidance recommends families should stay in emergency B&Bs for only six weeks, some are there for several months because of the difficulty in finding suitable accommodation even when councils look further afield.

Because of the 1980s sell-off of council houses the problem is of course exacerbated. And many families who formerly owned their own homes, unable to keep up mortgage repayments have been forced into rented accommodation. It really is a landlords’ market.

“FAIRNESS”??

John Waite asked for a comment from the Housing Minister, and was told: “Our reforms return fairness to a system that was allowed to spiral out of control.”

John Waite asked for a comment from the Housing Minister, and was told: “Our reforms return fairness to a system that was allowed to spiral out of control.”

As the cap on benefits – including tax credits and child benefit as well as housing benefit – begins to bite, the gap between the haves and the have-nots in our society grows ever wider.

By RUTH RICHARDSON

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