Back in 2008, before the rise of food banks, before homeless rates sky rocketed, before the most vulnerable were forced out of their homes for having been deemed to have one bedroom too many by Conservatives with twelve bedroom country estates; the Tories attempted to reposition themselves as “the party of the poor“. Oliver Letwin told the New Statesman that year:
“It is one of the ironies of the political scene that the leading advocates of radical change to achieve progressive goals are now to be found in the Conservative Party.”
Naturally, the public didn’t agree, and so in 2009 the Conservative Party again attempted to position itself as the “party of the poor“. In a speech that year, David Cameron told us that the Conservatives were now:
“best-placed to fight poverty in our country”
Naturally, the public didn’t agree, and so in 2011 the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith said:
“We are the party focused on the poor, so it follows that you might legitimately say that we are the party of the poor.”
Naturally, the public didn’t agree, and so next week, according to The I, the Tories will launch a campaign designed to try to shake off the ‘rich, posh‘ image (reality) and replace it with yet another attempt at a “We’re the party of the poor” narrative (fiction). It is therefore wise for us to note exactly how the most vulnerable have fared so far under a Tory government:
Chris Mould, the executive chairman of Trussell Trust; a charity that runs over 300 food banks across the country noted the sharp rise in the use of foodbanks by the most vulnerable, hurt by round after round of deep, sharp Welfare cuts by a Party funded by millionaires. It is estimated that around 500,000 people in the UK currently feel they have to resort to using food banks. Mould said:
“The only people who seem unable to accept there is a social crisis driven by the cost of living is the Government.”
– This was in response to the truly reprehensible Lord Freud, who, on questioned in the Lords about the rise of food banks to support the least vulnerable, essentially told those using foodbanks, that they don’t need to, and are just greedy for free food:
“If you put more food banks in, that is the supply. Clearly food from a food bank is by definition a free good and there’s almost infinite demand.”
– This, despite reports by Church Action, Oxfam, among many charities, that note that welfare cuts, insecure work, job-seekers allowance sanctions, and rising costs of living impact the most vulnerable to the point where a foodbank is a measure of last resort. Oxfam said:
“Cuts to social safety-nets have gone too far, leading to destitution, hardship and hunger.”
– In response, the Department of Work and Pensions, incredibly let those 500,000 people in desperate need of food know that:
“Our welfare reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities.”
– As with education, as with the NHS, as with the ramifications of deep austerity, the Conservative Party (and I include Liberal Democrats in the category of ‘The Conservative Party’) are in such vast denial when presented with the evidence for the failure of their policies, and the impact it has on the most vulnerable, that we should really be questioning just how such an extremist government is able to find itself electable at all. There is absolutely no way dismantling a safety net, and plunging the UKs welfare system back into the Victorian era, can be spun to appear beneficial to the poorest.
– Party of the Poor.
The Poverty and Social Exclusion (PSE) Project, in March, published its report into poverty in the UK. The report – ‘The Impoverishment of the UK‘ – found that one in three people couldn’t afford to heat their homes throughout the winter in 2012. It found that 9% of people cannot afford to heat the living areas of their homes, up from 3% in the 90s. It found that 9% of households cannot afford to offer each opposite-sex child in the house of 10 years or over, their own bedroom, up from 3% in 1999. It found that one in three, cannot afford to save. It found that half a million children live in families in which the parents often go without food themselves to ensure their children eat. It found that 13,000,000 do not have adequate housing facilities. It found that 8% of children cannot afford to go on school trips, up from 2% in 1999.
Professor David Gordon, head of the project, said:
“About one third of people in the UK suffer significant difficulties and about a quarter have an unacceptably low standard of living. Moreover, this bleak situation will get worse as benefit levels fall in real term, real wages continue to decline and living standards are further squeezed.”
– Party of the Poor.
The Guardian reported the desperation of disabled people whose needs are considered “moderate“, given that their social centres face closure up and down the country as local councils battle to save money. Amanda Preston, of Peterborough Council for Voluntary Services said:
“I am really worried that by trying to make savings now we are pushing vulnerable people towards a crisis point, when any savings made now will be eaten up by the care and support they will need then.”
– This, after Peterborough Council decided to end services for those considered to have “moderate” needs. Campaigners estimate that around 105,000 disabled people in the UK will go without much needed care, due to cuts made to local services.
– Party of the Poor.
Perhaps the most putrid Tory policy – defended by Liberal Democrats – is its most infamous in decades.
ITV broadcast the story of Tony, Diann, their three year old daughter Shanice, and their 15 year old daughter Stephanie. Stephanie has 1p36 deletion syndrome, and a mental age of four. She struggles with words, and mobility. All three bedrooms in their house are currently occupied. Stephanie requires her own room, because she wakes up around 5am and can become loud and violent due to her illness. But under the rules of the ‘Bedroom Tax’, the two daughters will be required to share a bedroom, because they’re both under 16. That, or face a huge cut to their Housing benefit payment. They will be deemed to have a spare room. Tony and Diann say the cut would mean cutting down on meals.
Maria Brabiner has lived in her home since 1978. It is indescribably cruel of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats to wish to see her kicked out of the security of the house she has made a home, all because of a spare room. Do you know why she now has a spare room? It is because her mother, whom lived in the room, died recently. Miss Brabiner said:
“I’m scared of what’s going to happen to me, I’m worried about whether my electric will be cut off, whether my gas will be cut off.
– This is economic violence, by perhaps the two nastiest Parties we have seen in the UK, being forced upon a woman whose mother has recently died, and whose house is more than just a house; it is a home. Worse still, it is being forced on her, by a Cabinet of multi-millionaires, backbenches pushing for a massive pay rise for themselves, with multiple houses that remain unoccupied and included acres of land that could be used to build new houses on.
Upon hearing that local authorities might re-designate houses to help the most vulnerable avoid the crippling Bedroom tax, Lord Freud sent them this memo:
I would like to stress that if it is shown properties are being re-designated inappropriately this will be viewed very seriously. If the Department has cause to believe this is the case we will commission an independent audit to ascertain whether correct and appropriate procedures have been followed. I wish to state clearly that these audits would be separate from the subsidy audits already undertaken, which carry out sample checks on the assessment of Housing Benefit.
Where it is found that a local authority has re-designated properties without reasonable grounds and without reducing rents, my Department would consider either restricting or not paying their Housing Benefit subsidy.
– Party of the Poor.
The number of children living in absolute poverty between 2011 and 2012, rose 300,000 on the previous year, according to the Department of Work and Pensions.
– Party of the Poor.
In March 2012, according to figures by the Department for Communities and Local Government, local authorities registered 48,510 households as homeless, representing a 14% leap. The largest in nine years. A report from the same department also showed the number of people sleeping rough had jumped by a fifth, in a year.
Leslie Morphy the Chief Exec. of Crises said:
“Our worst fears are coming to pass. We face a perfect storm of economic downturn, rising joblessness and soaring demand for limited affordable housing combined with government policy to cut housing benefit plus local cuts to homelessness services.”
Similarly, the Chief Exec. of Shelter, Campbell Rob said:
“These figures are a shocking reminder of the divide between the housing haves and have nots in this country,”
Similarly, Matt Harrison, interim chief executive of Homeless Link said:
“This comes at a time when reduced funding has already hit services and further cuts are expected this year. Our research indicates that there are now fewer projects, fewer beds and more of our members are turning people away because they are full.”
– Predictably, as with every overwhelming indication that Conservative policy is failing the most vulnerable, the Party refused to accept that the situation could ever be blamed on them. Grant Shapps said:
“the debt-laden economy we inherited is leaving a legacy of hard-up households across the country”.
– The refusal to reverse course, or to even acknowledge the damage
austerity poverty-driven policies have on the most vulnerable, and his indifference toward the problem, choosing instead to try to score, weak and cheap political points, should be enough to disgust anyone with a sense of social justice.
– Party of the Poor.
Conservatives; where creating poverty, homelessness, rough sleeping, rising food banks, attacks on the disabled, forcing people out of their homes for having a tiny extra room, parents going hungry to feed their children, and pensioners not being able to heat their homes, whilst ensuring tax breaks for the wealthiest is synonymous with being the “party of the poor“.
Austerity is poverty.
Please use #PartyofPoverty hashtag on twitter, to engage in a rebranding of the Tory Party. Thanks.