This is probably my last column before the Christmas period. This is a time of year that means so many things to so many people, ranging from religious festivities and time to spend with the family.
But for many people this is also a very difficult time of year for a number for a wide variety of avoidable reasons, ranging from the pressures of commercialisation, cheap loans, lack of companionship, shelter and even a basic warm meal on a table.
In my view, this should never ever happen in a society that claims to be a beacon of human rights and compassion. The problem is clearly articulated in Alan Milburn, former Chair of the Social Mobility Commission, who said in his resignation letter: “As the commission’s work has demonstrated, the twentieth century expectation that each generation would do better than the last is no longer being met. At a time when more people are feeling that Britain is becoming more unfair rather than less, social mobility matters more than ever.
It is not just the poorest in society that are losing out. Whole communities and parts of Britain are being left behind economically and socially.
The growing sense that we have become a “them and us” society is deeply corrosive of our cohesion as a nation.
Let me put some of this into context, attempting to describe the state of this nation, as I see it.
Relative child poverty is now at an all-time high
Relative child poverty is now at an all-time high, it is predicted by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) in the next five years children living in poverty will soar to a record 5.2 million undoing the good work of the past 20 years – this is mainly due to the introduction of welfare reforms, universal credit and cuts to tax credits for working families. As I write this column, today the Consumer Price Index reported that the cost of living is now at an all-year high too. Growth in the UK across the entire European nations is the lowest, comparable only with Greece – a collapsed economy.
For those people that are currently living in absolute poverty, children and adults, the IFS have predicted that there circumstances will remain roughly unchanged till 2022.
If you are a “perceived migrant” in this country – not only have you been subject to the most abhorrent hate crime, with some places across the country reporting a five year high, according to the Government’s own racial disparity audit, and is likely to continue too without any concerted action in terms of life chances and outcomes.
For those people that ended up in detention centres we have had more deaths between Nov 16 – Nov 17 then we have ever had before. Morton Hall in Lincolnshire reported four deaths – the only crime of these people being lottery of birth.
Homelessness in this country has risen to a six year high, according to Shelter we currently have approximately 300,000 people homeless – that is equivalent to a city the size of Newcastle.
If the adult social care crisis is due to people living longer and with range co-morbidities, on the flip side of the spectrum, people who are homeless live on average to the age of 47 – I will be this age next year.
Coupled with all of the above, whilst ignoring fuel poverty for the time being, Trussell Trust reported between Apr 16 – Apr 17 they handed out 1,182,954 3 day emergency food supplies to families, and this will only get worse as what Dennis Skinner MP described as a “monster” Universal Credit is further rolled out.
I don’t really know how to finish this column on a positive note, but I’d like to finish with this, Christmas is simply about the story of a homeless middle–eastern refugee family trying to find a home, for the birth of a child – if that story changed history, then why can’t we?
And in that context, I hope that the powers that be, realise that the test of their leadership is not how they support the rich and powerful, the health of a democracy is in the compassion and quality of decisions they make in supporting the most impoverished and vulnerable in society.
See you all in the New Year.