Why Austerity Doesn’t Work: Great Britain and Poverty

December 5, 2018

When you think poverty, you think malnourished African children with no water. When you think poverty, you think people living without electricity in a ‘backwards’ social system. When you think poverty, you do not think Great Britain. And in a country where 1/5 of the population lives in poverty, this is a very big problem.

Only last month UN Special Rappoteur Phillip Alston visited Britain – the second poverty visit to Europe since its inception. In his report, Alston notes that ‘people feel their homes, jobs, and communities are at risk. Ironically, it was these very fears and insecurity that contributed significantly to the Brexit vote’.

‘People feel their homes, jobs, and communities are at risk’

If Great Britain is to enact sovereignty at its highest, this means addressing and supporting the people who need help the most. And so far, they have supported the idea that austerity is the ideal process to achieve the most economically efficient way of living. But is this really working?

To begin with, there are lots of cuts to funding from places like community centres, libraries and local welfare funds, which all act as sources of meeting places and essential points of human contact. Libraries, as useless as they may seem to some, are also key in helping children find a safe space. Alston notes ‘how valuable a community center is as a safe space in a crowded city where people are squeezed by an immensely challenging housing market, and where being stuck out on the street could lead to crime and gang life’. In depriving locally povertised areas from key funding, and spending our money on tax cuts for the rich, austerity denies those in lower-income households from even having an opportunity to escape poverty.

To rebut the refunding of proper places of local support, conservatives have supported the idea that employment is the cure to poverty. But slashing funds for places such as libraries have caused the loss of 8,000 jobs through 340 libraries. Not only that, but in-work poverty is becoming more and more prevalent – around 60 per cent of people who are in poverty are in families where someone works. In fact, having a job does not even guarantee you food security sometimes: The Trussell Trust details that ‘one in six people referred to their food banks is in work’. We must dismantle the idea that employment will somehow magically drag people out from poverty – even though Britain is in a state of record unemployment, 14 million people still live in poverty.

Our government is clearly in denial about the failure of austerity; the only way we can begin to eradicate poverty is by acknowledging that austerity has no hand in actually solving it.

However, this is all under the assumption that those who live in poverty are situated in urban areas. Think of people from rural areas – transport is already costly. Alston recommends that ‘transport, especially in rural areas, should be considered an essential service, equivalent to water and electricity, and the government should regulate the sector to the extent necessary to ensure that people living in rural areas are adequately served’. If we do not ensure that people can have access to places such as help centres or food banks, then we ignore a considerable proportion of the population that does live in the countryside. And this is not even including wider issues such as benefits schemes or housing.

Yes, austerity is a problem. And what is an even bigger problem is how the government has chosen to respond. The New Statesman reports that ‘although the government invited Alston to investigate, it complacently dismissed his conclusions, stating that it “completely disagreed” with his analysis’. Members such as Amber Rudd criticised the tone of the report, calling it ‘extraordinarily politicised’, whilst Treasury Minister Mel Stride claimed he was ‘rather disappointed’ in the way Alston had portrayed modern British society. Our government is clearly in denial about the failure of austerity; the only way we can begin to eradicate poverty is by acknowledging that austerity has no hand in actually solving it.

– Alex Rigotti

Image by Jas⌘n on flickr.com