By Pieter Cranenbroek – International Politics Blogger
The new year has only just begun but whatever optimism people may have had at the turn of the year, it most likely will have vanished into thin air thanks to our wonderful Chancellor, George Osborne.
Although Britain is slowly showing signs of economic recovery, the success of the next 20 years highly depends on whether the British government decides to counter the ongoing social polarisation. Overtaking the French and German economies will be a distant reality if we allow the income inequality gap to widen and continue to obsess over a handful of Eastern European migrants filing for benefits.
At the start of the week the Chancellor predicted that 2014 will be “the year of hard truths” with “more repairs, more cuts, more difficult decisions”. In other words, these are difficult times for all of us, but we’re going to make it a little harder for the ones struggling the most. Happy New Year indeed.
The benefit cuts and other measures intended to ‘fix the banking system’ primarily affects people forced to choose between heating and food this winter. Under the current administration, the number of people attending food banks has increased from 41,000 in 2010 to over 500,000 in 2013. It may be the coalition’s priority to create jobs, but they are neglecting the fact that food banks serve countless of working families who are forced to visit them because rent and energy bills have eaten up all of their pay cheques. Incredibly, it is to those families that Osborne is preaching austerity.
Ticking time bomb
It is a disgrace that the current administration promotes the social polarisation of society. In the UK, 13 million out of a total 63 million people are currently living below the poverty line. Even though Britain has the sixth-highest GDP in the world, it has seen a record number of people visiting food banks last Christmas.
According to the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR), Britain could become Europe’s largest economy by 2030 and the continent’s biggest country by 2043, but if government policies continue along this path, then the British population will become a ticking time bomb.
As Labour MP Luciana Berger rightfully pointed out in her article in The Independent in December, the growing number of Britons living in poverty will inevitably cause an exponential increase in health problems, which Britain won’t be able to deal with because the Tories have created a state where proper health care will only be available to precisely those who are not suffering from malnourishment.
These are all alarming signs that government intervention is needed and yet Cameron’s administration chooses to look the other way. It is quite clear that food poverty and rising energy prices do not affect Tory ministers or their voters, which is why they do not see the need to deviate from the laissez-faire approach of minimal government interference. The economy is growing and it doesn’t matter that it only serves to widen the income inequality gap.
George Osborne’s plans to make the government permanently smaller and place substantial cuts on the welfare system will not counter social polarization, nor will it help struggling families. It is curious that only people in need of government support hear their benefits are cut due to the government’s ‘austerity’ while banks pissing away people’s money are given special treatment. It is selective austerity at best and for this reason alone Conservative party members should never be allowed to use that word ever again.
Britain could fairly soon become the continent’s biggest economy but in order to be able to reap the benefits the government will have to make some drastic changes. Firstly, it should restore the NHS and stop further benefit cuts. Instead of worrying about a very small percentage of people that might take advantage of the system, the government should put more effort in providing a health care and social security system that works.
Furthermore, introducing a living wage would not only dramatically bring down the number of food bank frequenters, it may even give people money to spend in the economy. The Tories should also radically change their attitude towards immigrants. It is incomprehensible that they are boasting about Britain’s projected growth without acknowledging that immigration is the main factor behind it. The way the Conservatives speak you’d think they’ve read a different report.
Putting a halt to the witch-hunt of immigrants and countering social polarisation will prove to be essential in deciding Britain’s future. After an abysmal performance in 2013, the UK government has two options for the New Year: it can either continue its current policy of ‘solving’ pretend problems or it could start dealing with actual ones.
Economic growth means very little if it merely entails that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Accordingly, creating jobs that lead to in-work poverty will not bring an end to people’s necessity to visit food banks on their way home from work. A living wage would. Osborne talked about encouraging exports, investments, and saving, but really George, bridging the income inequality gap and tackling food poverty is what truly constitutes a responsible recovery.