Socialist Worker

Labour widens poverty gap

by James Dunne
Issue No. 2151

The Gulf between rich and poor is wider after more than a decade of New Labour government than at any point under Margaret Thatcher.

That’s the shocking truth revealed in the latest government figures on inequality and poverty.

Hundreds of thousands of children have been plunged into dire need in the two years since Gordon Brown became prime minister, according to the Department for Work and Pensions.

The total number of workers living below the breadline in Britain rose to 11 million in 2008 after 300,000 more people were pushed into poverty.

Since the last election in 2005, the government has presided over an average £9 a week cut in pay after inflation for the poorest 10 percent of households, which now survive on just £147 a week.

At the same time the wealthiest 10 percent have enjoyed an average £45 pay boost, bringing their weekly income to £1,033.

One in six children in England receive free school meals after a rise of 17,000 cases in the last year. Children are entitled to these if their parents’ income is less than £15,575 a year.

The latest figures cover April 2007 to 2008 – before the recession plunged thousands more families into poverty.

This means that while capitalism was booming, those on the lowest pay watched their wages fall.

The government is backtracking on a pledge to halve the number of children on the breadline, which stood at 3.4 million in 2000, by next year. The number currently stands at 2.9 million.

Brown has described child poverty as the “scar on Britain’s soul” but promised just £200 million a year to tackle it in the budget. He would need to spend £4.2 billion a year to meet the 2010 deadline, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies.

This figure is a fraction of the £1.4 trillion handed to banks in bailouts and guarantees or the £125 billion printed by the Bank of England in a bid to get the economy restarted.

As the recession deepens, attacks on pay, benefits, pensions and jobs will grow – threatening to push the level of poverty ever higher.

Ordinary people are faced with a choice – a falling standard of living or a fight to defend our class.

It will be workers’ militancy, rather than the promises of New Labour, that can defend our livelihoods.

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Article information

Tue 12 May 2009, 17:19 BST
Issue No. 2151
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