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The class divide is growing

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Issue 1706

Verdict on Blair’s government

The class divide is growing

“WE ARE delivering on the fundamentals.” That was Tony Blair’s upbeat message last week, backed by the spin around chancellor Gordon Brown’s spending review on Tuesday. Yet some shocking reports and official figures last week gave a very different picture of the “fundamentals”. The gap between rich and poor in Britain is growing, not shrinking.

HALF A million more people were pushed below the official poverty line in New Labour’s first two years in office, according to official government figures sneaked out last week. There were less people living in poverty in Britain in the last two years of John Major’s Tory government than now. The Department of Social Security figures showed that the number of people living below the official poverty line of half average income has jumped by almost 5 percent under New Labour.

Now 17.7 percent of people in Britain, almost one in five, are below the poverty line. While there are more poor people, those at the top have been having a bonanza. The incomes of the richest tenth of people in Britain have grown three times as much as those of the poorest tenth under New Labour. Those rich few are over 7 percent better off since Tony Blair walked into Downing Street in 1997.

Among those who have suffered most are pensioners and children. Government figures show that the number of pensioners living in poverty leapt by 20 percent to 2.4 million in the first two years of Blair’s government. Insulting Yet all the government has done is offer them an insulting 75p a week increase in their pension. The government’s annual report boasted it had lifted one million children out of poverty.

The reality, according to the Department of Social Security, is that New Labour’s first 24 months in office saw 100,000 more children living in households below the poverty line.

No gain

NEW LABOUR claims that policies like the Working Families Tax Credit and the Minimum Income Guarantee will tackle poverty. But last month’s report by the independent Family Policy Studies Centre slammed many of those measures for not helping the poor at all. “The gap between rich and poor has not narrowed, and many poor families, particularly those dependent on income support, have not gained from Budget changes,” it said. The report says the government’s insistence on making all such benefits means tested is to blame. The Family Policy Studies Centre says the complicated procedures and the humiliation of means testing mean many of the poorest miss out-especially pensioners.

Staying poor

“THE FIGURES demonstrate convincingly that family social class and parents’ educational level at the time our respondents were born were critically important factors in determining what was going to happen to them.” That was the conclusion last week of one of the biggest ever studies of how class has an effect on people’s lives.

The study by the Smith Institute think tank looked at 16,000 people born in 1958 and in 1970, today’s 42 year olds and 30 year olds. New Labour health minister Yvette Cooper admitted that the study’s findings showed the “gap between those from different social backgrounds was no different for those born in 1970 than it was for children born in 1958.” Cooper agreed that the class divide is growing:

She said, “The detrimental effects of inequality of opportunity are actually growing stronger and more debilitating.”

Thousands face dole

“IT IS possible for the first time in a generation to talk about full employment in Britain.” That was Tony Blair’s gloss on figures released last week showing that official unemployment is at its lowest rate since 1975. But the reality is very different for thousands of workers. Some 1,200 more steel workers heard last week they face the dole, as steel firm Corus announced more job cuts in Scunthorpe and on Teesside. The firm has already announced over 1,000 job cuts at three plants across South Yorkshire. Corus was also expected to threaten heavy job losses in South Wales this week. The Nissan car giant last week also repeated its threat to axe jobs at its Sunderland car plant, which employs 5,000 workers.

On top of this:

  • Diageo, the drinks company, is planning to sack 3,000 workers, many in Britain.
  • 850 workers are to lose their jobs at the BAe Systems Brough plant near Hull.
  • Some 4,800 workers face the dole after C&A announced plans last month to close all its stores.
  • The jobs of up to 1,000 workers at the Hyder water and electricity company could be under threat amid takeover rumours.
  • Thousands of car workers at Ford’s Dagenham plant face the dole as the company presses ahead with plans to stop production.
  • Rover car bosses are looking for 1,000 job cuts.

The crisis in manufacturing was underlined by official figures showing that growth in output and orders in industry ground to a halt last month. A leaked government memo warned of a possible “meltdown” in industry. Some areas of the economy are still growing, in finance and services. But a recession in manufacturing is sure to hit those areas too, as sacked workers have less money to spend. The government’s figures on falling unemployment are, like the Tories’ before them, distorted by the way they have pushed many people off the official figures onto other benefits and insecure jobs on the New Deal scheme.

Rotten record

THERE ARE now 3.4 million children living in poverty in Britain, according to the government figures.

That admission came after a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund, Unicef, last month slammed Britain for its record on child poverty. Unicef found Britain is among the worst for child poverty of industrialised countries, ranking twentieth out of the 23 countries studied. It says the scale of childhood poverty in Britain, measured as those living in households below half average income, is worse than Turkey, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic.

Almost one in three children in Britain are now living in households below the official poverty line. And the Unicef report says some government measures are making things worse: “Cuts in lone parent benefit and other changes will mean that one in six children in the poorest tenth of the population will see their household income fall”.

Still kills

ONE OF the effects of the huge well of poverty in Britain is the return of the killer disease tuberculosis (TB). TB is a disease of poverty, and by the 1980s was on the way to being eradicated. But the number of cases of TB has leapt by 80 percent in the last ten years. There were 7,000 reported cases last year. In London last year there were 50 new TB cases reported and two deaths every week.

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