Sometimes the value of the right kind of government is appreciated by comparing the record of the previous one with the party currently in power. Only then can you really understand what the last government was like through the conceptualised difference. But what the records will always point, is that where a Tory government exists, there will be poverty and inequality.
The latest figures on child poverty reflect the chasm that existed between Tony Blair’s government and David Cameron’s in terms of policy difference. Where New Labour lifted thousands of children out of poverty, today there are nearly five million living in impoverished conditions. These children were simply just part of fourteen million people being in poverty in today’s Britain according to the Social Metrics Commission.
If it tells us anything it’s that who in government matters when it comes to the quality of life expected for a working-class child. A hairline difference could exist between Labour and the Tories and yet that difference could be all the difference needed. Some will look at the findings of this report and insist it is political point-scoring to be shifting the blame to the Conservative party. There’s always a degree of tact required here, to not treat presented findings as simply opportunism against a political enemy. Sincerity and honesty is always appreciated, even when it’s for a cause hard to support.
But it would be absurd to think poverty mushroomed in a vacuum to the Conservative Party. Britain was not in a healthy place before the financial crash and dismissing that is why some in Labour have become disconnected from working-class communities. The notions of community, stability and identity have become lost on some parts of the liberal left. But equally, it should not be dismissed that inequality and poverty are the natural endpoints of having a Tory government. Projections from the Resolute Foundation found that Britain had experienced the biggest climb in poverty since Margaret Thatcher’s government. From cutting benefits to undermining the NHS, Sure Start, the minimum wage and more, the attitude of the Conservatives has been to undermine the socioeconomic legacy of New Labour, who had sought to implement a foundation of sure footing for the British people; to ensure that those who fell never slipped beyond the net, but always had an outstretched hand there to help them. It wasn’t perfect, and Labour flirted too much with the free market, but it is a lot better than the moral travesty that we have today with the Conservative government.
There is a human cost to their cuts to local government budgets and the welfare system. Harrowing stories of people committing suicide in the aftermath of having their benefits frozen is indicative of how society no longer has a system of support for those on the lower rungs of the ladder. Exploitation has increasingly become a feature of Britain, from the workplace to the housing sector. The left-wing investigative journalist James Bloodworth in his book ‘Hired’ uncovered the sheer scale of the abuse of workers in an Amazon warehouse. Workers lived in deep insecurity, often forced to sleep in tents or urinate in bottles, warned of missing days even for being ill. Across workplaces in the country, wages are often never at a sufficiently high standard for someone to live above the poverty line. Tax credits, as frequently mentioned by critics, have become subsidies for employers to not have to pay fair wages.
Likewise, the private rent sector has seen tenants increasingly suffer against the high costs, enabled partly by the failure to build enough houses. In some areas like London, a third of people’s monthly incomes now go on just paying rent. A missed payment or two and someone can be homeless, which has been shooting upwards since 2010 when the Conservatives came into power. But the exploitation within the housing sector isn’t confined to high rents, although certainly linked to it. An undercover BBC journalist discovered that landlords were offering women tenancy in exchange for sex. Even though offering homes in exchange for sex was illegal, many landlords were getting away with it, largely preying on the desperation of their victims. It underlines what happens when the market is left entirely unfettered and not supervised.
This is Britain, where exploitation manifesting itself in different forms is normalised. Where food banks mushrooming across the country is explained away by the Christian goodwill of the country still clinging to its old altruistic roots rather than a systematic failing of the government to provide for its people. What Brexit does to this remains to be seen but it’s not unlikely that power simply further tilts towards employers and landlords. But it should show to us what the ideology of the Conservative Party always produces. From Thatcher to Cameron, their belief in an atomised society has meant shifting responsibility of poverty away from markets and the state to the mistakes of the individual. Even as evidence today repeatedly debunks this, by underlining majority in poverty are in work, the Conservatives will not shift.
You should never politicise suffering but you shouldn’t take the politics out of it either. The absence of the government is a choice by the government. Where they could intervene but choose not to, be it over workers’ rights and wages or the chronic crisis of high rents, their decision to view as impartial spectators from a distance simply throws the British people further towards the risk of poverty. This is what you get with the Conservative Party. It’s what we will always get with them.