The Office for National Statistics (ONS) stands like a light house shining alarm signals across the stormy seas of British national and local politics while individuals and families crash into the rocks with an ever diminishing chance of being rescued by the lifeboats of the increasingly stretched NHS.
The ONS released its latest annual mortality figures on the 23rd June 2016. Professor Danny Dorling [i] commented that "an unprecedented rise in mortality was reported across all the countries of the UK. It was those with long term care needs who were dying earlier most often. It became clear austerity had played a major role in the rapid worsening of overall UK public health. Self-reported health has been progressively declining year on year since 2010."
The poorest citizens of the UK now sail in a ship of state which has become holed below the survival line by a lack of affordable housing and adequate incomes. Neither national nor local government have any plans to bring the leaky boat into dock for repair.
While belittling all scientific evidence about how not having enough income impacts on health [ii], central government has shredded already inadequate benefit incomes needed to buy food, fuel and other necessities since 2011; local government has taxed them since April 2013. Poor maternal nutrition [iii] is inevitable leading to an increased risk of low birth weight babies, and a life time ill health, exceeding 10% of live births in the most deprived UK wards [iv]. Three days food from a food bank does not cover a nine month pregnancy
John Smith, a single adult, was drowning in Tottenham when I met him [v]. His inadequate benefit income of £73.10 was stopped for three months for missing a jobcentre appointment - it's called a benefit sanction. He has a history of depression. Haringey council continued enforcing unpaid council tax and rent while he had no income. He was referred to the NHS by his GP for twelve sessions of therapy [vi]. Debt is known to be linked to mental health problems [vii], particularly debt that is enforced against a zero income.
By the end of that miserable three months the debts had piled up and had to be paid off for months afterwards out of £73.10 Job Seekers Allowance (JSA), and continued when he found work at less than the National Minimum Wage. It was then that the bailiffs called demanding £400 for a TV licence fine he did not know existed. Another single adult was losing weight and sleep trying to pay rent and council tax, to which court costs had been added, out of £73.10 a week JSA. That benefit was paid after rent and council tax before 2013.
The Supreme Court has recognised the hardship caused by taxing benefits; "Those whom Haringey was primarily consulting (about taxing benefits) were the most economically disadvantaged of its residents. Their income was already at a basic level and the effect of Haringey's proposed scheme would be to reduce it even below that level and thus in all likelihood to cause real hardship" [viii]. So has Mrs Justice Andrews in the High Court. In her judgement she reported that I had "pointed out the serious consequences that orders (enforcing council tax) can have on some of the poorest people in society, and the anxiety and consequences such orders can cause" [ix]. Sadly both national and local government ignore both scientific and judicial advice that living in hardship on benefits impacts on health.
[viii] Supreme Court, Moseley v Haringey https://www.supremecourt.uk/decided-cases/docs/UKSC_2013_0116_Judgment.pdf see para 29.
[ix] High Court, Nicolson v Haringey http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2015/1252.html
The Reverend Paul Nicolson is founder of Taxpayers Against Poverty - a taxpayers' alliance to promote social justice. No UK resident without an adequate income and an affordable home.