To the Cliff Edge – Part Two

This article is being written in the run up to Christmas 2018, as the Brexit debacle continues to hold sway of both the media and national and local government.

Our traditional time of festive merry making, generosity of spirit and forgiveness, secular or otherwise is becoming active again, but this year set against the publication of a report about our nation that should, if widely distributed, stop us in our tracks.

On the 16th November 2018, Professor Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, published his ‘Statement on a Visit to the United Kingdom‘.

The Alston Report on UK Poverty - image and download link
View, print or download this report here…

This is a tautly argued, well evidenced report from an independent mind. It is not without much good tidings on the work of libraries, charities and some sections of government activity, for example. However, the body of the narrative presents a society, I would argue, being slowly squeezed into a pressure cooker of even deeper poverty, social discrimination and economic disenfranchisement.

“For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one”.

Fourteen million people in our country live in poverty, of those, some four million live fifty per cent below that disastrous level and possibly one and half million people live in abject destitution according to the Alston argument.

‘British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach apparently designed to instill discipline where it is least useful, to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping with today’s world…’

Alston makes the point in his narrative that the governmental discourse about change and cost savings, arguably driven by financial crises that were engendered by an unchanging, flawed, centrist capitalist system, has been given the handy and disguising label ‘austerity’.

However, the press for austerity savings, arguably to fend off some miasmic notion of national bankruptcy, are more than off set by the costs of elaborate new systems and government departments designed to press individual responsibility, efficiency saving on benefits and the drive for employment as the catch all solution to all individual ailments, failings and disability.

The real cost of austerity lies in the individual unhappiness and pain resulting from its application.

The lurch towards the all-consuming Brexit has, likewise, not only generated vast cost, much of it unpublished, but has deflected government away from more imaginative, compassionate and individually uplifting social solutions. If they were ever on the table at all one suspects?

Alston opines in his summary that ‘…poverty is a political choice’.

It is deeply ironic, that in a recent Parliamentary comment on the Alston Report, the work was decried as being merely ‘political’. Given the cogency of the Special Rapporteur’s argument and cited evidence, and the harsh, unstated political aim of this government to re-engineer our society, this commentary makes for double the laughter.

We seem, on the basis of the Alston opinion, to be moving as a nation back to the dark Victorian days of the ‘residuum‘, where the poor and less well off are seen as victims of their own fecklessness and should be punished for such failings.

Download, print or view  your own copy here.

A Happy Christmas?


This journal of comment and analysis is devised and published in the East of England...leaning to the left, thinking independently, arguing for humanity...

Editor: Tim Smith MA, FRSA

Now living in rural Suffolk, I have wondered all my adult life why ordinary people like me, would vote to make the policies of the self-interested Right ascendant? I now think, older as I am, that I have pursued entirely the wrong question, despite voting Labour my entire life. Why on earth cannot collaborative socialism make the Left successfully ascendant? This is the new quest.

Tim is a Partner at SmithMartin LLP - a Cambridge based social business working to create projects which tackle inequality.

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