Tag Archives: poverty

21 March 2024 – today’s press releases

  • Interest rates: Families are still facing a mortgage cliff edge
  • Khan ‘failing’ on Met Police reform – Lib Dems slam mayor’s record on first anniversary of Casey report
  • Cole-Hamilton challenges Yousaf on SNP Government’s climate record
  • Rennie responds to poverty statistics
  • Water Industry Commission for Scotland branded an embarrassment

Interest rates: Families are still facing a mortgage cliff edge

Responding to the Bank of England’s decision to keep interest rates at 5.25%, Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson Sarah Olney MP said:

This is cold comfort for millions of homeowners who still face massive hikes in their mortgage bills after Liz Truss crashed the economy. Many families still face a mortgage cliff edge despite this news.

Liz Truss’s disastrous mini-budget and the Conservative party’s economic vandalism has put intolerable pressure on people’s finances.

This Conservative government has no good story to tell on the economy.

The only way to break this cycle of stagnation and financial hardship is to kick this out of touch government out of office. Rishi Sunak needs to stop his desperate attempt to cling on to power and call an election.

Khan ‘failing’ on Met Police reform – Lib Dems slam mayor’s record on first anniversary of Casey report

A year on from the publication of Baroness Casey’s damning report on the Met police, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has made “no or only slow progress on key issues”, according to analysis by the Lib Dems.

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Polly, the Liberal Democrats are on the case already

In the Guardian on Tuesday (February 27) Polly Toynbee wrote a powerful Opinion piece entitled (in the print version), ‘The Tories have miscalculated: Britons do care about poverty’. Quoting the Institute for Public Policy Research’s figures, that despite the increase in the local housing allowance from April, more than 800,000 renting households receiving housing benefit will still have to fund the gap between their rent and their benefit, Polly also cites a new Action for Children report finding that many families are falling below the breadline, even when both parents work full-time on the minimum wage.

‘The gap between what universal credit provides and what a family needs to survive is growing by the month’, she reports, with Citizens Advice apparently counting 5 million people trapped ‘on a negative budget’, with incomes that will never cover their bills, and 2.35 million going hungry. This ‘national emergency’, so named by the Child Poverty Action Group, has escalated sharply in the last two years.

It was in the York Spring Conference last year that our party passed motion F12, ‘Towards a Fairer Society’. This was based on the policy paper 150 of the same name, drawn up by a party policy working group in the previous winter. The motion states that Conference welcomes the paper’s proposals to ‘End deep poverty, including a radical overhaul of the welfare system, so no family ever has to use a food bank in Britain, by

  1. Taking immediate steps to repair the safety net, including restoring the £20 uplift to Universal Credit, introducing emergency grants (not loans) and stopping deducting debt repayments at unaffordable rates and
  2. Following this up in the longer term with fundamental reforms to the welfare system’.

Conference then decided to introduce a Guaranteed Basic Income by increasing Universal Credit to the level required to end deep poverty within a decade and removing sanctions. It was already party policy to remove the benefit cap.

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Poverty in the UK is deepening – how should Lib Dems respond?

Poverty in the UK is deepening.

We knew this, we can see it all around us in the rise of expanded food banks, the active community charities, the special price reductions on basic supermarket foods and the increase of homelessness. But now Joseph Rowntree Foundation in its annual report on poverty levels reveals the grim facts.

More than one in five people in the UK, 22%. 14.4 million, are living in poverty, having less than 60% of the UK average for the type of household they are in after adjusting for housing costs. And 6 million of them were in very deep poverty at the last count, having less than 40% of the UK average – a category that has increased by 1.5m over the past two decades.

The report says:

A couple with two children under 14 living in very deep poverty would need an additional £12,800 a year – more than double their household income – to get out of poverty.

Of the 14.4 million people living in poverty, 8.1 million were working age adults, 4.2 million were children, and 2.1 million were pensioners. Around three in every ten children in the UK live in poverty, and the proportion rose between 20/21 and 21/22, as did overall poverty. The report says that poverty rates across the different groups has returned to around their pre-Pandemic levels.

Of the different groups affected, informal carers were much more likely that those households with no caring responsibilities to be living in poverty: 28% compared with 20%. In 2021/2 nearly one in ten adults, 4.8 million people, were informal carers.

Around two-thirds of working age adults in poverty lived in a household where someone was in work, evidently unable to get out of poverty through employment.

Among the worst affected groups were Pakistani and Bangladeshi households, around half of whom were living in poverty, compared with 19% of households headed by someone of white ethnicity.

After recording these grave findings, the Report says:

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Make it known – we are a party of CAN-DO and Care

Liberal Democrats care about our country’s problems. We have solutions for them. And we know how to pay for them.

A new Labour Government coming this year? They are going to need our help. And what they failed to address in their manifesto; we will need to persuade them to fix.

Some of our country’s worst problems were brought home to me in a Guardian front-page story last Friday.  It was reporting on a survey from MDDUS, a medical defence organisation, of 1671 doctors from the four home nations. The survey found that 65% of doctors overall, including nearly four in five GPs, had been experiencing ‘moral distress’ because of the situations they had encountered in their NHS work. The leader of the BMA, Professor Philip Banfield said, “There’s barely a doctor at work in the NHS today who doesn’t see or experience this distress on a daily basis.” It is because the NHS is “impossibly overstretched”, with its thousands of vacancies for doctors and has a quarter fewer doctors per head of population than Germany. “In practice”, he continues, “that means we can almost never give the standard of care we would want, only ever the care we can manage.” This causes doctors the ‘moral distress’ described, and affects their own mental health.

The research shows that doctors are aware of how the cost of living crisis is damaging many patients’ health, with the long waits for treatment, and the facts of poverty or bad housing making people ill.

Backing this analysis up – as covered in the same Guardian edition – Citizens Advice has reported record numbers of people needing homeless services, food banks and energy bill support this past year. They referred more people to food banks and other charities between January and November this year – 208,000, more than in the whole of 2022 – and helped record numbers of people unable to top up their energy prepayment meters, together with record numbers of homeless people – 41,554 of them in 2023, up by 17% from the number in 2022.

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Ending deep poverty by April 2029

At our Spring Conference in York we passed a policy which stated, we would ‘end deep poverty within the decade’.

This commitment has made it into the pre-manifesto passed at Bournemouth along with establishing ‘an independent commission to recommend annual increases in Universal Credit to achieve it’.

Also at York we passed that we would fundamentally reform the welfare system ‘by introducing a Guaranteed Basic Income by increasing Universal Credit to the level required to end deep poverty within the decade and removing sanctions’.

Ending deep poverty in the UK means ensuring that no-one has an income below the deep poverty level. Every year the Joseph Rowntree Foundation publish a UK poverty report. And on page 115 of this year report they set out the deep poverty thresholds:

Household type Deep poverty threshold (50% of median) weekly
Adult, with no children

 

£137
Lone parent with two children, one 14 or over and one under 14

 

£283
Couple with no children

 

£236
Couple with two children, one 14 or over and one under 14

 

£382

The current levels of Universal Credit for people over 25 are:

  • £85.09 a week for a single person and £133.57 for a couple.
  • Child benefit is £24 a week for the first child and £15.90 for each child after that.
  • The child elements of Universal Credit are £72.69 a week for the first child if born before 6th April 2017 and £62.21 for the second child.

This means that a lone parent with two children as above receives £259.89, which is £23.11 below the deep poverty line, and a couple with two children receives £308.37, which is £73.63 below the deep poverty line.

Our policy is to increase Universal Credit and the legacy benefits by £20 a week as soon as we are in government. If we then increased the single person’s rate by the rate of inflation in April 2025 and by £7.98 a week plus the rate of inflation every April thereafter, by April 2029 they would receive £137.01 in real terms. The couple rate would need to be increased by £20.61 a week for the four years after 2025, plus the rate of inflation, taking their rate to £236.01 a week in real terms.

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Surviving not living?

It was shocking to hear Prime Minister Rishi Sunak say again at Prime Minister’s Question Time on Wednesday, as he said before, that there are fewer people living in poverty in this country today thanks to Conservative governments. He will not face the fact that poverty is actually worsening for millions of people in the UK.

Last week an independent cross-party group called the Poverty Strategy Commission reported that six million low-income families are ‘surviving not living’, forced to endure unacceptable levels of poverty. The report, an interim one A New Framework for Tackling Poverty, states in its Foreword that:

Poverty in the UK is too high, and the experiences of many people in poverty are now getting worse.

In the Executive summary it continues,

Despite significant action from governments of all colours, particularly over the last three decades, the overall rate of poverty in the UK has remained stubbornly high, (with) a third of children in poverty, and 7% of the population in deep poverty.

It adds,

Deep poverty has become more prevalent.

They write,

… a social contract does not currently actually exist in the UK. However, broad principles of an implicit social contract can be inferred from existing government policy choices.

They also state that benefits are set at a level that are insufficient for those who rely on them to avoid poverty.

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What on earth is Keir Starmer playing at by refusing to remove two child limit?

One of the cruellest things that the Conservatives introduced was limiting benefits claims to two children.

Just last week, the Child Poverty Action Group and other children’s charities wrote to all party leaders highlighting the impact of this dreadful measure and calling for its removal.  They said:

The two-child limit is a discriminatory policy which is a clear breach of children’s human rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The two-child limit robs children of the basic joys of childhood. It forces parents to take out a loan to buy a school uniform. Children give up hobbies because of the costs associated, and they miss out on birthday parties as they cannot afford to bring a gift for a friend.

The cost of living crisis has made the impact of the policy even more acute. The number of affected families struggling to pay for gas, electricity and food has risen sharply in the last 12 months.

The two-child limit has a devastating effect on families like Joanna’s.  Joanna works full-time and lives with her partner and three children. Her partner is too unwell to work at the moment. They lose out on £270 a month due to the two-child limit. Joanna has struggled to keep up with rent payments and, in June 2023, her landlord was granted an outright possession order to evict the family. They have just 14 days to leave their home.

Scrapping the two-child limit is the most cost-effective way to reduce child poverty. It would lift 250,000 children out of poverty and mean 850,000 children are in less deep poverty.  This single policy change would transform the life chances of 1.5 million children across the UK, children like Joanna’s, who are currently facing homelessness.

Children deserve the chance to thrive, but continued inaction will permit a cohort of children to grow up in poverty, to miss out on play, to be held back at school and denied a better future. If nothing is done, over half of children in larger families will be growing up in poverty by 2027/28.

So I was genuinely shocked to see Keir Starmer tell Laura Kuenssberg on Sunday that Labour would retain this regressive, poverty increasing measure.

Of all the bad things the Tories have done, surely to goodness this would be one of the first to go?

For the avoidance of doubt, Liberal Democrats would get rid of it. We opposed it when the Tories brought it in and continue to do so.

UPDATE 20 July 9 am

In fact here is Ed telling Kay Burley exactly that yesterday.

As well as being the wrong thing to do morally, Starmer has now put himself in a position where he has picked an unnecessary fight with his party. Scottish Labour MSPs Monica Lennon and Pam Duncan Glancy expressed their frustration on Twitter:

They were joined by constituency Labour Parties, MPs and other MSPs.

Monica Lennon later wrote in the Daily Record:

Knowingly plunging children and their families into hardship is heartless and with the cost-of-living crisis hitting low-income families hard, it’s never been more vital to scrap the cap.

Many of those affected are working families, who despite grafting to provide for their kids, struggle to put enough food on the table in our unequal society. Single mothers are hit the hardest.

It’s no wonder many people are feeling scared and hopeless because the choice between heating and eating is no choice at all.

I agree with every word of that.

Starmer has given himself a problem he didn’t need to have.

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One in six parents say they have gone hungry to feed their children as food prices soar

  • Shocking poll finds some parents of young children have stopped buying both fruit and meat over the past year
  • Parents far more likely than non-parents to have skipped meals and changed spending habits due to high food prices
  • Ahead of new inflation figures to be released, Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey calls for expansion of free school meals and more support for farmers

A new poll commissioned by the Liberal Democrats has revealed parents with children under the age of 18 have been hardest hit by rising food prices.

As a result of high food bills, a staggering one in six (17%) parents …

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Unwarranted Conservative complacency at PMQs

It was astonishing to hear the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, announcing with pride during his set-to with Labour Leader Keir Starmer at Wednesday’s Prime Minister Questions that “Two million more people have risen from poverty in the years of the Conservative governments.”

Poverty is normally measured relative to near contemporary median income. This is the most commonly used measure. For example the latest figures are for 2020/21 and 13.4 million are in relative poverty, after housing costs (as reported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation), where relative poverty is 60% of median income. Rishi Sunak is using absolute low income which is based on 60% of the median income back in 2010/11, uprated by inflation. This is not a good way to measure poverty as the base year seems arbitrary. In 2010/11 there were 13.1 million people living in poverty using both measurements.

There was a decline in the number living in relative poverty in 2020/21 because of Covid.  Down from 14.5 million and 22% in 2019/20. This was because median income fell due to the work furlough scheme, where the Government paid 80% of the salary of those on furlough because of Covid, and those on Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit received an extra £20 a week.

Poverty in Britain has in fact remained stubbornly high at around 20% of the population during the past decade. When housing costs are taken into account, the estimated number of people in relatively low income households dropped from 13.5 million (22%) to 13.4 million (20%) between 2009/10 and 2020/21.

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Poll highlights need for Lib Dems to develop compelling narrative

A poll of “blue wall” seats this week should make senior Lib Dems charged with delivering our next election campaign pause for thought.

Field work carried out by Redfield and Wilton Strategies last weekend shows Labour 7 points ahead of the Tories in seats the Conservatives currently hold in the south of England, but the party of Government gaining 2% and us going down 2% since the last poll a couple of weeks before.

Of the 42 seats that Redfield and Wilton count as the Blue Wall, there are not that many that we are seriously targeting so our 17% polling figure should not alarm us too much. However, the Tories are fixing their attention and massive resources on defending those seats and will not miss the opportunity to persuade people that these seats are between them and Labour not them and us. We will obviously be countering that where we are strong with local messaging so that people are in no doubt that it’s a two horse race between us and the Conservatives. We’ve been building very strong foundations in those seats over the past few years. However, we don’t want even a few people in the likes of Winchester and Esher and Walton thinking that they should be voting Labour to get rid of the Tories. If they do, then we’ll have Tory MPs, and surely nobody wants the likes of Dominic Raab in Parliament for another five years.

As Lib Dems we know the importance of targeting our resources very carefully. This, however, shouldn’t come completely at the expense of our national poll rating. The national mood music is very important both in our target seats and beyond. We need to be thinking about the political landscape for the next election and the one after that. Only by getting ourselves into more second places can we hope to properly break through. There is no point in winning a handful of seats in 2024 and ending up with the north face of the electoral Eiger to climb everywhere else.

Our national poll rating remains stubbornly low. We haven’t recovered from our coalition lows, except for that brief period when we were actually saying things that excited people in the early part of 2019. Capturing the imagination with a strong message and giving people a reason to vote for us is a good thing and we shouldn’t shy away from it.

We seem to be so terrified of saying anything that might upset the voters in the blue wall that we end up not saying anything at all. And those progressive minded voters who we need to  back us need to hear us talk about the things that matter to them too. And in truth, the things that matter to them matter to us.

I sense a frustration amongst activists in Labour facing areas that the increasingly centralised national Lib Dem campaign machine is not bothered enough with them.

We need to recover our boldness, passion and sense of indignation at what the Tories have done to this country super quick. We need to start using the P word, the S word the B word and the C word to show how the country can be a much better and happier place to live. We need to talk about ending poverty. We need to sympathise with the aims of our public sector workers who are striking for a decent pay rise and less stressful working conditions. We need to be much more robust in talking about the failures of Brexit which are damaging virtually every aspect of our lives. And we need to win the culture wars, not stand cowed as people are marginalised and demonised by the right wing media.

As Liberal Democrats we care deeply and instinctively about inequality and tearing down the barriers that people face that suck opportunity from them. That everyone should have enough food, safe and warm shelter and the resources to participate in life to the full should not be as controversial as the right wing media makes out every day, yet we don’t challenge them enough. We should be riding a coach and horses through the  Conservative narrative which sets people against each other. We want people to have a decent share of the pie, not fight each other for an ever decreasing pile of stale crumbs. So we need to start talking about ending poverty and giving people a fair crack of the whip.

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Conference highlights horrific impact of cost of living crisis on women

This week a Conference organised by the Women’s Budgeting Groups in all 4 nations of the UK looked at the specific and disproportionate impact of the cost of living crisis on women.

Women were described as the “shock absorbers of poverty” as evidence showed how they often went without essentials, including food, in order to lessen the impact of soaring prices on their families.

We heard some harrowing accounts of the toll this takes on women’s physical and mental health.

Steffan Evans,  from the Bevan Foundation in Wales, described the results of YouGov polling they had commissioned to try to understand the impact. The number of people cutting back on food had gone up from a bad enough 26% in July to 39% in January.

The impact was worse amongst households on benefits, renters, lone parents, households with children and disabled people.

He expressed concern about impact of withdrawal of Government support in April.

He also highlighted the impact on long term health  of living with no heating and condensation and mould.

He concluded that we need to fix the system, not ameliorate with short term cash payments

Next up was Dr Laura Robertson, from the Poverty Alliance who talked about the research carried out in Scotland by the Scottish Women’s Budgeting Group.

They interviewed 30 women from a range of backgrounds who were on low income and conducted a diary exercise with 8 women who submitted weekly diaries.

They found deepening experience of destitution and poverty, of people going hungry and cold

Rural households dependent on oil and households on prepayment meters were struggling most with energy costs

Mothers mentioned struggling to provide nappies, formula, clothes and  school uniform for their children and said that school holidays were really difficult.

There was a negative impact on physical and mental health, increased isolation as they couldn’t afford leisure activities, guilt, shame and stigma of not being able to afford basics.

Coping strategies shared by women to manage rising costs include extreme cuts to household expenditure – skipping meals, looking for discounted items in supermarkets, cutting back on energy use –  including heating and turning off fridge and freezer, stopping social activities.

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An Alternative Budget – a budget for the poorest in society

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Rishi Sunak will be presenting his autumn budget on 27th October. Currently inflation is rising with wages increasing up to 7% in some sectors, quantitative easing is due to end at the end of the year. Rishi Sunak has stated he wants to reduce the deficit.

The economic outlook is not clear, but I think Rishi Sunak should assume that the increase in inflation will only be short-term and the government and the Bank of England will not need to take any action to reduce inflation. The ending of the Covid support schemes will reduce government spending by £100 billion. While household savings have increased, I don’t believe all of these savings will be spent into the economy next year, or will be large enough to make up for the £100 billion being removed from the economy.

Therefore I believe that the Chancellor should not remove all of the £100 billion from the economy but should commit to continue to spend up to £40 billion of it. I suggest he should make the following changes above the normal upgrades and what has already been announced.

Benefits are due to increase in line with the inflation rate of September which was 3.1%. The triple lock on pensions has been suspended for next year, so instead of pensions increasing by 8% (the expected increase in earnings) they will be increased by 3.1%. As the party now supports a UBI we should be moving towards the idea that a couple receives twice the amount as a single person. Therefore I would make an exception for the couple’s Guaranteed Pension and instead of increasing it by 3.1%, increase it by 8% to £291.92 a week. This would move it from being 1.53 times the single rate to 1.6.

Party policy to scrap the ‘bedroom tax’ and the benefit cap should be implemented.

If the Local Housing Allowance rate was restored to the 50th percentile more than 32,000 households would be lifted out of relative poverty including more than 35,000 children (based on Crisis 2019 figures). Therefore the Local Housing Allowance should be increased to the 40th percentile from April 2022 and the 50th from April 2023.

These four measures should remove many pensioners from poverty.

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We need to argue for public investment in neglected UK areas AND a generous international aid budget

It’s not a surprise that a You Gov opinion poll showed 66% of respondents supporting the government’s plans for a ‘temporary’ cut in the foreign aid budget. Spending on foreign aid has been consistently unpopular with the British public for years; when pollsters ask what sector of public spending should be reduced, foreign aid outstrips all others.

Liberal Democrats hold to the argument that supporting overseas development is both a moral obligation and a foreign policy priority. But when we face so strong a negative response, we need to think carefully about how we make the case for development spending. And we need also to understand the bitterness of the ‘left behind’ in the former industrial towns of the Midlands and the North, as public spending has been cut and their local authorities have had to close more and more facilities.

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Our party can seize on the spirit of the times

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Liberalism’s answer to populism, I believe, is to give people what they really want, not what the forked tongues of populism tell them they want. Hopefully in the USA a majority has now chosen a President to give them what they really want.

But here in Britain we still have a populist Prime Minister with his inadequate government. There is still Lockdown, winter weather and seasonal colds and ‘flu yet to come – and the looming problems of Brexit, with or without a last-minute trade deal, before most of us can expect to share in a new vaccine.

There is some comfort in the government’s U-turn on providing vouchers for free school meals in each holiday, and in the continuation of the furlough scheme till March. We have been surprised at seeing a Tory government abandon their previous obsession with running down the Deficit, instead increasing it vastly, to save jobs and livelihoods and retain some spending power in the economy.

Yet this coming winter is likely to be a hard one, with many working-age people poorer if they have been on furlough, and especially if they have been made unemployed and are struggling to find a new job or restart their self-employment business. What will the government do then?

We know the Tory instinct will be to put up taxes – not to affect the wealthiest much, naturally, but to ask most people to contribute more. And among them, the millions of people now on welfare benefits will be expected to tighten their belts and ask no more than they can get now, inadequate as that is to prevent people falling into poverty.

However, the tide is turning. The British Social Attitudes Survey new annual report shows that the hardening of views on social security of the last few years has started to go into reverse. Their survey reveals attitudes have changed and this year more members of the public agree with the statement, ‘benefits are too low and cause hardship’ than last year. And fewer believe that ‘benefits are too high and discourage work’. This survey was conducted between July and October last year, so its findings are likely to be even more affirmed this year, when since March the number of people receiving Universal Credit has doubled to six million.

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We need to campaign against poverty

The preamble to our constitution, to quote Adrian Sanders in Liberator 400 (April 2020), “starts with the eradication of poverty as the first action point”. Though both leadership candidates stated they wanted to achieve this, our party is not campaigning on it.

It’s not just that children from families receiving benefits need free school meals in the holidays. It is that 100,000 more children were living in poverty in this country in 2018-19 than in the previous year (DWP figures) and that an estimated 4.3 million children are living in poverty today (Social Metrics Commission).

Former homelessness adviser to the government, Dame Louise Casey, in a BBC interview (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-54545158) warned that the UK faces ‘a period of destitution’ in which families ‘can’t put shoes on’ their children. That’s happening now. A single-parent family living on Universal Credit will find it difficult to find the money to cover the cost of new trainers for two children who have grown out of their old ones, as children do.

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Education prospects worsen for UK children in poverty

As most children go back to school this week, fears that disadvantaged children will have fallen behind in their schoolwork in the months of COVID lockdown seem confirmed by interviews conducted with more than 3000 teachers and heads at about 2000 schools in England and Wales by the National Foundation for Educational Research. Their study, reported yesterday, found that, while the average learning lost was reckoned to be about three months for all pupils, teachers expect that more than half of pupils in schools in the most deprived areas have lost four months or more.

But the educational outlook was sadly worsening anyway for around four million children who now, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation are living in poverty in the UK (jrf.org.uk/report/uk-poverty-2019-20). A new report has found worsening educational inequality already, stating that “there is disturbing new evidence that the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers has stopped closing for the first time in five years.” This report, from the Education Policy Institute (epi.org.uk/publications-and-research/education-in-england-annual-report-2020), finds that disadvantaged pupils in England are 18.1 months of learning in English and Maths behind their peers by the time they finish their GCSEs. This is the same gap as five years ago, and the gap at primary school increased for the first time since 2007.

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Tax carbon and reduce poverty

The 2019 Autumn Conference approved a generally good Policy Motion F29 Tackling the Climate Emergency, listing actions which reduce UK emissions to net zero within a few decades. It included point 2d – “Greening the taxation system to make the polluters pay and to reward progress towards net zero.”

This appears to be a statement of intent rather than a genuine action point. I believe that we should go further, committing to a carbon tax designed to:

  1. reduce carbon emissions – globally
  2. fight poverty
  3. protect the UK economy against unfair competition from overseas polluters

This might sound a classic trilemma (three mutually incompatible goals), but one policy can deliver all three. Here’s how.

We currently have a mishmash of carbon pricing measures (Climate Change Levy, Fuel Duty, etc.) which affect specific sectors.

  • These only exert downward pressure on fossil fuel consumption in some sectors, and prices are generally too low to drive rapid reductions.
  • They are potentially regressive, impacting the poor more than the rich.
  • They risk carbon leakage – when emission reduction policies in one country lead to increases elsewhere.

The solution is a carbon tax, dividend and border adjustment.

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Budget Response: The most vulnerable are being left out in the cold

Back in March, at the very outset of the crisis, the chancellor Rishi Sunak said that: “Now more than at any time in our history, we will be judged by our capacity for compassion.” That was true then and it is true now. Yet the mini-budget announced yesterday regrettably showed that the government has failed that test. At a time when millions of people across the country are facing the threat of poverty and unemployment, this plan fell far short.

There were some important and welcome measures, in particular, the £1,000 incentive to persuade employers to keep on furloughed staff. But the decision to reduce stamp duty for landlords and second homeowners, for instance, the wrong priority at a time when so many are struggling to get by.

The total projected cost of cutting stamp duty is £3.8 billion. That is money that could have been spent on helping the hundreds of thousands of families being pushed into poverty by this crisis. This measure will disproportionately benefit the wealthiest, while poorer households that rent have been left out in the cold.

While a landlord buying an additional home costing £500,000 or more will now pay £15,000 less in stamp duty, a family of for relying on universal credit will struggle to get by on little more £280 a week. A discounted meal at a restaurant will be little comfort to those struggling to pay their rent each month.

Figures I uncovered yesterday, reported in the Mirror, show the number of families struggling to pay bills has more than doubled since the coronavirus outbreak, rising to almost one in nine. The Government needs to step up and provide extra support to these hard-pressed families, including by scrapping the heartless two-child cap on benefits which is projected to push one million children even deeper into poverty by 2023-24.

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Why social democrats are more left wing than the hard left

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Tories sneer when they use the term “left wing”. They point to the terrible failures of authoritarian states like North Korea. But if left wing is about poverty reduction, why do we let them call North Korea left wing?

In contrast to its northern neighbour, South Korea has had extraordinary success in reducing poverty, whereas “leftwing” oil-rich Venezuela has been a catastrophe.

If some states that call themselves “leftwing” aren’t, the same is true of political activists.

In 2017, Jeremy Corbyn proposed a radical manifesto. But the IFS and the Resolution Foundation found that Corbyn’s manifesto failed to reverse many cuts to the poorest, in dramatic contrast to the Liberal Democrat manifesto.

Poverty reduction is hard. Many well-meaning projects in international development have failed. They needed the warning of dissenting voices. The same is true in the UK, but when anyone pointed out the failings of Corbyn’s manifesto on social media, the red mists of anger descended on the hard left.

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15 June 2020 – the overnight press releases

  • Govt must not use new commission to avoid tackling racism straight away
  • Govt must support struggling families

Govt must not use new commission to avoid tackling racism straight away

Responding to the Government’s announcement of a cross-governmental commission to address the inequalities that BAME communities face, Liberal Democrat Equalities Spokesperson Christine Jardine said:

Too many people’s lives are blighted by discrimination, inequality and injustice. The Government must move further and faster to redress institutional racism in the criminal justice system and many other parts of our society.

The Liberal Democrats have joined with BAME communities in calling for a government-wide race equality strategy, so this

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Our society has failed to protect the poorest and most disadvantaged of our citizens. This has to be stopped now.

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In the most expensive care homes, recent TV footage showed, both staff and residents have been protected from the virus, and nobody died. But in the run-of-the-mill homes shown, as our party leaders have been protesting, staff have not had the personal protective equipment they needed. With old people returning from hospital to their care homes, and care workers coming in and out without adequate PPE, what chance was there of the weakest being saved? We all know now the awful figures of mortality from the care homes.

Meantime the Office for National Statistics has shown that deaths from the virus are highest in the poorest areas of the country – where life expectancy had stalled anyway, as the recent Marmot Review recorded. (See my article here)

In crowded houses and flats, cooped up together with no gardens, housebound for weeks except for essential shopping, what chance have poor families had for healthy exercise and keeping separate from their neighbours? If they escape the virus – and the least healthy among them will be fortunate to do so – their children are falling behind with little chance for school work in the crowded family space, and mental ill-health is growing with the strain.

Now that people are urged to go back to work, it is the poorest and ethnic-minority people who are crowding on to the buses, trams and trains. The cleaners and handyworkers will be going back to the rich houses, while anyone on zero-hours contracts will struggle on as they have been doing, so that quiet deaths continue among maintenance workers and security guards.

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Philip Alston and Transformational Change

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Eighteen months ago Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, visited Britain for a fortnight, and travelled round all four countries to meet officials and ordinary people and community organisations. After also studying all the documents that had been published on the state of poverty here, he issued a Statement. This document still makes very sad reading. It shows up serious societal problems which the political absorption on Brexit last year and on the health crisis this year have distracted from, and which a progressive party such as ours must surely address.

He wrote in his Introduction:

It seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks… the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth in homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth an unheard of level of loneliness and isolation. And local authorities, especially in England, which perform vital roles in providing a real social safety net have been gutted by a series of government policies.

Describing people he had talked to dependent on foodbanks and charities, some homeless and sleeping on friends’ couches, young people who feel gangs are their only way out of destitution, and people with disabilities told to go back to work against their doctors’ orders, he also remarks on “tremendous resilience, strength and generosity” shown by neighbours, councils and charities in support.

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13 November 2019 – yesterday’s press releases

  • Lib Dems: Tesla announcement demolishes Johnson’s Brexit fantasy
  • Jane Dodds: Our benefits system is broken
  • Wollaston: Farage voting Tory shows Johnson has drifted to extremes

Lib Dems: Tesla announcement demolishes Johnson’s Brexit fantasy

Responding to the announcement that Tesla will be investing in a new factory in Germany and not the UK due to Brexit uncertainty, Liberal Democrat Shadow Brexit Secretary Tom Brake:

On Boris Johnson’s first day in Downing Street, Dominic Cummings was pictured wearing a T- shirt picturing a company founded by Elon Musk. Now the very entrepreneur Cummings idolises has chosen not to invest

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Rees-Mogg, Grenfell and Catholic social teaching

The Brexit of the Johnsons and Rees-Moggs of this world will free Britain from “the manacles” of the EU. This will enable Brexit to be used to slash and burn all those pesky regulations designed to protect workers’ rights. Johnson has now left them to be discussed in the non-binding political declaration, no longer preserved by the legally binding withdrawal agreement. Rees-Mogg concurs. 

Jacob Rees-Mogg is visible as a devout Catholic, sometimes ostentatiously so. But the social teaching of his church is set squarely against this Brexit vision, since it is often regulations inspired in part by Catholic social teaching that constitute those “manacles” of the EU. 

Modern Catholic Social Teaching evolved as a Christian response to industrial poverty in the late nineteenth century. Its principles chime impeccably with liberalism. Workers have the right to solidarity with each other (collective bargaining, trade unions), whilst private property is to be respected and entrepreneurship encouraged because it creates wealth. A collaboration between capital and labour that is fair and comprehensive is essential. The State also needs to be involved. As Pope St. John Paul II put it in Centesimus Annus in 1991: “the marketplace needs to be appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the State so as to guarantee that the basic needs of the whole of society are satisfied.” 

He also taught that the State, “has…the duty to protect the rights of all its people, and particularly of its weaker members, the workers, women and children. It can never be right for the State to shirk its obligation of working actively for the betterment of the condition of .”    

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A Fairer Share for All – a missed opportunity

At our Conference next month we will be discussing the policy motion and paper A Fairer Share For All.

What I particularly like is the policy to have “a £50 billion capital Rebalancing Fund to address the historic investment disparities between our regions and nations”. (I proposed a motion on poverty last year and it included a Rebalancing Fund but it was rejected by Federal Conference Committee.) 

The policy paper is not radical enough. It does not call for the end of relative poverty in any timescale. Also it does not include all of our existing policies as set out in our 2017 manifesto, such as reversing the cuts to Employment and Support Allowance for those in the Work Related Activity Group; 

It is unclear about what it wants to increase the benefit levels by. Existing policy is to increase benefits by the CPI rate of inflation each year, but the policy paper only states we would consider this “if more needs to be done (2.2.15 and 2.2.16). Other policies in this category are restoring the benefit level to its 2015 real value and increasing it by the increase in median earnings if higher than the CPI rate of inflation (2.2.16). 

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It’s worse than you think

The other main British parties don’t care enough. Do we?

About the plight of ordinary working families with insufficient income to keep bread on the table. The distress of troubled teenagers unable to find a quick response to mental health problems. The struggle to make ends meet for single mothers with more than two children. The worry of people with disabilities facing proving again their need for Personal Independence Payments. The hopelessness of people losing their homes because of delays in Universal Credit payments. The alienation of young people who can’t see a future beyond gang culture and drugs. And the despair of people in dead-end ill-paid jobs or ill and alone at home who can’t see any prospect of their life ever getting better.

There are all these people struggling in Britain today, yet we have a Conservative government indifferent to them. Indifferent to what people have gone through with the austerity of the last few years, to the rising poverty levels, and to the expectation that the standard of living for ordinary people will worsen if Brexit happens, with or without a deal.

Professor Alston, the UN Rapporteur of extreme poverty, put his finger on it in his Statement, after his 11-day fact-finding tour of Britain last November.

In the Introduction, after describing in devastating detail the situation he had found here, he wrote, “It is the underlying values and the ethos shaping the design and implementation of specific measures that have generated the greatest problems. The government has made no secret of its determination to change the value system to focus more on individual responsibility, to place major limits on government support, and to pursue a single-minded focus on getting people into employment at all costs. Many aspects of this program are legitimate matters for political contestation, but it is the mentality that has informed many of the reforms that has brought the most misery and wrought the most harm to the fabric of British society. British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and often callous approach.”

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The best way to answer Coalition guilt-shaming is to challenge austerity and poverty today, head-on

The election of a new Liberal Democrat leader has been followed by a predictable burst of accusations and guilt-shaming – mostly, but not only, from Labour sources – regarding the Lib Dems’ part in the Coalition, cuts and austerity. Responses on Liberal Democrat Voice and in other Lib Dem groups have often followed a familiar pattern too. A fair amount of irritated defensiveness. A lot of detailed discussion of the financial situation in 2010, deficit levels, etc. Sometimes a feel of this being a rather theoretical economic argument a bit far away, only raised to torment us.

I think this is to miss the point. The best way to get over endless guilt-shaming and raking-over of the Coalition is not to get sucked into circular arguments over just what part any Lib Dem minister played in this or that decision in 2014 but to say very clearly we’ve moved on, there are urgent matters to be dealt with, and that today, in the here and now, 2019, the Liberal Democrats see poverty as a real crisis, care about it and are prepared to tackle it.

What doesn’t leap out from current Lib Dem responses is any sense of urgency. An urgent awareness that there is an atrocious crisis of poverty in this country, and it’s getting worse. Galloping homelessness, thousands dependent on food banks, more and more people in work but so poorly paid and so insecure they barely keep going. Public health indicators that had been improving for decades now stalled or going backwards, as the United Nations’ Alston Report on Poverty in the UK highlighted.

And behind this worsening poverty are some very old ideas, like the assumption that anyone in need of support is potentially a ‘scrounger’ culpable for their own poverty who needs to be kept in check through such things as the benefit sanctions regime.

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Leadership and the C-word

Venn diagram of Lib Dem/Tory influence on Coalition policies“Two non-entities” – the curt analysis of historian David Starkey on the Lib Dem leadership race seems unduly harsh. But as a semidetached

Lib Dem looking for an excuse to reattach I have at the very least been struck by just how similar the two Lib Dem leadership candidates are.

The Lib Dems are now a very new and fresh party in the sense that most members have joined in very recent years or even months. For those of us with decades of libdemmery under our belts, Ed Davey and Jo Swinson almost feel like extended family. They are resilient folk who have been around for ages. Both of them are very much to be admired for withstanding the humiliation of losing their seats and then clawing those seats back.

White, middle-class, Oxbridge/Russell group, neither at first sight really exude life’s hard knocks. In fact, both have put forward moving accounts of just how searing real life can be. Jo Swinson’s speech in Parliament on combining politics and early motherhood was an astonishingly frank tour de force. Ed Davey’s poignant radio interview on his experience of early bereavement was truly memorable.

But, and it’s a very big but, how do we process their work in coalition? There is a poverty of debate in the party about the Coalition and about… err… poverty. The Lib Dems dropped austerity unceremoniously in 2015 (almost as suddenly as it was adopted back in 2010) and by 2017 it was almost as if the Coalition had never happened.

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It’s time for us to prove our progressive credentials

We want to hang on to the Remain voters who flocked to us in the Euro elections. We believe that our party could radically change our conflicted country for the better, while we see that the two main parties at present are, in the expressive vernacular, of as much use as a fart in a bottle.

This husk of a government continues to do harm. As if it were not enough that Chancellor Philip Hammond ignored the poorest in his March Spring Statement despite bumper tax receipts, the continuing impact of the roll-out of Universal Credit, the two-child limit on some welfare payments and the continuing benefits freeze will, according to research by experts, cause a big increase in families unable to make ends meet this year. Cover-up attempts by Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd to alleviate the effects have done little. For example, repaying the advance payments for UC will plunge one in ten low-pay households into deficit. Although UC has made 56% of households better-off by £172 a month, 40% are worse off and will lose an average of £181.

Amber Rudd’s latest wheeze to stem the flow of criticism is denial. She is to complain to the UN about the final UK report of its Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, which was published last month, apparently on the grounds that his personal fact-finding tour was only eleven days long and his conclusions on the Government’s approach to tackling poverty are ‘completely inaccurate’. The 20-page report, which upholds the statement made in November discussed here in LDV is in fact extensively referenced by many authoritative public bodies. 

The report’s summary points out that one-fifth of Britain’s population, 14m.people, live in poverty, and that the policies of austerity introduced since 2010 continue largely unabated. Its final conclusion is that Brexit presents an opportunity to reimagine what the UK stands for, and that recognition of social rights and social inclusion rather than marginalization of the working poor and the unemployed should be the guiding principle of social policy. The report combines recommendations of practical steps to tackle poverty with humane proposals for restoring our social contract.

So, its fourth recommendation demands reversal of the “regressive measures” pointed out by experts and ignored by the Government  (see above) –  continuation of the benefits freeze, the two-child limit, the benefit cap, and the reduction of housing benefit including for under-occupied rental housing. This is already Liberal Democrat policy, and we would also support the recommendation to eliminate the five-week delay in receiving UC benefits.

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ICYMI: Lord Roberts demands more for those made homeless

It was a busy week last week, with local elections and all, but in the midst of the flurry of leaflet delivery and canvassing, Lord Roberts was busy in Parliament questioning the Government on homelessness.

This has been a big issue in North Devon, as it is across the country, with austerity having gone too far and people not able to afford a roof over their heads.

Lord Robert posited:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the decrease in local authority spending since 2009 on homelessness and the number of deaths of homeless people.

You can read the entire debate here and watch the video here.

Lord Robert’s office kindly sent over a piece on Rough Sleeping written by his researcher Shany Mizrai. We missed out on publishing it last week, but I think it deserves a read:

The House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts has described the extent of homelessness across England as a ‘national crisis’. Appallingly, at any one time, there are as many as 9,100 people sleeping rough on the streets. In 2017 alone, 597 people died while homeless – a third of them, of treatable illnesses. Unfortunately, facts now suggest that homelessness in England has risen 165% higher than it was in 2010.

Importantly, the National Audit Office highlights that there is a high prevalence of mental illness, alcohol and drug dependency among rough sleepers: of the 70% of rough sleepers who had a support-needs assessment recorded, 47% had mental health support needs, 44% had alcohol support needs and 35% had drug support needs. The question is: what is the government doing to help rough sleepers deal with these dependencies?

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