Be careful what you wish for

The people have spoken.

Well, more precisely, less than four out of ten UK electors voted in the elections for the European Parliament last Thursday. It’s difficult to be precise, but it appears that about half of those who came out to vote supported Brexit…and the other half supported Remain. Proportionately, it was more or less a repeat of the Referendum result.

The reality is that we have a nation which is dangerously divided and the prospects for reconciliation seem limited in the near future.

Since the Referendum, each and every day, our economic performance and prospects have been damaged. That is set to continue, irrespective of whether there is a negotiated or a no-deal Brexit.

Because Brexit has so dominated the political discourse, it has crowded out discussion and decision about domestic policy issues. I have given many examples of this before…adult social care, local government finance and funding, business rates and alternative taxes…

Last week we were given a sharp reminder of this when Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty, said that, unless austerity ends, the UK’s poorest people face lives that are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. He then warned that the worse could be yet to come “for the most vulnerable, who face a major adverse impact” if Brexit proceeds.

This isn’t an isolated warning. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), the UK is now second only to the US in terms of inequality among major economies in North America and Europe. The IFS found that average CEO pay among FTSE 100 companies in the UK in 2017 was 145 times higher than the salary of the average worker, up from 47 times higher back in 1998.

The entire board of the Government’s own Social Mobility Commission resigned in 2017, citing the Government’s lack of action in tackling social justice. The Commission, which suffered a near year-long delay in appointing replacements, warned last month that “social mobility has been virtually stagnant for four years”.

A total of 14 million people in the UK were in poverty in 2017/18. This includes 4.1 children, a rise of 500,000 since 2010/11. Two million pensioners were in poverty in 2017/18, up by 400,000 compared with 2010/11.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the key reasons for rises in poverty are

  • Cuts to social security
  • High housing costs – increasing numbers of people on low income are living in the private rented sector but housing benefit is failing to cover the cost of rents
  • People trapped in low-paid work

Health, education and housing inequality is at unacceptable levels. The gap in life expectancy between the poorest and wealthiest is getting wider. Healthy life expectancy at birth among the most deprived males in England is 51.9 years, compared with 70.4 years among the least deprived.

By eleven, (end of Key Stage 2), less than half (46%) of pupils entitled to free school meals reach the standards expected for reading, writing and mathematics, compared to 68% of all other pupils. Only 16% of those on free school meals attain at least two A levels compared to 39% of all other pupils.

Rough sleeping has more than doubled since 2010 according to Government figures, rising from 1,768 in 2010 to 4,677 in 2018. Over 120,000 children are recorded as homeless in temporary accommodation – an increase of 70% since 2010.

As the number of people working on zero-hours contracts rises each day, the number of working households living below the poverty line has increased. As social security cuts continue, food bank usage increases.

Wouldn’t you would think that these issues, rather than an ill-informed Brexit debate, should be at the forefront of our minds? Don’t bank on it.

Yesterday, Lucy Davies was elected as a Brexit Member of the European Parliament for Yorkshire and Humberside. Last year, in a TV interview1 , she confirmed that ‘leave voters’ like her wanted Brexit “at any cost”. She then admitted this could mean volunteering for “30 years of economic downturn”.

Is that what you really wish for?

1 https://twitter.com/femi_sorry/status/1129454458159665152?s=21

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