Sometimes, there are periods which define the essential character of a Government and how it is seen.
The two and a half weeks which have elapsed since the Summer Recess and the current ‘Conference Recess’ deserve to fall firmly into that category for the Prime Minister and his administration, and definitely not for the better; for the combined assault by Boris Johnson’s Government on those with low incomes over this short time has been little short of breathtaking in its ferocity and its audacity.
We have seen the pension ‘triple lock’ removed, cutting the link between pensions and earnings. We are seeing a promise to cut £1,040 from Universal Credit, in a move which will plunge 20,000 Scottish children into poverty.
We also have seen the Conservatives not so much break as dismember a manifesto promise not to increase National Insurance, in a move that hits the youngest and poorest the hardest and which will bake generational and geographical inequalities into our social and economic reality for generations.
The combined impact of this on low-income households will be devastating.
The Government has of course been well-warned from a number of sources about the individual and combined impact of these policies and events, but still chooses to blunder on regardless. Far from being remembered as the man who ‘Got Brexit Done’, the Prime Minister is on course to preside over his very own ‘Winter of Discontent’ unless he changes direction quickly on several fronts.
Seeking a society where everyone has the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential is one of the main reasons I got involved in politics. It was with that as well as all of the above in mind that I chose to speak in the House of Commons last week on the impact of those UK Government policies on working families, and to highlight the problems of often less visible rural deprivation.
It is easy for those who have never experienced scarcity or shortage in any significant way themselves to fully understand how expensive it can be to be short of money. People end up being forced to buy what they can afford rather than what lasts best. Those without the opportunity to ‘shop around’ pay more for their energy, particularly if they are trapped on a prepayment meter or have to rely on a limited number of suppliers. Access to credit and financial services is also much harder and usually more expensive when it is available.
Deprivation also hits those who at one point might have been seen as ‘doing well’. Right across the north-east of Scotland, the use of food banks is common; not a community is unserved and demand is, as in other areas, heading in only one direction. Even for those with their heads above water, a significant number are probably no more than a missed paycheque or a significant household expense away from serious financial difficulties.
For me, tackling poverty means many things, but above all it means treating people as citizens, with dignity, enabling them to participate fully in society on their own terms, shorn of the shame of being seen to be without. If we really want to build back better and fairer, it’s clearer than ever that we need to be well away from the baleful reach of Boris Johnson and his Government.