Here is the full speech from Monday where I spoke in the debate in Parliament about the Social Security uprating of around a merely 1.7% for working ages benefits and ill-health and disability support.
This uprating is of course welcome, but it appears to be too little, too late. The brutal cuts imposed by the Government have entrenched, and continue to entrench, poverty across these islands. A 1.7% increase in working-age benefits does not make up for the damage caused by the four-year freeze. If austerity was over, the Government would be making up the shortfall which for some is as much as 17% lower than they would have been.
Poverty is not inevitable. People not having enough money to feed and clothe their children is not something that happens by accident. The existence of poverty in a country as rich as ours is a direct consequence of political choices. The decade of austerity was a political choice. Massive long-term cuts to the social security budget were a political choice. The widening of the holes in the social security safety net so that more families and children would fall through was a political choice. The ill-conceived and hopelessly financed introduction of universal credit was a political choice. Making the poorest, weakest and most vulnerable in our society carry the can and bear the brunt of a financial crisis that had nothing to do with them was, of course, a political choice.
There can be no doubt that one of the main drivers of child poverty in these islands has been the Government’s package of welfare reforms, which by any measure has been an abject failure. How else could one describe a package of reforms the result of which is that 65% of all the children who live in poverty come from households in which at least one adult is working?
Some would still have us believe that it will take decades to turn things around and lift children out of poverty, but I do not believe that that is true. There are measures that the UK Government could take right now that would immediately stop children and their families falling into poverty. One of those would be for the Government immediately to stop the roll-out of universal credit, take their time and find the money to fix the major problems in the system, which they are only too well aware of but choose to ignore
There is an inescapable and undeniable link between the paucity of affordable rented property in the private rented sector and the increased risk of people becoming homeless simply because they cannot afford to meet the cost of living in private rented accommodation. There is a chasm of difference between what people are expected to pay and what they can afford to pay.
Let us be absolutely clear: this housing crisis—particularly in England—and the rising levels of homelessness and rough sleeping did not happen by accident.
There has not been some unforeseen set of circumstances that has led to the number of households living in temporary accommodation in England rising by 60% between 2012 and 2018. No unexpected or unforeseen quirk has led to the number of rough sleepers in England nearly doubling over the past five years.
This housing crisis was all too predictable, because just about every stakeholder warned the Government right from the start about the inevitable consequences of pursuing their austerity agenda. When they froze local housing allowance and failed to meet their targets for building social housing, what did they expect to happen other than a rise in homelessness and the number of people sleeping rough on our streets? That is exactly what has happened, so let us call this what it is: a crisis entirely of the Government’s own making.