ONE in three people in the country have ‘experienced poverty’ in the past four years.
According to figures produced by the Office for National Statistics, between 2011 and 2014 32.5% of the population were thrust below the official poverty line at least once. The official poverty line is set at income that falls below 60% of the average household income.
What the ONS also revealed is that there exists a huge turnover of people who are constantly in and out of poverty, while 3.9 million are in what is termed ‘persistent poverty’. In other words, nearly four million people are living in a state of permanent poverty, while the rest are condemned to a life of constantly moving from absolute poverty to only relative poverty on a regular basis.
This is a reflection of the collapse of well paid, secure jobs – itself a reflection of the total collapse of manufacturing industry. Instead, British capitalism can only offer the working class a life of continually searching for low paid, short-term contract work with all the financial insecurity for families that this inevitably brings.
To place the poverty level at 60% of the average family income ducks the question of what that average is in the first place. Wages and income have fallen dramatically following the eruption of the capitalist crisis in 2008.
The ONS has calculated that since the financial crash wage levels in Britain have experienced the longest period of falls since 1964. This represents a fall in living standards of workers that is unprecedented since the middle of the 19th century! According to the TUC, average pay is now worth £2,270 a year (£44 a week) less than it was in 2008.
This means that the millions forced into either ‘relative’ poverty or ‘absolute’ poverty are, in fact, being driven quite literally into destitution and starvation. The vast majority of those falling below or on the poverty line are families that have at least one member in work; two thirds of children and working-age adults in poverty are in working households.
The vicious combination of wage freezes, pay cuts, short-term working and zero hours contracts – allied with the Tory cuts to welfare benefits and the introduction of the bedroom tax – means that millions of workers and young people can no longer afford even the basic necessities of life.
Instead, they are forced to exist on hand-outs from food banks which, according to the Tressel Trust, have reached record levels of use in 2016, up 2% on last year. This is the reality of British capitalism which is so bankrupt it can only limp along by driving the conditions of workers back to those of the 19th century.
At the same time that the Tories are waging war against the living standards of workers, they are handing billions to the bankers and the rich in the form of tax relief, on top of all the trillions of pounds given to the banks to bail them out of the crisis they created.
Workers and young people especially are not prepared to sit back and see their lives and futures smashed up to keep bankrupt capitalism afloat. There is a growing revolutionary mood amongst the working class in Britain and throughout the world against austerity cuts that are consigning millions to poverty.
It is this mass movement that the leadership of the trade unions are desperately attempting to hold in check. When the TUC announced their findings on the dramatic cut in wages, all TUC general secretary, Francis O’Grady, could do was to beg the Tories to ‘make sure that working people see productivity gains in their pay packets.’
Appeals to the Tories are a treacherous evasion by these leaders. The only way to defeat the austerity that has led to the misery of poverty is to demand that the TUC call a general strike to kick out the Tories and go forward to a workers government that will expropriate the bankers and bosses and eradicate all poverty by advancing to a planned socialist economy.