Regardless of where you look Austerity is taking its toll across the County of Kent. Whether it be rent arrears caused by Universal Credit, a lack of transport causing isolation, loneliness, rough sleeper numbers, child poverty, mental health, or our libraries, all have been affected by a deliberate tory policy of austerity.
What the Shepwayvox Team has evidenced locally in our County across the four years we have been in existence, the UN extreme poverty and human rights report confirms across the rest of the UK too.
Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty, accused UK ministers of being in a state of denial about the impact of policies, including the rollout of universal credit, since 2010.
The “endlessly repeated” mantra about rising employment overlooks that “close to 40% of children are predicted to be living in poverty two years from now, 16% of people over 65 live in relative poverty and millions of those who are in work are dependent upon various forms of charity to cope”, he said.
Earlier this month, the Shepwayvox Team evidenced via the chart below that long term child poverty has risen from 1 in 5 children to more than 1 in 3 children in parts of Kent. When one drills into the data at electoral ward level, it shows that over half, or nearly half of children are living in poverty in parts of certain electoral wards of Kent.
Such local evidence supports what Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty, has said.
Regarding Universal Credit, one can see what a failure it truly is just by looking at East Kent Housing (EKH) rent arrears, caused by the Universal Credit delays to peoples rent. This has led to an unprecedented rise in rent arrears. So much so Universal Credit rent arrears make up 46% of the rent arrears owed to EKH. To put that in understandable terms, rent arrears by Universal Credit EKH tenants was £1,030,263 out of £2,237,915 owed to East Kent Housing at the end of Dec 2018.
The national picture shows that half of all council tenants across 105 local authorities who receive the housing element of universal credit – which replaces housing benefit – are at least a month behind on their rent, with 30% two months behind.
By contrast, less than 10% of council tenants on housing benefit are a month behind on their rent, with under 5% running more than two months behind.
We understand that EKH do not evict tenants on Universal Credit who have fallen behind in their rent due to issues with late payments or no payments.
Late universal credit payments drive more people to use foodbanks. This is true here in Kent where use of foodbanks has risen by 15% between 2017/18 and 2018/19 according to data provided to us by the Trussell Trust.
Universal Credit is a expensive failing monster and Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty has said:
“It might seem to some observers that the department of work and pensions has been tasked with designing a digital and sanitised version of the 19th-century workhouse, made infamous by Charles Dickens.”
Another shocking thing about Universal Credit is Kentlive (who print the Folkestone Herald locally ran a DWP advertorial, bigging up the failing benefit. A cross-party group of MPs have written to Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, demanding more details of a reported £250,000 “unbranded” PR campaign to promote universal credit; which the likes of Kentlive ran.
Let’s not forget Transport, especially in rural areas, which we know, and you know should be considered as an essential service, equivalent to water and electricity. This government ought regulate the sector to the extent necessary to ensure that people living in rural areas are adequately served. After all as we reported in June 2018, KCC have subsidised Stagecoach to the sum of £132 million between 2010 and 2018.
The UN extreme poverty and human rights report slams the government’s austerity programme, with criticisms of “shocking” rises in the use of food banks and rough sleeping – which has risen in nearly all districts of Kent – falling life expectancy for some, the “decimation” of legal aid, the denial of benefits to the severely disabled, falling teachers’ salaries in real terms and the impoverishment of single mothers and people with mental illness.
Alston said austerity had “deliberately gutted” local authorities, shrinking library, youth, police and park services to the extent that it was not surprising there were “unheard-of levels of loneliness and isolation”. Social-isolation-and-loneliness-in-Kent has been mapped by Kent Public Health Observatory and evidences that over time this has become a growing issue.
Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty said in his report:
Abandoning people to the private market in relation to a service that affects every dimension of their basic well-being is incompatible with human rights requirements.
He goes onto say about the incumbent government
Thomas Hobbes, who memorably claimed that without a social contract, life outside society would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” The risk is that if current policies do not change, this is the direction in which low-income earners and the poor are headed. Loneliness rates have soared in recent years and life expectancy rates have stalled in the United Kingdom, with the latest statistics showing a sharp drop in the annual improvement that has been experienced every year since the records began, and an actual drop for certain groups.
So all the evidence at a Kent level wholeheartedly supports the UN’s report and conclusions. The continuing use of austerity (first started in 2010) by the Conservatives is causing misery to untold tens of thousands of children and adults across our county. There is nothing inevitable or normal about loneliness, isolation, child poverty, hunger and rent arrears through no fault of ones own in a county as rich as ours. It’s an outrage that must be challenged.
The Shepwayvox Team
Journalism for the People NOT the Powerful