2007 - 2022

Welcome to the Poverty of the Union


adjective: showing a casual lack of concern.

I write on April Fools Day. Oliver Dowden has suggested a national day to celebrate Margaret Thatcher who he says “… led the UK to victory in our defence of the Falklands, ended our national decline, set Britain on a path to a brighter future, and was a trailblazer for women in politics.”

It’s a delicious set of priorities and fears, and as today is the day that millions of people are transported into poverty and millions of people already in poverty are transported into destitution, the idea of the ‘end of national decline’ is bittersweet.

Today the boom industry in Britain is Debt Collection.

The Chancellor’s response? He laughs off the accusation of hypocrisy related to his wife’s huge investments in Russia and compares himself to Will Smith.

A report issued in January reinforces what many of us experience (and many more about to) that the perfect storm of Brexit, supply-chain collapse, and the grinding consequences of long-term Tory social and economic policy have left millions in ‘deep poverty’.  The report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that 1.8 million children are growing up in ‘deep poverty’, with 500,000 more children living in significant poverty in 2019/20 compared to 2011/12. That’s an indictment of a decade of Tory rule.

But it’s about to get much worse. Soaring energy bills, tax increases and inflation are pushing families up and down the country into destitution. The amount energy companies can charge customers on certain tariffs under the government’s Energy Price Cap is predicted to go up in April by around 51%.  This spring energy prices could rise to £2,000 per year pushing an estimated 6 million households into fuel poverty.

The Joseph Rowntree’s report lays this out in stark detail. Katie Schmuecker from the foundation said: “The reality for many families is that too many children know the constant struggle of poverty. The fact that more children are in poverty and sinking deeper into poverty should shame us all.”

“The case for targeted support to help people on the lowest incomes could not be clearer. But this must go hand in hand with urgent action to strengthen our social security system, which was woefully inadequate even before living costs began to rise.”

“Our basic rate of benefits is at its lowest real rate for 30 years and this is causing avoidable hardship. The Government must do the right thing and strengthen this vital public service.”

While Schmuecker says this, oil and gas companies are set to make record profits from the crisis, BP’s CEO Bernard Looney described the business as a “cash machine”.

A new report from the Food Foundation dispels the myths that the government’s hands are tied or that there is little they can do.

The Department of Work and Pensions Family Resources Survey of ~10,000 households measuring household food insecurity suggest that the £20 Uplift that was put in place for families on Universal Credit during the pandemic played a critical role in protecting these families from food insecurity. Compared with before the pandemic, food insecurity levels in households on UC were 37% lower (43% in 2019-21 compared with 27% in 2020-21). While these levels are still concerningly high, they suggest that the £20 made a real difference to families being able to afford the food they needed. In comparison those on housing benefit (which captures many people on legacy benefits that weren’t eligible for the uplift) saw little change, further indicating the impact of the uplift.

Despite the improvement, the levels of food insecurity were approximately four times higher in households on Universal Credit than the average household. This is despite many households on Universal Credit being in work.

What we are seeing in real-time is people falling into “food insecurity”. By the way, this is NGO-euphemism for “hunger”.

Anna Taylor, Executive Director of The Food Foundation said:There is now an abundance of evidence to show that households on universal credit (which are working families), are at extreme risk of food insecurity. In the absence of support from the Government to help with the cost of living crisis, the consequences could be catastrophic for many of these families, with material impacts on their health and wellbeing.”

A Tough Situation

As of this week the Tories are letting energy bills soar by 54% today, up nearly £700. The general government response is to shrug their shoulders and explain that there is nothing they can do. Remember in all this – this is a government we didn’t elect, and we can’t elect.
I’m sorry but we did tell you this was coming. In 2014 we were told that independence would lead to ‘havoc’ and economic uncertainty, well what we’re experiencing now is the consequence of dependence.
As I write I am re-reading Peter Arnott’s 2014 essay ‘Dinner with No Voters’. He writes:

“Every vile piece of Westminster legislation that has attacked the poor and dismantled the Welfare State, every policy that has ensured that it is only the poor who have paid the price of the recession caused by the greed of the rich, every act of economic and social vandalism – it has been the comfortable posture of the well-meaning voters of Scotland that none of these things have been your fault. That you didn’t vote for them.

Well, you won’t be able to say that anymore.

Up until September the 18th, we have all been able to hide behind all that being someone else’s fault. Either way, the vote goes, Yes or No, that comfortable position has already been shattered. Either we vote to take responsibility for our own economics, our own wealth distribution, our own decisions to make war or peace…or we are voting to mandate away control over all of these matters to Westminster forever.

Either way, we will be responsible.

If a Yes voter has to take on board the moral hazard of whatever happens for good or ill in an independent Scotland, a No voter must equally accept moral responsibility for having given Westminster permanent permission to do whatever it likes forever. No questions asked.

Moral Hazard works both ways.

Whatever austerity measures are coming down the line, all those policies that weren’t your fault before September 18th? After September the 18th, they will be your fault. No. Sorry. Every single one of them. Will be your fault. This is the trap that history has set you. And I understand your discomfort. I understand your wanting to wish all this away. But you can’t. You’re stuck along with the rest of us.”

I’m sorry but it’s true.

It’s all true.

This is the poverty of the Union.

It’s not all the fault of the No voters, or the lies of the Better Together campaign, or the mendacious uselessness of the Tories, some of it is the fault of a wider condition in which an entire society is gaslit and ground down into passivity and subservience, a condition some have called ‘reflexive impotence’ or ‘mandatory individualism’. And no Scotland wouldn’t be immune from geopolitical shocks and no we don’t have magic solutions and no independence wouldn’t solve everything, but the crucial point is this, we would be living in a nation that elects its own government. If the Scottish government was to fail and fail badly we would elect one with better policies and better plans. I think it’s called a democracy.

The Tories insouciance – Minister Kit Malthouse told Sky News that the government “acknowledges” the cost of living crisis is a “tough situation”, and says “we hope that over time we can get back onto the path of prosperity” – is an ideological shrug of the shoulder. It’s a government that’s so enthralled by market forces that it will watch people starve rather than do anything about it. The best bit about it all, and the immediate consequence of voting No in 2014, is there’s nothing we can do about it. Nothing at all.


Comments (18)

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  1. Willie Lawrie says:

    An excellent article but why no mention of the Windsor family?
    They are surely the root cause of the disintegration and moral poverty of this country.
    When have you ever heard anyone from that family criticize the foodbanks or homelessness or poverty.
    They are the ones who want to keep the status quo where they have everything they could possibly need or want.
    When has Elizabeth Windsor in her Christmas address on the telly ever complained about the unfairness of our society.
    Has she ever offered to forgo her personal allowance in favour of the downtrodden.
    Has her family ever decided that instead of gallivanting throughout the world at the taxpayers expense the money would be better spent on alleviating poverty.
    Scotland needs to be out of this monstrosity of a State.

  2. Squigglypen says:

    Hands up all those who voted NO to Independence….there’s the big problem for our country…too many fearties…

    Re Betty Windsor aka Saxe Coburg….totally agree Willie.

    Howabout UDI? Oh no we can’t do that..it’s not legal……so we’ll just chunter chunter chunter….yeah that’ll solve our predicament.

    1. 220403 says:

      Some of us spoiled our ballot papers.

      1. BSA says:

        What was the protest about this time ?

        1. 220403 says:

          It wasn’t a protest. The Scottish government failed to tell us what difference its being independent of the UK government would make to our democracy ‘on the ground’, whether ordinary people in their neighbourhoods would have any more say in the decision-making that affects their lives than we already do or whether that power would still be nationalised (only as ‘Scotland’ rather than as ‘the UK’). If (as might be suspected) it wasn’t going to make any difference to the current political régime, there just wasn’t any point in voting for the Scottish government’s proposition.

          If the Scottish government wants us to support its independence, it’s going to have to offer us something substantially more democratic than just our ain wee parliament at Holyrood.

  3. Alice says:

    Willie you are so spot on re Her Maj and her total lack of concern for anyone but herself. What a world she was raised in. Terrible folk with horrendous thoughts and actions…..holding on to power at any cost fundamentally the way forward for them . Had a run in with a certain Lady from Aberdeenshire who was ably assisted by the ruling Labour lot. She won hands down and was flabbergasted at any challenge to her exploitative ways……

    the establishment has a very powerful grip on Scotland and it’s realities would have to be firmly grasped and faced down. No easy task but if there is some decent savvy political folk in place it might be possible to at least make a start in challenging and changing power structures. Hope springs eternal.

  4. AudreyMacT says:

    The author conveniently forgets to mention the last two years of lockdowns, restrictions and quantitative easing amounting to hundreds of billions £ . (Trillions in the US). Did he really think that such enormous financial shocks could come with no price to pay down the line?

    1. No Audrey I was very aware that there would be a price to pay and equally sure who would be paying it …

      1. AudreyMacT says:

        So you knew that the mind boggling amounts of QE would eventually move out of the financial economy into the real economy and cause inflation. And you knew that the poor would be hardest hit by that inflation. And yet you wanted longer and harder lockdowns!
        You really are a very curious kind of left-winger aren’t you.

        1. No I didnt think any of this was inevitable, I just knew that’s how the Tories operate. The two are not the same thing.

          Presumably you wanted no tiresome lockdowns and were prepared to pay the price in human lives from that ideology?
          You really are a very curious kind of right-winger aren’t you?

          1. AudreyMacT says:

            Yesterday Ofsted published a report looking at how children were affected by lockdowns. They found that very young children were particularly badly affected and were struggling with language, communication and social skills due to not seeing adult faces as they were covered for so much of the time by masks. The behaviour of older children changed too due to spending excessive amounts of time staring at screens. Many people warned of these dangers early in the ‘pandemic’ but we’re mostly shouted down.
            Did you factor in infant development as you supported Sturgeon’s mask mandates?

          2. “Did you factor in infant development as you supported Sturgeon’s mask mandates?”

            Such patronising shit.

            Yes I am a single parent of four children who I looked after throughout the “mask mandates”.

          3. AudreyMacT says:

            So you knew that there could be very serious issues around infant development and yet you supported Sturgeon throughout.

        2. 220404 says:

          The point is, Audrey, is that the inevitable cost of the measures we took as a society to mitigate the potential risks of the pandemic should be shared more equitably among us. The issue isn’t that such costs need to be borne; it’s that poorer people (and countries) are having to bear a disproportionate share of those costs.

          1. AudreyMacT says:

            No the issue is that the UK had a pandemic plan ready to go but it abandoned those plans and instead went with lockdowns. The lockdown strategy was untried, untested, and uncosted. Johnson and Sturgeon went down this route with zero analysis of where it might lead.

          2. 220405 says:

            We didn’t have a pandemic plan that was ready to go. When we tested the plan we did have in 2016, the exercise revealed that our preparedness, in terms of our contingency plans, policies, and capabilities, wasn’t sufficient to cope with the extreme demands of a severe pandemic that would have a nationwide impact across all sectors. If our governments are culpable of anything, it’s that they didn’t act then, on the findings of Exercise Cygnus, to help us develop our resilience; that is, that they didn’t then update our plans and policies and invest in the capacity of our public services to cope with the disruption that such a crisis would inevitably bring. Basically, we needed to lock down in order to build the resilience in which we should have been investing in advance of the crisis.

            It’s this failure that the poor are paying for now. No global conspiracy, just government incompetence.

          3. AudreyMacT says:

            So we had a pandemic plan AND we knew the limitations of that plan. But instead of addressing those limitations in January/February 2020 we simply ditched the lot and went with the untried, untested, uncosted lockdown plan.
            Makes perfect sense.

          4. 220405 says:

            No, we had to lock down rather sharpish and play catch-up because we failed to address from 2016 onward the shortcomings we’d identified with our existing pandemic plan when we exercised it then. There’s no need to postulate any kind of conspiracy; simple incompetence suffices.

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