Shoppers pass a homeless person on Oxford Street in London (Mike Kemp/In Pictures/Getty)

Adapted from original publication on Birmingham Blogs:

EA on WION: The Forthcoming Elections in the UK and France

Three million emergency food parcels were handed out in the UK over the past 12 months.

The number of people living in absolute poverty in 2024 is predicted to increase by 300,000 to almost 12 million.

Around 17% of children live in “food insecure” households.

And neither the Conservative nor Labour Party is mentioning this in the campaign for the July 4 election.

The manifestos have nothing bold or ambitious. Indeed, there is not a mention of measures to address economic inequality.

Both parties proclaim economic stability and sound finances. Labour speaks of limiting waste, spending wisely, and restoring “security to family finances”: the “biggest fall in living standards in a generation” can be solved just by improving the rate of economic growth. The Tories proclaim a more secure economy through tax cuts, the reaping of the mythical “Brexit benefits”, and the restructuring of welfare benefits.

Trickle-Down Politics

The promises of both parties are built on the faulty foundation of “trickle-down economics”: in an expanding economy, everyone benefits proportionately.

It is a mantra that has been recycled by successive governments since the 1980s, and it has been exposed as false and misleading time and time again. What the UK has experienced is a siphoning-off of the gains at the top, with an attendant increase in the wealth of the 1%. Those at the bottom never see that increase.

Still, the trickle-down mantra is deployed by politicians to abdicate responsibility for a productive intervention in the economy, absolving the state from ensuring a fair distribution of rewards across society.

Honesty About Inequality

Economic inequality is earned income inequality and accumulated wealth inequality. The consensus among economists is that wealth, not income, is where the real political battle needs to be fought. But over the past four decades, there has been a staggering concentration of wealth in the UK. In 2023, the 350 richest individuals in the UK had a combined wealth of £795 billion, and the richest 50 families in the UK now hold more than half of the UK population — 33.5 million people.

We live in a British society where it is not politically correct to label something as objectively wrong. But in a country where 4.3 million children — 30% of the UK’s juveniles — live in poverty: this is objectively wrong.

Inequality is not just a problem for the poor. It erodes the fabric of society, breeding crime, intolerance, and extremism. It undermines democracy and increases the appeal of populism and both far right and far left ideologies.

Speaking Out About A Society

Both parties have remained conspicuously silent on politically contentious policies, such as wealth taxes or council tax reformm that might address the increase in accumulated wealth. But the hard truth is that the promise of economic growth only works to the benefit of all when there is a more interventionist and redistributive strategy by the government.

Simply creating the right conditions for economic growth — the focus of both parties — will not address the root causes of inequality. Without redistribution, which can only ultimately happen through the state, all the evidence suggests that inequality will only worsen.

What would redistribution look like? The Trussell Trust has recently emphasised the urgent need for universal credit reform to ensure that people have the basic essentials for living and do not face the impossible choice between heating and eating.

A complete overhaul of the Department of Work and Pensions – which has presided over the privatization of a punitive and unjust system of benefits for the poor, the sick, and the disabled – would be another step in the right direction.

And a return to the foundational principles of the welfare state, outlined in the 1942 Beveridge Report, is a pressing need. As it stated:

Freedom from want cannot be forced on a democracy or given to a democracy. It must be won by them. Winning it needs courage and faith and a sense of national unity: courage to face facts and difficulties and overcome them; faith in our future and in the ideals of fair-play and freedom for which century after century our forefathers were prepared to die; a sense of national unity overriding the interests of any class or section.