July 7th, 2016.
Watching the fallout of the EU referendum, one phrase keeps coming to mind: a good time to bury bad news. The country is settling into months of Brexit developments and the unfolding Tory and Labour leadership battles, so the government’s actual policies are likely to receive less attention. And without the headlines to make the electorate aware, no one will be held to account. If that feels a little chilling, it’s because it should do.
Here are five things that have happened since the referendum result that will hit society’s most disadvantaged people, but which you might have missed …
1. Austerity policies breach the UK’s human rights obligations
As the dust from the Brexit vote was still settling, the United Nations announced that the Conservatives’ austerity policies breach international human rights obligations. The findings of the eight-month investigation are little short of a public shaming for austerity’s architects. Since the cuts were introduced in 2010 they have had “a disproportionate adverse impact” on the most marginalised and disadvantaged: children, disabled people, and low-income families.
The UN also highlighted the UK’s “exceptionally high levels of homelessness”, food banks, and persistent inequality – embedded by tax policies, including VAT rises combined with reductions in inheritance and corporation tax.
Contrary to George Osborne’s spin, it also found that the new national living wage is not enough to ensure a decent standard of living . That is likely to be even worse for women, who are more likely to be stuck on zero-hours contracts, and young people under-25, who are excluded from the policy.
2. Child poverty has spiked
The number of children living in poverty has jumped by 200,000 in a year,according to the latest official data. Buried under Brexit headlines, this is the first increase in child poverty (when housing costs are included) since 2011-12.
The rise means 3.9 million children are now living below the breadline in this country. And in stark contrast to the Conservative’s morally loaded “worklessness” rhetoric, two-thirds are in families where a parent has a job. Meanwhile, parents who need social security – because of illness, caring responsibilities, unstable employment or lack of educational chances – have had their support crumble over the past four years, from the bedroom tax to freezes on benefits.
I spoke to Buttle UK, Britain’s largest grant-giving children’s charity, about a mother hit by the household benefit cap who couldn’t afford beds for her five children. Until the charity gave them bunk beds, the children had been sleeping on the floor and wetting themselves. The family is not alone. Last year the charity provided beds, washing machines and ovens for 30,000 children.
With no real strategy by the government to address what is now widespread deprivation, this situation looks likely to get worse.
3. Delayed state pension for hundreds of thousands of women
You would be forgiven for not noticing that last week, the campaign group Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi) held a national demonstration outside parliament. Called “the £30bn cut you’ve never heard of”, an estimated half a million women are having their state pension delayed – and without proper notice.
With the strong chance that the final race to be the next prime minister will be between two women, let’s see if gender equality for retirement is debated in parliament.
4. Children with mental health problems are being denied treatment
Up to four in five children with mental health problems are being denied access to the treatment they urgently need in some parts of England, according to new NHS figures. Despite high-profile pledges by the government, some of this country’s most vulnerable children are being “bounced” off the NHS: sent to a school counsellor or charity-run service to fill in the gaps.
This did not happen by magic. Since 2010, child and adolescent mental services have endured cuts of £85m. The human consequences of that political decision have now arrived: children who are more likely to self-harm, become suicidal, or drop out of school have lost all chance of a decent future.
Contrary to fabrications written on buses, Brexit is unlikely to result in extra millions for the NHS and its struggling mental health services. Instead, it’s likely to push the funding gap even further off the national agenda.
5. The DWP is delaying the release of benefit death reports (again)
There has been a continuing battle to get the Department for Work and Pensions to disclose details of secret investigations into the suicides and other deaths of benefit claimants. It took nearly two years for them to publish information about 49 benefit claimants losing their lives. Now it’s emerged that ministers are yet again delaying the release of nine such secret reviews.
A response to a freedom of information request by Disability News Service was completed by the DWP at the end of May, but DNS reports that the documents have still not been released.
Notably, this comes in light of calls for the Brexiter and former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith to face a criminal investigation, after his failure to act on a coroner’s concerns about the safety of the now notorious fit-for-work tests.
While we look one way, there is plenty to be vigilant about elsewhere. Don’t let them get away with it.