Brexit is the defining issue of our age: it dominates, and stymies, political debate; it clogs our news agenda; it pollutes dinner table conversation. In recent weeks, with an intransigent parliament trapped in an endless, Sisyphean round of votes over whether or not to hold other votes, it’s started to feel as if nothing else matters.
But while we’re all looking the other way, social cohesion in Britain is crumbling and the gulf between rich and poor widens every week.
A most grotesque example of this chasm of opportunity emerged just this morning. Housing developer Henley Homes has blocked the children of tenants of its rented properties from a shared play area used by children whose parents or guardians are owner occupiers in the development.
As one tenant complained: “Children shouldn’t know who owns and who is renting.” But in modern Britain, how could they not? With the number of homeless people hunkered in shop doorways growing every week, inequality is now the most visible social issue our nation faces – yet there is nobody to face them as our politicians are so fully diverted.
In the UK today, the poorest 10 per cent earn an average of £4,436 and the wealthiest 10 per cent earn £107,937 before taxes – a 24 times multiplier. The poorest half of households share in only 8.7 per cent of Great Britain’s wealth, according to the Equality Trust.
Councils are failing to cope under a rising tide of homeless people coming to them for support. The number of deaths of homeless people is rising in poverty-hit areas which have the fewest resources to help house them.
Housebuilding under this Brexit government has stalled. We are now building the lowest number of new homes since the Second World War, despite being in the middle of a housing crisis.
It’s a stark picture: council leaders are warning the government, loudly, that they simply do not have the funds to keep the promises made in Theresa May’s new legislation (who heard about that one?), designed to ensure homeless people are found suitable accommodation. Warm words from busy politicians aren’t enough.
Meanwhile child poverty is rising too. More than 4 million children were living in relative poverty in 2018 – that’s one in three children in the UK. The number is set to rise as reforms to the welfare system, including the introduction of universal credit, take hold.
Research by the Resolution Foundation think tank suggests that relative child poverty levels will hit 37 per cent this year. It anticipates that by the end of 2019, the majority of children from single parent or large families (that is, those with more than two children) will be living in poverty.
Think about that: the majority.
Combine this with social care cuts (which experts warn are pushing young people into exploitation), rising food bank use and government warnings to stop job centre staff referring desperate, hungry benefits claimants towards their services, and a devastating picture of lost youth emerges.
The children of Brexit Britain are being let down by politicians who care only for the macro-politics of our exit from the EU and too little for the daily realities of their young lives. How could these children not understand what inequality means, when it touches every part of their existence – even down to the climbing frame they are barred from using because their parents (their everything) are not considered economically valuable.
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