Print Edition - 2018-11-21  |  The Guardian

Don’t shoot the messenger

  • Austerity creates poverty and perpetuates a ‘two-speed’ society

Nov 21, 2018-

When the then UN special rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, visited the UK in April 2014, she had strong words of condemnation for the country’s institutional misogyny and sexist popular culture. She projected what many were familiar and frustrated with: the old boys’ network, the pervasive sexualisation of women, the black hole of human rights that women in detention were thrown into. But nothing happened. Instead the headlines bastardised an observation she made on how overt the UK’s sexist culture was, into ‘UN special rapporteur says UK most sexist country in the world’.

This month, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights visited the country, and the results of previous missed opportunities were obvious to him. Philip Alston said that if a ‘group of misogynists’ had drawn up austerity legislation, the results wouldn’t have been too far off where we are today. His report pointed out: ‘Changes to taxes and benefits have taken the highest toll on those least able to bear it.’ And it made clear that the costs of austerity had fallen disproportionately on already vulnerable groups - including women, poor people, ethnic minorities, children, single parents, asylum seekers and people with disabilities.

Take child poverty: the rate in the UK is 30 percent of children. But that number is 50 percent for black children and 60 percent for those of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin. Ethnic minorities are more at risk of becoming homeless, with worse access to healthcare and higher rates of infant mortality.

Austerity creates not just poverty, but also what the EHRC calls a ‘two-speed’ society, one where certain groups are trapped, excluded from prosperity. The result is an acceleration of disadvantage. Nearly 400,000 more children and 300,000 more pensioners are living in poverty compared with five years ago.

And the more excluded one becomes from society, the more likely one is to become isolated, which means fewer advocates and weaker connections to those in power, who include those who report the news and lobby the government. It is easier for the media and politicians to deny the pain of those who are already invisible.

If anything, this scenario reifies allegations of a two-tier society, where one half is getting richer while the other is getting poorer, and high walls are erected against the desperate and eyes averted from their suffering.

The UK is in a spiral where an irreversible, indisputable calamity has to happen—a Windrush or a Grenfell—before any tragically belated reforms are introduced. Shooting the UN messenger may afford this government temporary relief, but it comes at the expense of the country’s future.

Published: 21-11-2018 07:21

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