Read former Health Secretary Alan Johnson's speech from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation/Prospect Fourth Annual Poverty Lectureby Alan Johnson / June 14, 2017 / Leave a comment
When I was asked to present the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Prospect’s annual poverty lecture, I was a Member of Parliament and the next general election was three years away.
The British people, having decided in 2015 to elect a Conservative government with a small majority for a five-year fixed term have just been asked to decide again, Theresa May having become a convert to repeat referendums. As a result, the small majority has vanished and as for a five-year term there is some doubt as to whether this government will last five weeks.
You will recall that when she stood outside No.10 to surprise the nation by calling a snap election, Mrs May made the ludicrous comment that the country was united but Westminster was divided. Westminster, as you may have noticed, is designed to be disunited. Now just about the only thing that unites the country is the low regard in which the Prime Minister is held.
I decided not to fight this election and to spend more time with my family—having checked carefully that they were prepared to spend more time with me.
As a result, I had very little involvement in the election other than as an interested observer. And it was in this capacity that I was left baffled and disturbed by the absence of any real focus on the rising levels of poverty caused by the most brutal cut in benefits since the creation of the welfare state.
Overall poverty, which hit 12.5 million in the 80’s and 14 million in the mid-90’s before going into decline under Labour is now set to reach a new high this year rising to over 15 million by 2022.
According to the House of Commons Library these overall trends mask striking differences between age groups. The proportion of pensioners in poverty is much lower now than during the 1960’s, when consistent data began to be collected; but the poverty rates for children and working age adults are higher than they were 50 years ago.