Widening economic inequality is an issue many young voters care about, and in numerous cases helped shape political preferences in this general election. Lorraine Patch asks what the General Election result means for the UK.
Last year, a shocking statistic calculated by Oxfam was released showing that just 85 people owned as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity. Rapidly growing inequality was outlined as one of the biggest world threats in 2015, according to the World Economic Forum. This is because other issues such as poverty, environmental degradation, persistent unemployment, political instability, violence and conflict are often associated with inequality
This problem is not only between countries but also within those countries which pride themselves on being ‘developed’. The UK, as the seventh richest country in the world, still relies on non-governmental help in ensuring people receive basic necessities. Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty have calculated that the three main food aid providers produced 20,247,042 meals to people in food poverty in 2013/14. This is a 54 percent increase on 2012/13.
Increases to austerity measures by the Conservative party (with a majority, meaning they are able to implement all the policies without need to compromise or reign in the further cuts and measures proclaimed by the new government) are expected to increase the number of families living on the breadline in the coming years.
The use of food banks isn’t the only indicator of widening inequality, there are further fears from expected policies from the new, right-wing government, no longer held back by a left-wing influence and with a large majority representing a mandate by the country to pursue policies to chip further away at social welfare.
Austerity and Benefit cuts
Also associated with the Conservative party is the threat of cuts to benefits and austerity measures which affect the poorest in society. It is expected that £12 billion will be cut from Britain’s Welfare bill.
From this figure outlined in their plans, the IFS have suggested that there could be potentially further big cuts to areas like tax credits or housing, child or disability benefits; otherwise this figure would not be realistically achievable. For this next wave of austerity, an emergency budget is to be held 8th July 2015. Austerity measures often involve cutting funds from frontline services and changes to the welfare system which can drastically change the prospects and lives of the most vulnerable in society; namely the poorest, the ill, the elderly and the disabled.
One of the biggest threats to the living wage and the ability for people to live on their earnings is the rise of the zero-hours contract. These are contracts where a set number of working hours are not agreed. Unlike many of the other parties, which promised to abolish such contracts, the suggestion has been that the Conservatives instead will “rebrand” zero hours contracts as “flexible hours contracts”. Zero house contracts are unsustainable and leave workers with limited rights with which to challenge their employer on important issues.
Some, such as students and seasonal workers find these contracts useful, however it is apparent that many more face a disadvantage than those who benefit from these contracts.
Human Rights Act
It is not just economic equality which is under threat. The removal of the Human Rights Act is one of the biggest potential threats to equality to those in all walks of life. The measure is expected to be included in the Queen’s Speech later this month.
The bill contains a list of 16 rights which include; the abolition of the death penalty, the right not to be tortured or treated in an inhuman or degrading way, right to free elections, and the right to be free from slavery or forced labour. The Conservatives want to re-draft a ‘British Bill of Rights’, but there has been no indication of which articles will stay and which will go.
A campaign on change.org demanding the Prime Minister to provide a national referendum on the planned abolition of the Human Rights Act has received over 220,000 signatures of support. Human Rights charity Amnesty UK have also launched a campaign to keep the act.
The Human Rights Act is a measure which protects the average person and means they can challenge those accountable should they need to do so. Abolishing this important piece of legislation puts what we have for a long time considered basic human rights at a very real risk.
To what extent these measures will result on normal peoples lives remains to be seen, however it is clear that there are reasons to fear these policies and the ideology that lies as the motivation behind them. With the most vulnerable in society at risk it is important that these policies are debated and challenged to ensure that those disappointed or alienated by the current voting system and election result are not further disillusioned. It is not only the most vulnerable who will suffer as a result of these polices, the potential impacts are likely to affect people in all walks of life.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
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