“Such is the poverty of Tory ideas that they deny poverty even exists”

Zoe Williams writes in the Guardian: “The people of Taunton Deane, according to their MP, Rebecca Pow, have never had it better, thanks to Conservative policies. A combination of the higher minimum wage, the higher personal threshold for paying income tax and the frozen fuel duty meant people had ‘thousands more in their pockets’.

“Good intentions would manifest in curiosity about the lived experience of one’s policies, which would in turn entail figuring out what those policies amounted to in the aggregate. Failure to ask such questions is not born out of ignorance: it is critical to the Conservative narrative to deny, forcefully and sometimes gleefully, that anyone in the country is struggling.

“The smart ones do this with ‘economicky’ words – David Freud explained the surge in food banks as a simple issue of supply and demand. ‘Food from a food bank – the supply – is a free good, and by definition there is an almost infinite demand for a free good,’ he triumphantly declared. Because who would go to a shop when they could scam limitless free tinned tomatoes out of their community?

“The confident ones simply deny the premise. There aren’t any unemployed people, according to Philip Hammond. Theresa May thinks nurses use food banks for ‘many complex reasons’.

“And the dumb ones are preeningly innumerate: Iain Duncan Smith thinks £53 is an amount of money it’s easy to live on for a week. Howard Flight, a former shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, thinks unemployment benefit is £250 a week, and the reason young people can’t buy houses is that they spend all their money on minibreaks.

“This is a necessary fiction in a worldview that casts wealth and hardship alike as spiritual issues, the former a reward for virtue, the latter a punishment for laziness. A struggling nurse would break the formula: what if individual qualities can’t explain every individual’s circumstances? Maybe that nurse is feckless, but she can’t be – she’s a nurse. Ergo, we cannot discuss her because she is simply too complex.

“There is no shortage of evidence of poverty in the UK. Food bank usage has gone up dramatically, sometimes by over 100%, year on year since 2010: over just six months of 2014, half a million people received a food package from the Trussell Trust, and the all-party parliamentary group on food poverty estimated that at least as many independent food banks again were in operation. Other indicators of poverty surface here and there – 14% of children didn’t have a winter coat in 2013, one in five families couldn’t afford a trip to the beach in 2014, and by 2017 the average basic weekly wage was £15 lower than it had been eight years before, the longest wage stagnation since the 1800s. The extreme deprivation caused by benefit sanctions was common knowledge by 2015.”

[Read full column on the Guardian website…]