We’ve had so many reports on inequality – now act | Letters

Chris Grover says austerity policies are even more punishing than the workhouse, John Veit-Wilson on social security for everyone, Jack Czauderna on so many reports, Dr David Alderson on why he won’t vote for the Lib Dems, and Paul Nicolson et al on the inequality between renters and landlords or landowners

Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty, is right to say that austerity has sought to recreate the workhouse for the 21st century (Report, 22 May). The idea of “less eligibility” (that the experience of state support should always be felt as being economically and socially worse than earning a living) underpinned the 19th-century workhouse and frames contemporary austerity policies. But, in the weaponising of less eligibility for today’s precarious labour markets, social security policy goes beyond the oppressiveness of the poor law. Though the experience of the poor law was designed to be deeply unpleasant and grudging, it was also designed to relieve destitution by focusing on the needs of all household members.

In contrast, social security policy, particularly after George Osborne’s 2015 budget, is designed to create destitution by, for example, only providing support for two children per household and limiting benefit payments in arbitrary ways via the benefit cap. The Department for Work and Pensions claims that Alston provides a “completely inaccurate picture of our approach to tackling poverty”. If anything, he under-emphasises the regressiveness of contemporary social security policies.
Dr Chris Grover
Lancaster University

• Beveridge made it clear that the answer to the Giant of Want among his five giants, poverty, was not “welfare provision” as Larry Elliott says (Inequality is ripping Britain apart. Is it about to be addressed?, 16 May) but social security. Welfare meant, and is still assumed to mean, provision for poor people. But what Beveridge recommended was the abolition of the “welfare” poor law and instead a national insurance scheme designed for and acceptable to everyone, covering the whole working population, and contributory so that everyone felt it was their entitlement because they’d paid for it. The distinction between today’s universal credit for poor people and social security for everyone is often overlooked as an aspect of inequality. But the difference between seeing society as We the People and They the Poor (as Sargent Shriver put it in the 1960s), and the recognition that people currently in poverty are equally part of the We, is crucial to the fight against inequality as well as determinative in how to prevent poverty.
Professor John Veit-Wilson
Newcastle upon Tyne

• Why should anyone believe that any action will be taken after the review into inequality launched by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, headed by Sir Angus Deaton? Plenty of eminent people have produced similar reports since Beveridge. The Whitehall studies and later “The Black Report”, chaired by Sir Douglas Black and delivered to the newly elected Thatcher government in 1980. Also, Sir Douglas Acheson reported in 1998 and Sir Michael Marmot in 2010. Although their focus was on health inequalities, all emphasised economic inequality. Perhaps being knighted is bad news for the future of such reports.

In 2009 Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s book The Spirit Level focused particularly on income inequalities. Has any action been taken? We don’t need yet another report! We need a change in the neoliberal political ideology started by Margaret Thatcher and continued by all subsequent governments. A Jeremy Corbyn-style Labour government is the only realistic chance we have.
Jack Czauderna
Sheffield

• The UN recognises there is a manifest and intensifying human rights crisis in Britain, affecting hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. While partners in government, the Liberal Democrats supported the Cameron class war that produced this situation, and repeated the central lie that justified it: that it was Labour profligacy in public spending that created an unsustainable deficit. (In fact, it was Labour profligacy in bailing out the banks that did so.)

Austerity was largely responsible for the protest vote that secured the leave result in the 2016 referendum. If there is no urgent reversal of the policies of the coalition government and their effects, Brexit will never be “resolved” (regardless of the formal outcome of the contest between leavers and remainers); indeed, without such a reversal, we may in future come to view Brexit as merely the prelude to even worse social division and conflict.

And yet, it seems, remainers are now willing to give their support in droves to the party that bears such a heavy responsibility for the referendum outcome they deplore, and who, in their manifesto for the forthcoming elections, neither makes any mention of austerity nor proposes any convincing measures to end it.

The imposition of austerity by the EU across Europe has galvanised the far right; its implementation in Britain by the coalition has done the same. I voted remain as the least worst option and do not doubt it was the right thing to do. But I will never vote for those who colluded with the systemic assault on the least privileged so clearly laid out by the UN’s poverty expert, and who in doing so created the conditions for a populist revolt.

So, bollocks to the Lib Dems: I shall be voting Labour because only Corbyn’s party recognises the scale of the undertaking required to restore the conditions in which progressive democratic decision making becomes plausible.
Dr David Alderson
Manchester

• We hope the IFS Deaton review will ensure its agenda includes consideration of the inequality between renters and landlords or landowners. Unlike other countries’, our renters, of homes or small businesses, pay the landlords’ property tax, which we call council tax or business rates. But renters get none of the vast increases in the value of land that have been given unearned and untaxed to landlords and landowners since the “big bang” of the 1980s. It would be a significant move towards equality if a small percentage of the annual increase in the value of land was paid by its owners to local or national government leading to the abolition of council tax, business rates, stamp duty and, if international experience of land value capture is shared in the UK, a reduction of taxes on income.
Rev Paul Nicolson Founder, Taxpayers Against Poverty
Fred Harrison Land Research Trust
Rev Paul Regan Chair, London Community Land Trust
Tom Burgess Director, Taxpayers Against Poverty

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