Getting those in power to care about poverty | Letters

Keir Starmer must show his mettle against this government’s cruel welfare system, writes Prof Mike Stein, while Ken Veitch is angry at the Tories’ lack of concern for the poorest parts of the country

The evidence of destitution in modern-day Britain is “appalling”, as Helen Barnard, director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, suggests (Covid-driven recession likely to push 2m UK families into poverty, 9 December). However, what is also disturbing is that from 2010 onwards, increasing destitution, child poverty and inequality, regulated by a welfare system underpinned by deterrence, punishment and the benevolence of charity, has been given electoral support in 2010, 2015, 2017 and 2019.

The government’s initial response to the JRF findings has been to trumpet the generosity of current welfare expenditure, thus sacrificing up to 2 million families facing the economic consequences of Brexit and the pandemic. Surely, this is the time for Keir Starmer to show his mettle and offer hope to the poor and destitute, by committing the Labour party to a comprehensive programme to reduce inequality through progressive income tax – a wealth tax – as advocated in your leader (9 December), including reform of the minimum wage and universal credit. The evidence is overwhelming that we will all benefit from a more equal society – but to achieve this will require a mammoth effort to win the hearts and minds of the electorate before the next election.
Prof Mike Stein
University of York

• At 8.30 on a cold, dark and rainy night in a residential area of Newcastle someone was going from house to house trying to sell dish cloths from a large bag. I can imagine doors being shut on this person as they stood there, hopeful of a sale. It distresses me very much that people are having to resort to hawking like this, in the hope of finding goodwill here and there. I sense desperation in this case; possibly someone thrown out of work and attempting last-ditch support for their family.

What makes me angry, too, is the sense that, for all the smooth talk, no one in the government – and least of all the prime minister – really cares about the destitution that exists, and is being deliberately increased, in this part of the country. The words “no room at the inn” will have extra significance for me this Christmas. I am glad to support the Child Poverty Action Group and I salute the great work they are doing.
Ken Veitch
Brampton, Cumbria

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