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The UN has condemned Tory welfare policies. Labour must end this shame

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22.05.2019

How did Britain in 2019 – one of the wealthiest societies that has ever existed – end up being damned by a United Nations report for condemning the poor to lives that are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”? These are the words of the 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes; another British literary great conjured up by Prof Philip Alston – the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, and a bete noir of our crumbling government – is Charles Dickens and his vivid description of the 19th-century workhouse now being brought back in “a digital and sanitised version”.

The government, he contended, was guilty of the “systematic immiseration of a significant part of the British population”, and that “much of the glue that has held British society together since the second world war has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos”.

That ethos, and its collision with reality, lies at the root of our present turmoil. This week, the BBC broadcast the first instalment of Thatcher: A Very British Revolution. It begins with a speech from 1985, just weeks after the defeat of the miners’ strike, and near the zenith of her powers. “With capitalism and free enterprise, there are no boundaries of class or creed or colour,” she declared. “Everyone can climb the ladder as high as their talents will take them.”

Here was Thatcherism in its populist iteration: the individual would be freed from the stifling constraints of the state and collectivism, and through grit, determination and ability, one could rise to the very top. But this philosophy would prove all too convenient when it came to rationalising exploding levels of inequality. Those whose bank balances boomed in the 1980s........

© The Guardian