Journey to Justice

Breaking our fall

By Geraldine Murphy

“Life balances itself on a precarious ledge”[1]. Those of us with assets built through a good education, enterprise or class hand ups can shut our eyes to the ledge. We can delude ourselves we are in control of our lives. But sometimes we misplace our step on the precipice…….  For me, my stumble came in my 30s when I lost my home after the breakdown of a long-term relationship. Then 20 years later another one with a second redundancy that went on for 6 months. But I was lucky.  I could lean on my assets to cushion my fall; sheltering in a friend’s spare room the first time and drawing on savings the second time. 

But too many people in the UK today are keenly aware of the ledge each moment of the day and that should they fall, there is nothing to break it. The commitment to “cradle-to-grave” support for those in need, enshrined in the welfare state reforms of the 40s, is well and truly gone. In the first 3 years[2] of the 8 year “age of austerity” there was a £14.3bn reduction in public spending compared to 2009/10. 

Wrapped in that figure are social policy changes that impacted every aspect of the lives of people on low incomes. The changes led to a simultaneous shrinkage or removal of supports financed by both central and local government. With homes, it was the capping of housing benefit and deductions for spare rooms. With incomes, it was the roll out of Universal Credit with its 5 weeks wait before a payment. With children, it was the loss of youth centres and youth workers. With culture, it was the closure of libraries with their access to books and internet.  

For many low-income people, there was no way to replace lost income or services. Turning to savings or informal safety networks, the help of family or friends, was not an option for those part of asset poor families or communities. The lack of safety nets has contributed to an increase in the number of UK people living in poverty. In 2017/18, an estimated 14.3[3] million people, around 22%, were in poverty. The pandemic has exacerbated that trend with a further 700,000 now in hardship.[4]

Some individuals, families, and communities, facing the loss of support they rely on have taken action. They have used a range of tactics to highlight and campaign against the injustice of the removal of income and services from people with few assets. Through their determination, and frequently working with allies, they have secured changes in policy or rules. Their examples, captured by the Journey to Justice Economic (In)Justice work, show what can be done. They offer signposts and hope to those of us who also want to challenge injustice and ensure fair treatment for all.

As Jane Addams, the Nobel Peace Prize winner stated, “the good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us”. 

[1] Tarryn Fisher US author.

[2] David Cameron announced the age of austerity in 2009 and the austerity programme was initiated in 2010 and ran to 2018 when plans to reduce the national debt through austerity were suspended. 

[3]Data produced by the Social Metrics Commission

[4] Figures produced by the Legatum Institute.

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