The moral duty that the rich must face up to

Government policy
The rich should be ashamed as the poor bear the biggest burdens of the recession, says SecEd editor Pete Henshaw.

How can it be right that the poorest families in the UK are being forced to bear the greatest burdens of the recession?

How can it be that in a supposedly developed nation, we are allowing the poorest to suffer so disproportionately?

And how can we conscionably accept the fact that 3.5 million children are living in poverty in the UK – a figure that is set to rise by 400,000 in the coming years?

At times of recession we should be able to look to our government to protect those within our society who need the most support.

However, a report from Save the Children has found that the impact of the recession has instead been felt more severely by those in the most need (see full article here).

Families in poverty – those earning less than £17,000 a year – are desperate. 

Parents have admitted to Save the Children that they are skipping meals because they cannot afford them. They are eating less to ensure that their children have enough food. They are borrowing more money to buy essentials like clothes and food.

Save the Children says that “a lack of jobs, stagnating wages, increased living costs and spending cuts” have hit poor families hard.

At the same time, Treasury figures earlier this year showed that six per cent of Britain’s wealthiest people use tax reliefs to reduce their tax bills to less than 10 per cent – when they should be paying 50 per cent.

Contrast that to the one in eight children living in poverty who go without at least one hot meal a day and the one in seven who do not have warm coats or new shoes for the new school term because their families cannot afford them.

These are children from families out of work, but also families in work who are not being paid a living wage. It is scandalous.

The problem is so severe that Save the Children has launched its first ever UK appeal for funds. It has also called upon the government to show the “political will” to tackle child poverty.

The easy answer for the people who care little about those at the foot of the ladder is to believe that in a recession the impact on us all is inevitable.

The easy answer is for the government to talk tough on tax evasion and tax avoidance while at the same time allowing the rich to dodge their moral duty. Not only this, but the government actually reduces the high earners’ tax threshold from 50 to 45 per cent.

The easy answer is for the government to claim that a banking transaction tax (which has been shown to have the potential to wipe out our debts very quickly) would be too costly because it would lead to financial companies pulling out of London.

We must ask ourselves as a nation what our priorities are. Instead of fearing what our millionaires may do if we raise taxes for the rich, we must fear more what will happen to our poorest citizens if we don’t.

The problem which strikes at the core of this issue is that those who fund our political masters are too often the very same people who would see the status quo maintained. Until our political parties can shake off the shackles of their paymasters, I fear we will never see the kind of reform that is necessary to install equality across our society.

Save the Children has urged the government to show the will required – to get employers to pay a living wage to their staff; to make their welfare support reforms stronger so that low-income families can keep more of their money. This is just the start.

Until the rich of our society are willing to accept that with their wealth comes a moral responsibility to support those in severe poverty by meeting a proportionate share of the tax burden, we will never solve the problem of child poverty. I would urge all politicians of influence to heed the message from Save the Children – that the impact of the recession on the poor isn’t inevitable at all.