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Monday, July 01, 2024

Can we stem the rising far right tide in the UK?

With far right parties topping the polls in France, if exit polls are to be believed, our thoughts must turn to how we can prevent the same thing happening in the UK. This is not just a Nigel Farage-related question, though his party is certainly benefiting from the disillusion that curently exists with politics and politicians in this country.

The Guardian references a report from the Fairness Foundation which concludes that the next government must take decisive action to reduce inequality or risk unprecedented far-right gains.

The paper says that the Foundation has concluded Britain will become more unfair and unequal over the next five years, with growing inequality in health, housing, poverty and the north-south income divide:

More than 30 people from business, academia and civil society have backed the report’s findings in a letter to all party leaders which expresses their dismay at the “lack of political will to address unfairness and inequality” in the UK.

“We believe that this is not only morally wrong, but is causing deep damage to our society, economy and democracy, and undermining the fight against the climate crisis,” they say.

“Failure to act now will make us less healthy, productive, efficient, resilient and cohesive.”

The new report, Canaries, warns that the number of children in relative poverty is set to rise from 30% to 33% by 2028, due to a freeze in housing benefit, the end of cost of living payments and the two-child benefit cap.

It also says that the number of children who live in overcrowded homes will rise from 1.8 million to 2 million by 2030, as housing becomes more expensive.

The average person in south-east England is £195,400 wealthier than in the north, a gap that is expected to grow to £229,000 by 2029 due to the unequal inheritance of wealth.

Education attainment gaps are likely to rise because school budgets are set to decline over the next five years.

Only 25.2% of disadvantaged children get five or more good GCSEs compared with 52.4% of their peers without disadvantages – a gap that has been widening since 2017.

And the earnings gap between chief executives and their employees is also likely to grow. FTSE350 CEOs earn 57 times more than the median wage of their workers and earnings inequality has grown by 20% from 1980 to 2019.

Will Snell, chief executive of the Fairness Foundation, said that most people in the UK agree that we must urgently address inequality. “But all the evidence points to the fact that Britain is a deeply unfair and unequal country,” he said.

“This undermines the very foundations of our society, damages our economy and endangers our democracy; and unfairness in Britain looks set to get even worse over the next few years. The canaries in the coal mine are no longer singing, and the next government needs to pay attention.”

Unfairness means people in deprived areas are more likely to fall ill for decades to come, the report says. These types of inequality act as a brake on economic growth, reduce social mobility and fuel social unrest.

Shabna Begum, chief executive of the Runnymede Trust, said: “There is a real threat that, unless a new government delivers swift and meaningful change to inequality, we will see far-right parties capitalise on desperation and despair and become a real electoral threat.”

The report’s recommendations include a plea to scrap the two-child benefit cap and adopt advice from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Trussell Trust to introduce an “essentials guarantee” – a minimum level of Universal Credit support.

It also backs the Resolution Foundation’s suggestion of creating a £10,000 “citizens inheritance” given to all 30-year-olds, and a “universal savings account” merging pensions, Lifetime ISAs and Help to Save.

If the next government doesnt address this crisis then there is a real possibility of the far right here replicating the success of their sister party in France. Labour, the most likely next government, really needs to step up to the mark on this agenda.
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