Poverty – what poverty?

Bravo! to the news that Sports Direct has been shamed into axing zero-hours contracts, but what are the chances of meaningful government measures to alleviate poverty? The Rowntree Foundation reports that 13 million of us live below the breadline, with a million of us unable to eat and clothe ourselves properly. Yes, us: we’re talking about fellow citizens here. Meanwhile the BBC’s home editor, Mark Easton, visits Port Talbot and discovers that people doing three poorly paid jobs still can’t cope financially.

Now return to yesterday’s story – an extract from Nick Clegg’s upcoming account of the Coalition years in which he lambasts George Osborne for callously picking on the poor for political advantage. Can we really imagine this government taking any significant action? Here’s a more likely scenario:

May: What’s all this garbage about poverty, Philip? I thought Osborne had sorted that out for us.

Hammond: He did, Theresa. He divided everyone into hard-working families and the rest – the shirkers and skivers. Now everyone hates the shirkers and skivers, so that’s all right.

May: But apparently there are some people the BBC have found who are doing three jobs at once and still can’t cope.

Hammond: Oh, they’re not shirkers and skivers, Theresa. They’re feckless. That’s another of George’s labels, now I think about it. You give a woman three separate cleaning jobs and she still can’t put a three-course meal on the table for her brats. Her children, I mean. She clearly doesn’t know how to manage.

May: But we’ve got to do something or we’ll be painted as callous and uncaring. What would George have done? Raised the minimum wage still further?

They laugh together, uproariously.

Hammond: Got it! A family finance initiative. Sound impressive. Think of a figure: say 20 million?

May: Call it ten.

Hammond: I’ll announce it in the morning. Generous advice to useless families who can’t get by however many jobs are thrown at them.

They high-five.

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