Given the Tories’ recent rhetoric about being on the side of the “just about managing”, you might think that they would be preparing for the Christmas season by getting into the spirit of festive generosity. But the latest news suggests that Theresa May, Philip Hammond and co. will be more closely emulating Ebenezer Scrooge than Santa Claus.
The chancellor’s big handout in this year’s Budget was supposed to be more money for the NHS. But, as a result of higher inflation, it turns out that the increased NHS funding promised for next year will be worth £260 million less than expected. And this for a healthcare system that has already been gutted by the Tory government in recent years, and which was recently declared to be facing a “humanitarian crisis” by the Red Cross. It looks like healthcare in Britain won’t be seeing any Christmas miracles this winter.
Elsewhere, public sector pay remains shockingly low after years of wage freezes. Across the board - from nurses to civil servants - workers in the public sector will be watching their wallets during the notoriously expensive festive period.
And it isn’t just public service budgets that the Tories are scrimping on. A recent report by a UN rapporteur said that the government’s austerity policies were inflicting ‘great misery’ on working class people across the country. An eye-watering one-fifth of the UK’s population now live in official poverty according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. 1.5 million people are considered destitute, meaning that they do not have enough money to afford even basic essentials.
UK cities have been thrown back to the 19th century in places, with a return of diseases more commonly associated with Victorian slums, such as tuberculosis (TB), rickets and scurvy. London has become known as the “TB capital of western Europe”. A 2015 report found that one-third of London’s boroughs exceed the World Health Organisation’s “high incidence rate” for TB. Some boroughs - such as Newham, Brent, Ealing and Hounslow - were comparable to significantly less developed countries like Guatemala, Rwanda and Algeria.
Don't let the Tories steal Christmas
But the Dickensian conditions suffered by British workers are not limited to disease and poverty. Working conditions in warehouses owned by companies such as Sports Direct or Amazon increasingly resemble those seen in Victorian workhouses. Meanwhile, millions are stuck in precarious, insecure work, employed on zero-hour contracts or caught in the race to the bottom of the gig economy.
Slum landlords are also making a comeback. Jeremy Corbyn stated to last year’s Labour conference that thousands of people “are living in homes unfit for human habitation”. It is not uncommon for councils who investigate rental housing to find over thirty people living in the same house, or families crammed into single rooms by unscrupulous landlords. And yet the government has continually voted down laws that would require landlords to make their homes “suitable for human habitation” or force them to gain any sort of license.
If the Tories were auditioning for the role of a Dickensian villain, they’d certainly get the part. The UN report stated that, “British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and callous approach”. Sound familiar?