With respect to Philip Alston’s report for the UN on British poverty Owen Jones asks us the following:
How did Britain in 2019 – one of the wealthiest societies that has ever existed – end up being damned by a United Nations report for condemning the poor to lives that are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”?
The report was produced by using a propagandist who then ignored any actual evidence and thereby was able to paint that picture.
These are the words of the 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes; another British literary great conjured up by Prof Philip Alston – the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, and a bete noir of our crumbling government – is Charles Dickens and his vivid description of the 19th-century workhouse now being brought back in “a digital and sanitised version”.
Anything like Dickensian poverty simply does not exist in Britain today. Henry Mayhew’s work on the London poor which did so much to inform Dickens - and others - should perhaps be read again for moderns to see what that poverty actually was.
Britain most certainly has inequality, some have much more than others. But actual poverty? Real destitution, that modal experience of humanity over the millennia? Absent significant addiction or mental health issues - even there the UK doing very much better than some other rich countries - it simply does not exist. As Barbara Castle pointed out back in 1959:
The poverty and unemployment which we came into existence to fight have been largely conquered
That’s how Britain is so described - by ignoring reality.