Labour pledges to eliminate ‘10 modern scourges of poverty’

Heather Stewart
Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Labour will promise to eliminate what it calls the “10 modern scourges of poverty”, from soaring food bank use to childhood deprivation.

In its latest attack on the Conservatives’ record in government, Labour will on Wednesday underline its determination to boost incomes for the lowest paid and reform the welfare system.

According to analysis released by the party, food banks have handed out 65m meals in the last five years, while the number of children in severe low income and deprivation has increased by almost 50%.

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, said: “Poverty in Britain is now the most visible and widespread it has been in decades. This new report shows the Tories have failed to tackle 10 modern scourges of poverty, each becoming more entrenched on their watch.

“The next Labour government will wage war on poverty in all its forms.”

His language echoed William Beveridge’s warning about the “five giant evils” in the 1942 report that laid the foundations for the welfare state. These were want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness.

McDonnell highlighted Labour policies including increasing the minimum wage to £10 an hour and extending it to under-25s, reforming universal credit, and scrapping restrictive benefits rules including the two-child limit and the benefits cap.

Labour has also said it will act to counter problem debt by capping interest charges.

Through these and other measures, the party has promised to eliminate in-work poverty within the first term of a Labour government.

Labour strategists fear their message about the damaging impact of austerity may be harder to get across than in 2017, when Theresa May’s Tories were sticking to strict fiscal targets.

Boris Johnson has instead promised to increase spending in several key areas, including on schools, hospitals and the police – though Labour counter that the extra funding will not be nearly enough to reverse the impact of almost a decade of cuts.

The Conservatives challenged several aspects of Labour’s analysis, launching what they called a Labour lies unit.

The work and pensions secretary, Thérèse Coffey, said Labour was “peddling lies and misleading statistics for political gain”.

However, most of the rebuttals did not directly address Labour’s claims. In response to Labour saying there were more than 20 million adults with no savings, the Conservatives replied: “Government figures show that the annual total amount saved in 2018 by eligible savers was £90.4bn,” adding that was more than a year earlier.