Today, Thursday 23rd of July 2020, Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is expected to visit Orkney on his day trip to Scotland.
It is almost a year since he took up that office after the resignation of the then Prime Minister Theresa May. As elected leader of the Conservative Party, Boris Johnson, accepted the Queens invitation to lead the UK and his premiership began on 24th of July 2019.
One year on it is therefore fitting to look at his record year in the job, the issues affecting the UK and how he has dealt with them.
According to the House of Commons Library in 2018/19 (that’s the period there are statistics for) 14.5 million people in the UK were living ‘in relative low income’, that’s poverty in other words. Of that number 4.2 million were children.
Indeed the figures were so shocking that the UN sent a special rapporteur to look at why one of the richest states in the world had so many living in poverty – and getting worse. You can read about the Alston Report in these two articles:
- A ‘Harsh & Uncaring’ UK – The Alston Report
- “Poverty is a Political Choice”the Alston United Nations Report on Poverty in the UK
Those shocking figures of poverty and the working poor in the UK were before Covid19 hit.
There are over 2,000 food banks in the UK. 1,200 are run by the Trussell Trust, while 822 are represented by IFAN, the Independent Food Aid Network. HoC Library
I once heard a person in Orkney saying that the Foodbank in the islands was only used by incomers which goes to show how even in supposedly close knit communities you can be unaware of the impact of government policies on those around you. So here is some more information about Foodbank use compiled by researchers at Heriot Watt University.
- 94% were ‘facing real destitution,’ unable to buy essentials to stay warm, dry, clean and fed.
- 23% were homeless.
- Over two-thirds had experienced a problem with the benefits system in the year before they needed emergency food, including long waits and benefit award reductions.
- Over three quarters were in arrears, most commonly rent, and 40% were repaying debts.
- In the year prior to using a food bank seven in ten respondents reported at least one ‘challenging life experience’ such as eviction or divorce, while a large minority also reported having experienced an ‘adverse work-related experience’ such as losing a job or a reduction in work hours.
- Nearly 75% reported at least one health issue in their household, over half of which were mental health problems.
- 22% were single parents.
- Nearly half were single person households.
- 89% were born in the UK, slightly above the 86% of the population as a whole.
It can happen to anyone.
In Scotland IFAN (Independent Food Aid Network) recorded a 22% rise in food bank usage from April 2018 to September 2019. We know that Foodbanks across Scotland and the UK have reported that since Covid19 this has increased even more.
Successive Conservative Governments, including the Coalition with the Liberal Democrats, presided over an austerity agenda (euphemistically termed ‘Welfare Reform’) which has reduced over 14 million UK Citizens to poverty levels of subsistence living.
Boris was the great success of the Brexit Leave campaign which you remember said that the UK would be ‘Taking Back Control’. Which actually it is doing as it strips the devolved administrations of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland of powers conferred on them as members of the EU.
In the UK as a whole Leave won by 52% to 48% – that’s a close call for a monumental constitutional change. Ironically of course it was the Conservatives who prided themselves, under PM Ted Heath , on conducting all the negotiations for entering what was to become the European Union. It was the Conservatives who signed up to the terms and conditions of what was to become the hated Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
The Brexit Referendum although close in the UK as a whole was not a narrow result in Scotland which voted 62% to Remain in the EU – every Local Authority area in Scotland voted to Remain.
Scotland is part of the UK and all of the UK has left the EU. At the moment we are in a transition phase when the trade deals are done. Nothing so far – except we do know that in order to get a deal with the US lower food standards will be accepted by the UK. From 1st of January 2021 it will all be over, the transition will be at an end – deal or no deal. All forecasts are for a rise in food prices. According to some it is anticipated that they could rise by 22%.
The number of households experiencing food insecurity and its severity is likely to increase because of expected sizeable increases in median food prices after Brexit. Higher increases are more likely than lower rises and towards the upper limits, these would entail severe impacts. Research showing a low food budget leads to increasingly poor diet suggests that demand for health services in both the short and longer terms is likely to increase due to the effects of food insecurity on the incidence and management of diet-sensitive conditions. BMJ
The researchers stress the serious impact on public health with the rise in food prices. Over 14 million already in poverty, 1.6million used food banks last year, and the impact of Brexit is still to come.
And then there is Covid19
The UK was slow to put in measures to limit the spread of Covid19 in the population. Official figures are that there have been a total of 45,501 deaths due to Covid19 in the UK. Figures correct as of 22nd of July 2020
For further data and comparisons click on the links:
Today various local dignitaries will welcome Prime Minister Boris Johnson to Orkney. The carefully managed photo ops will be staged to allow only those who approve of the PM and his Government to be anywhere near the proceedings.
There are people in Orkney who will be out staging in their own way what they think of Boris Johnson 1 Year on. The protests will be conducted with Covid19 safety measures in place. It’s not an easy thing for people to do in the islands but Orkney has a long history of islanders who reflected on injustices happening in both their community and in the wider world and had the courage to speak out.
In a UK that is the 6th largest economy in the world, Boris Johnson 1 year on, has made no impact whatsoever on the shocking levels of poverty and inequality in our communities. Indeed his poor management of the public health crisis Covid19 and the economic implications of Brexit will have devastating results. But hey – he has had painted red, white and blue an ex military plane for his official trips for £900,000.