The lack of fuel is creating a neglected generation that will never recover from their scars | Gordon Brown

TThe hotter the Tory leadership election gets, the more the remaining candidates will resort to claiming high moral standing. Rishi Sunak says increasing debt is “unethical”. “High taxes are ‘immoral,’” repeats Liz Truss. But there is nothing moral about careless leaders who are judging millions of vulnerable and blameless children and pensioners in a winter of grinding poverty.

The truth is grim and undeniable: a financial time bomb will explode for families in October as the second round of fuel price hikes in six months sends shockwaves through every household and pushes millions over the edge. A few months ago, Jonathan Bradshaw and Antonia Keung of York University estimated that a 54% fuel price increase in April would plunge 27 million people in 10 million households into fuel poverty. Now, 35 million people in 13 million households – an unprecedented number of 49.6% of the UK population – are at risk of fuel shortages in October.

With time running out to update the universal credit payments system before the October spike, Boris Johnson, Sunak and Truss must agree this week on an emergency budget. If they do not, Parliament should be summoned to compel them to do so. Because if nothing is done before another fuel price hike in January, fuel poor could rise to 39 million people in 15 million households – 54% of the country, with large regional differences ranging from 48% in London to 60.8% in Wales and 62% in Scotland. Altogether, four out of five single parents, retirees, and large families will be fuel poor in our country. The measure is that a typical fuel bill alone will eat up a third of the statutory pension. At the start of the pandemic, 40% of children were unable to tolerate what Loughborough University calculated was necessary to achieve a decent standard of living. At a stroke in October, more than 50% of the children — 7 million — will, I estimate, be in families forced to give up material necessities. For the poorest 10% of households, food and fuel can consume the majority of weekly expenses after housing costs.

The reason the poverty problem has worsened so quickly is the unraveling of the June budget, in which ministers have not only underestimated the average rise in energy prices for the next year by around £500, but have announced flat rate payments, by not taking into account family or private size. The least he did to compensate large families and the disabled. So while the £650 for Universal Credit claimants came out at an extra £13 a week for a single person, it was only worth £2.60 a week for a couple with three children – not enough to cover the high fuel bills, and much less the high. Costs for the necessities a growing family needs. For generations, the welfare state has existed to take shame out of need. Now, with a safety net full of holes, food banks – not the Department of Work and Pensions – are the lifeblood of philanthropy, not universal credit, which is the last line of defense. In my Fife County, I see scenes reminiscent of what I read about the hungry in the 1930s – children going to school poorly dressed and malnourished, pensioners choosing whether to provide their electricity meters or themselves, nurses having to leave their patients family After long, broken night shifts to queue at their food bank. Local charities stock blankets, quilts, sleeping bags and hot water bottles as they prepare for the worst winter in living memory. Churches tell me they will offer their warm halls as heating centers and ask doctors how they can use social prescriptions to help malnourished children and prevent pensioners from freezing. Fife operates a warehouse which is a food bank, family bank, clothes bank, cosmetic bank, hygiene bank, baby bank and fuel bank. , worth £4m so far this year – from canned foods and school clothes to microwaves and beds.

But we know that philanthropy cannot do enough. Poverty is now hitting so hard that it is far beyond the capacity of even the broadest and most generous coalition of local charitable and voluntary organizations to alleviate it. And in societies like mine, where those who had so little had so far given generously to people who had nothing, raising money for charity has become even more difficult.

The situation is so precarious that a group of more than 60 churches, religious groups, NGOs, metro mayors and councilors came together today to call on the government to fix the growing gap between need and current thrift. We know the short-term consequences of rising poverty – more stunting, more family disintegration, more homelessness and more children in care, all of which, since none of its goals include poverty reduction, makes ‘scaling up’ meaningless. for him. of strategy.

But the psychological scars of poverty run very deep. I meet mothers who are ashamed that they cannot do the least, let alone the best, for their children. One of them is forced to keep her child away from school because she cannot buy new school clothes and shoes for her fast-growing teen. Another is ashamed to let her children invite their friends home because her house is dilapidated and empty. There are kids who don’t have clothes or pocket money to go out with friends, they can’t participate in school sports because they don’t have the kit and they can’t attend after school clubs if there is a small fee to cover the costs.

We all have the experience of missing out – not being able to go on a trip or to a school event – and it may be good for us in the long run, but when the exclusion is not a one-off or an accident but a daily one the experience is not character building but trust destruction and embarrassment Loneliness and humiliation often. The wounds caused by exclusion are forever there—a feeling that you can never identify with neighbors on an equal footing, reticence about involving yourself in larger groups or community activities, and skepticism about situations that leave you insecure. However, Britain is creating an alienated generation of young boys and girls, without money to share what their friends are doing, and their childhoods beginning to resemble the shameful scenes of a Dickens novel.

Our agenda is not complicated: a new strategy to end family poverty that will show how a compassionate society can take action and can’t really afford not to. When I was a consultant, our government set a goal — and changed the benefits system — to eliminate child poverty within a generation. This winter, I will dedicate my energies to the struggle to renew the goal of reducing child poverty that this government has shamefully abolished. But we will also discuss the bold measures that will deliver Britain free of poverty and address cruelty in a position of power that is not only incompetent and insensitive but truly immoral.

Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom