IT’S standard psycho-babble to talk of the need for ‘closure’ from trauma be it death; grief or the end of a relationship. Part of the problem as this year staggers to its miserable end is the lack of any sign of this. Vaccines shine a glimmer of light but so much is unclear as variant strains loom out of the shadows and the realisation that the process will stretch right though next year.

Furlough was extended (again) on Thursday, and while this is welcome there’s the awareness that this is only because there is no alternative and also that “payback” for the enormous debt always lands on those with least.

Austerity, which had we were told had been condemned to the archive of history has gone nowhere at all as endemic poverty is boosted and amplified by the virus-effect. So much so that a new report reveals that over two million people in Brexit Britain are destitute (“Half a million kids destitute in Britain before coronavirus ­crisis hit – the shocking scale of destitution is laid bare in a report by Heriot-Watt ­University for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation”).

As our Prime Minister shuttles to Brussels and plays with peoples livelihoods for an act of political pantomime the Joseph Rowntree Foundation tells us: “Our new research shows deeply concerning figures on destitution in the UK, with around 2.4 million people having ­experienced destitution in 2019, a 54% increase since 2017.”

A 54% increase in three years. Let that ­sentence linger on your mind for a moment.

The reports definition of destitution was as follows. People are destitute if Either:

(a) They have lacked two or more of the following six essential items over the past month, because they cannot afford them:

• shelter (they have slept rough for one or more nights)

• food (they have had fewer than two meals a day for two or more days)

• heating their home (they have been unable to heat their home for five or more days)

• lighting their home (they have been unable to light their home for five or more days)

• clothing and footwear (appropriate for the weather)

• basic toiletries (such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste and a toothbrush).


(b) Their income is so extremely low that they are unable to purchase these essentials for themselves.

The report estimated that: “the total number of destitute households in the UK in touch with voluntary sector crisis services (or local welfare funds) in a representative week in 2019 was 191,000. These households contained 430,000 people, of whom 99,000 were children.

The total number of households experiencing destitution in the UK at some point in 2019, and using these services, is estimated to be 1,062,000, involving 2,388,000 people, of whom 552,000 were children. On this basis, the number of households experiencing destitution at some point in 2019 is estimated to have increased by 35% since 2017, and the number of people and children experiencing destitution has increased by 52% and 54% respectively.”

It won’t come as any surprise that factors ­likely to have been important in destitution trends in the 2017–19 period include:

• a range of benefit issues, including the rollout of Universal Credit (UC), the cash freeze in benefit levels, a continuing high level of failures of PersonaI Independence Payment (PIP) claims, the lowered benefit cap and the “two-child limit” (where support to families through tax credits and UC is no longer paid for a third or subsequent child born after April 5, 2017)

• a rising level of problem debt, particularly in terms of basic housing, utility costs and Council Tax

• increasing numbers of migrants who are asylum seekers/refugees

• a rise in child poverty

• homelessness remaining high

• the cumulative effects of austerity on local authority budgets.

In other words, the deliberately punitive benefits system and Tory austerity measures have driven hundreds of thousands of people into destitution where they are joined by ­increasing numbers of migrants, asylum seekers and ­refugees (the presence of which are in turn one of the driving forces behind the Brexit fiasco).

As Johnson boasts of “Global Britain” and hints at “sunlit uplands”, people are going hungry and cold and homeless.

Like the old categories of the deserving and undeserving poor there are different kinds of destitution. Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, ­author of the report, reports that alongside the “old destitute” – asylum seekers and migrants without eligibility for benefits there are the new destitute: “People who once might have expected the welfare safety net to help them avoid ­extreme deprivation but who now have no such guarantee.”

Fitzpatrick’s study for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, concluded that not only has the scale of destitution grown and intensified – but that it is likely to double to two million households – including one million children – as the coronavirus crisis deepens.

“Our findings clearly show that levels of destitution in the UK were already rising sharply ­prior to the pandemic and the impact of ­Covid-19 has intensified the difficulties many people face accessing the help they need to meet their most fundamental needs,” she said.

One reason for people being tipped into destitution was “income shock” – losing your job or facing unexpected bills. The report shows a society on the edge of extreme poverty but most of all of precarity having been normalised and now accepted as a state that millions survive in.

It’s in this context – as England engages in a bizarre act of economic self-harm – that a No Deal disaster will land. It’s worth remembering this when Johnson returns from Brussels having defeated the devilish Europeans and “set ­Britain free again”, or whatever ludicrous ­rhetoric is manufactured for this festive debacle.

It’s in this context that Unicef, which is ­responsible for providing humanitarian aid to children worldwide, launched its first domestic emergency response in the UK in its more than 70-year history. As part of its programme of support it is set to distribute more than £700,000 to help fund projects for children and their families. The agency has pledged £25,000 to supply nearly 25,000 breakfasts in a south London borough over the Christmas holidays and February half-term. It’s a sign of how debased our political culture has become that the intervention provoked the Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg to characterise Unicef’s support as “playing politics” and to claim it should be “ashamed of itself”.

In fact Unicef, which is responsible for providing humanitarian aid to children worldwide, said the coronavirus pandemic was the most urgent crisis affecting children since the second world war. Campaigners pointed to a YouGov poll in May commissioned by the charity Food Foundation which found 2.4 million children (17%) were living in food insecure households. By October, an extra 900,000 children had been registered for free school meals.

As the Conservative government cancels overseas aid and has to be dragged by celebrity footballers to allow free school meals, the experience of poverty and destitution is a lived reality for large parts of society. And so it drags on, a society disfigured by inequality and facing a deeply uncertain economic future.

Labour’s Zarah Sultana (MP for Coventry South and a rising star) said: “For the first time ever, Unicef, the UN agency responsible for providing humanitarian aid to children, is having to feed working-class kids in the UK. But while children go hungry, a wealthy few enjoy ­obscene riches. From Tory donors handed billions in dodgy contracts to people like the Leader of the House, who is reportedly in line to receive an £800,000 dividend payout this year. So will ­(Rees-Mogg) give Government time to discuss the need to make him and his super-rich chums pay their fair share so that we can end the ­grotesque inequality that scars our society?”

Those of us who have been arguing for years in favour of independence find our case in the ascendancy now. But in remaking the case and in finding the way forward we must ­remember that “closure” from the nightmare of Tory ­Britain must be based on a genuinely alternative future.

If the repellent tone of Rees-Mogg and his ilk fires the bellies of the independence movement and unsettles even the most complacent former No voter, it must also motivate us to imagine a plan for a very different future.

A new Scotland must be one based on different social values, values of inclusion and equality, it must be a vision of a better society that has aspiration for all. As Britain spirals into previously unimaginable crisis the task of ­social reconstruction has melded with post-Covid ­regeneration and constitutional freedom.