It’s an election dominated by Brexit. The dreaded B word has been uttered thousands of times on the campaign trail, by candidates, by voters, and by those who are deciding not to vote at all.
But last week, a report by IPPR North highlighted another issue, one that has nothing to do with Brussels and everything to do with how government
is failing to bridge the gap between the rich and poor.
According to the thinktank’s annual State of the North report, regional divides in the UK are among the worst in the developed world. Areas of Manchester, Blackpool and Hull have higher mortality rates than places in Turkey, Romania and Poland.
The report highlighted a postcode lottery, where the area a child is born in can determine the likelihood of them dying earlier. In a country with the fifth largest economy in the world, it’s simply not good enough.
But inequality is about more than mortality rates. It’s not just in death where disparity shines through, but in life. Inequality is standing outside in the cold waiting for an unreliable bus to turn up, and when it does, handing over the majority of your hourly wage to travel a few miles down the road, while somewhere else, in a parallel universe, or just a different part of the country, another person waits less than a minute before gliding onto a bus, swiping their contactless card and paying £1.50 to travel five times the distance.
Inequality is a proportion of the population simply not having access to nice things. It’s walking into a town centre and seeing boarded up shops, while an hour down the road, high streets are being transformed by vegan delis, organic vegetable shops and craft ale bars.
Inequality is when those living in poverty don’t dare to dream, while others can decide on the kind of life they want to live. It’s difficult for people to feel optimistic about their own future when the best they can hope for is a seasonal job or a zero hours contract.
Life in a low income household means an overwhelming feeling of panic when the car breaks down, or when a child grows out of their school shoes. It’s the things that don’t seem like a big deal to some suddenly becoming really, really difficult.
Within days of becoming a homeowner last year, after years of renting, I got a taste of what life is like for those on the more comfortable side of the tracks. I’d barely paid my first mortgage payment before leaflets from banks offering low interest loans and 0 per cent balance transfers started arriving en masse through my letterbox. Wow, I thought. This is how easy it is now?
Borrowing isn’t the answer to all life’s problems, but it can provide a bit of breathing space for the unexpected emergencies that have the power to temporarily derail the lives of people on low incomes.
How wrong it is that only when you’ve clawed your way out of hardship does society start giving you a chance.