Sir John Major slammed levels of poverty in Britain as a “shocking situation” last night, calling on the rich to do more to fight it.
In a deeply personal speech, the former Prime Minister said too many poor people were living “not only shorter lives, but meaner lives.”
He said: “Let us cast aside a common misconception. Everyone out of work is not an idler. Everyone in receipt of benefits is not a scrounger.”
Sir John was the second former Prime Minister to tear into the situation that George Osborne threatens to worsen with his cuts to tax credits.
Gordon Brown also laid into the Chancellor, accusing him of betraying workers who depend on the benefit to survive.
Sir John said the cure to poverty was “more jobs that pay a living wage”.
He added: “As the world becomes richer, inequality becomes less tolerable, and the case for reducing it more urgent. A crusade to widen prosperity more equally will not only ease hardship, it will build our national wealth – and health.”
“Whatever the reasons, this is a shocking situation in 2015.
“As a country, we are one of the richest in the world and yet some of our communities are among the poorest in all Northern Europe.”
He said the Government was right to seek to improve conditions by strengthening the wider economy – calling for more action to ease the housing crisis, boost infrastructure and extend job creation to areas “left behind”.
But while poverty would not be ended “by benefits alone”, ministers “must understand how hard it is to escape from such circumstances” and have an “equal concentration on those who are failed by the system” as those who cheat it.
“If the Good Samaritan is in debt, he can be of no help to others. That is why the repair of our national finances – which is clearly a government responsibility – is the essential pre-requisite to ending poverty,” Sir John said.
Sir John lamented what he said was his powerlessness to end poverty in office because of the poor state of the economy at the time.
“Today, I have no power and no public money at my disposal, but I care no less now than I did then. I also have a voice which, by and large, the poor don’t.
“And I wish to say – 25 years on – that we are still not a nation at ease with itself. Much has been done, is being done, to ease inequality, but we can do so much more.
“As the world becomes richer, inequality becomes less tolerable, and the case for reducing it more urgent. A crusade to widen prosperity more equally will not only ease hardship, it will build our national wealth and health.”
Nearest tube – Elephant & Castle underground station (Northern and Bakerloo lines).
Nearest Railway Station – Elephant & Castle
Buses from Elephant and Castle – ask bus driver for Burgess Park. Bus numbers: 12, 171, 148, 176, 68, 484, 42, 40, 45