A Portrait of Broken Britain
Sam Bright explores the social, political and economic crises that have been stoked by successive Conservative administrations
“Broken Britain” was the phrase deployed by David Cameron in the immediate run-up to the 2010 General Election, to describe a perceived social decay that had occurred under Labour’s leadership since 1997.
Focusing in particular on crime and an alleged growth of social disorder, Cameron said in January 2010 that, “we don’t have a strong enough response to crime… we tolerate too much criminal behaviour. Some would say that we’ve become too selfish, too greedy, it’s all about me and self gratification – not about thinking of others and community”.
However, over the past 12 years, since Cameron won the election and formed the Coalition Government with the Liberal Democrats, the situation has deteriorated. Britain is now suffering from crises of cronyism, inequality, crime, and the private capture of public goods.
Since July 2021, the Byline Intelligence Team has been cataloguing this social, economic and political breakdown – quantifying the scale of the problems facing the UK. These declining circumstances have been the product of successive governments, led by three Conservative prime ministers. Yet the latest, Boris Johnson, does not seem to command the faith of voters seeking a dividend after years of austerity and restraint.
A large percentage of voters think that the Government is doing a bad job across multiple policy areas, including: the NHS (70%), crime (59%), borders (73%), levelling up (66%), Brexit (75%), taxation (58%) and education (55%) – according to a new Ipsos MORI poll.
Yet, while the masses are plunged into ever-worsening circumstances, the richest have seen their wealth burgeon as their access to power has increased. Britain is broken – but not for everyone.
The Byline Intelligence Team and The Citizens have led the effort to expose and archive the COVID contracts awarded to firms with links to the Conservatives – finding deals worth at least £3 billion given to party donors and associates.
Subsequently, we calculated that 12 of these firms had increased their profits by £121.7 million during their latest accounting periods – equivalent to a 57.1% profit boost.
The Government has also drawn criticism for its use of an expedited ‘VIP lane’ for the awarding of contracts to suppliers with links to ministers, MPs and officials. After the Government released the names of VIP firms awarded personal protective equipment (PPE) contracts during the Coronavirus pandemic, we calculated that nine of these companies had cumulatively increased their profits twelve-fold – from £8.5 million to £109 million.
The benefits afforded to Conservative friends and donors similarly extend beyond Government contracts. More than a quarter (26%) of Conservative donors who have given at least £100,000 to the party between 2010 and 2020 hold a title or an honour. And, of the Conservative Party’s 20 biggest donors since 2010 – those donating more than £1.5 million – 55% (11) have received an honour or title. Ten were given these awards in the past decade.
But, while elite Conservatives have prospered in recent years, the circumstances of the poorest in Britain have deteriorated markedly.
In 2019/20, the percentage of people in the UK in relative poverty (before housing costs) was almost two percentage points higher than it was in 2010/11.
By 2019/20, it was estimated that 14.5 million people in Britain were in poverty after housing costs. Over the same period, there was a 13% increase in the child poverty rate (after housing costs).
In-work poverty has also increased by 21% since 2010, while the number of emergency food parcels distributed by Trussell Trust food banks in 2020 was 402% higher than it had been in 2010.
These problems have also been suffered more acutely in some areas of the country –notably poorer areas of the midlands and the north of England that opted for the Conservatives in 2019, often for the first time in decades.
Healthy life expectancy – the time that people are expected to spend in good health – fell for either men or women from 2009-11 to 2017-19 in 16 of the 20 ‘Red Wall’ areas for which data is available.
Indeed, a new paper in the Lancet health journal has found that, overall, life expectancy has been falling in many areas of the north over the past decade. It found extreme differences in life expectancy between the richest and poorest areas of the country – with men in parts of Blackpool expected to live for 68.3 years, compared to 95.3 years in some areas of Kensington and Chelsea in London.
From 2014/15 to 2019/20, the percentage of children in poverty increased in Red Wall seats from 29.8% to 34.6% – a jump of 16%. And, from 2011/12 to 2020/21, the proportion of secondary school children eligible for free school meals in Red Wall areas increased from 19.5% to 24%.
As of 2020/21, a staggering 39% of secondary school children are eligible for free school meals in Blackpool. Our analysis indicates that Red Wall areas saw their local authority budgets cut on average by 34.2% from 2010/11 to 2017/18, compared to an England-wide average of 28.6%.
But not all have suffered equally. The highest-earning MPs – benefitting from second jobs in the private sector – have earned £6.7 million in additional income, while child poverty has increased in their constituencies by 20.4%.
The number of high net worth individuals living in Britain has also increased in recent times. In 2020, their number was 26% higher than in 2010. In 2010/2011, the richest 1% of Britons held a 7% share of total national income; by 2019/2020 their cut was 8.3%.
Meanwhile, in the past six years, the top nine elite fee-paying schools in England – the so-called ‘Clarendon Schools’ – have increased their assets by 44%, or almost £600 million.
There are even pervasive inequalities seen within our political system – particularly inequalities between men and women. In 2020, the top 10 highest-paid male special advisors (SPADs) earned, on average, £23,000 more than the top 10 highest-paid female SPADs – a gap of 22%. Analysis of Cabinet Office data also shows that 382 male civil servants earned more than £150,000-a-year in 2020, compared with only 126 female civil servants. The top 10 highest-paid male civil servants earned, on average, £150,000 more than the top 10 highest-paid female civil servants – a full-time pay gap of 36%.
An accompaniment to the growing wealth of the rich has been the creeping control of private companies over public goods and services.
This process has been placed on steroids during the pandemic. By July 2021, the total value of COVID contracts awarded to private firms had amounted to £54.2 billion – more than the GDP of 140 countries and territories.
Yet, many of these companies have a questionable record.Three leading management consultancy firms contracted to deliver key public health services during the Coronavirus crisis have been fined £100.9 million collectively since 2010.
This is a trend across public services – not just related to healthcare and the COVID-19 pandemic. Five companies have collectively won £5.8 billion worth of contracts since 2010 to run asylum and migrant services, despite accusations of misconduct against some of the firms.
And while David Cameron pledged to clean up the banking sector after the 2008 financial crash, financial firms have been found guilty for 46% of the £9.8 billion fines handed down by Government agencies to the 10 British industries most punished for corporate misconduct since 2010.
Crime and Policing
What’s more, though Cameron pledged to fortify the Government’s stance towards crime, the evidence suggests opposite outcomes have occurred.
In recent years, total recorded drug offences have increased in England and Wales by 19%, with possession of cannabis recording a 21.5% increase. Statistics also show worsening health outcomes for drug users, and the number of deaths related to drug poisoning have increased year on year from 2,652 in 2011 to 4,561 in 2020 – a 72% increase.
Meanwhile, there has been a rape convictions crisis, with only 1.6% of the 50,210 reported rape cases in England and Wales in 2020 leading to a conviction.
There has also been growing scrutiny of police forces and their attitude to sexual assault, following the conviction of Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens for the rape and murder of Sarah Everard in 2021.
A series of investigations by the Byline Intelligence Team revealed that more than half of Metropolitan Police officers found to have committed sexual misconduct between 2017 and 2020 stayed in post: a total of 43 officers out of 83 – or 52%.
Meanwhile, 75% of police officers across England and Wales who abused their positions or failed to properly investigate sex crimes between 2017 and 2020 remained in place. We also found that 14 police officers over this four-year period abused their position for sexual gain – and 16% remained in their post.
This problem also seems to extend throughout the criminal justice system: two-thirds of prison staff found to have committed sexual harassment stayed in post – a total of 30 members of staff out of 47, or 64%.
This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.
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