Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) walks past members of the public waiting to receive their vaccine as he visits a COVID-19 vaccination center, the Al-Hikmah Vaccination Center in Batley, England on Monday. A total of 598,389 people in the UK received a first vaccine dose on Saturday, the highest daily figure since the rollout began. Photo: AFP
When a country has more than 1.5 percent of all households living in destitution and one-third of children under five living below the poverty line, should the country still deserve the title of a “major power”?
According to a recent Guardian report, the number of UK households plunging into destitution more than doubled last year’s figure, from 197,400 to 421,500, a reflection of the devastating fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. An earlier BBC report said that about 34 percent of under-fives, or 1.3 million, live below the poverty line across the UK, with London having the worst rate of poverty for children in this age group.
The figure is much more miserable than the one from a World Bank-UNICEF analysis last year regarding developing countries which showed nearly 20 percent of all children below five live in extremely poor households.
The poverty issue in the UK is not an issue of oddity. Rather, it has been repeatedly disclosed by the media in recent years. In 2018, an independent expert appointed by the UN spent nearly two weeks traveling in the UK to study the poverty situation in the country. The UN special rapporteur found that poverty was “systematic” and “tragic.”
As a British Twitter user said, these figures are “shameful.” The once-glorious empire on which the sun never set just enjoys undeserved fame. Now, the UK is undoubtedly in one of its most difficult eras in history.
The initial response to the COVID-19 epidemic by the Boris Johnson administration met with fierce criticism, which already shows the economic woes within the country that could not afford any lockdown measures. The epidemic has dealt a heavy blow to the UK’s boastful financial sector and services sector.
The UK now has Europe’s highest death toll with more than 120,000 epidemic victims. Its national strength is declining, which triggered anxiety and aimlessness that was ultimately manifested by Brexit. Baffled by the economic fallouts, the UK can hardly sustain the welfare supposed to be granted to those living in destitution, especially children. Therefore, the high rate of poverty in the UK is simply not that surprising.
Nonetheless, UK politicians barely view addressing the poverty issue as a policy priority. Rather, they have brought their political acting to the international stage. The UK has kept a high profile in regional and international issues. In spite of lacking the ability to take a lead among the West to find faults with China, it has been making provocations against China on several fronts. Like the US, the UK did not show due care about the COVID-19 deaths and those living below the poverty line, but resorted to baseless human rights allegations regarding China’s policies in its Hong Kong and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Nonetheless, its poverty statistics are the biggest stain on its hypocritical human rights concept.
If a country is wracked with poverty, it cannot realize national prosperity and social stability. Nor will the country achieve its ambitions of being “global” and being “a major power” at large.
“We are no longer a great power. We will never be so again,” declared former UK prime minister John Major in a pre-recorded lecture at Middle Temple on November 9, 2020. But one tip for the UK to resume its global influence now is to stop meddling in the affairs of other countries with borrowed power when its domestic situation is in such shambles.