Even in the smoke and mirrors world inhabited by the official figures on unemployment and poverty, a world in which thousands of jobless are routinely airbrushed out as ‘economically inactive’ or ‘self-employed’, one can still glean some sense of the helter-skelter disintegration of economic life in Britain, accelerated by the health emergency but having its root cause in the crisis of overproduction.
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has admitted that in just the first three weeks of the lockdown, commencing on 20 March, the number of workers claiming universal credit (UC) nationally shot up from 3,012,736 to 4,209,795.
The impact on the poorest in society is getting worse, as is emphasised by the anti-poverty charity Turn2us: “This sudden increase in unemployment as a result of coronavirus is, while not surprising, a significant cause for concern. We have heard from hundreds of thousands of newly unemployed people who have already spent their savings and now face hunger, homelessness and debt.”
Particularly hard hit are poverty-stricken families in the south west of England. The DWP admits that in Devon and Cornwall the number of workers registering for UC rose by over a hundred thousand just in the first four weeks of the health emergency, a figure which must by now be many times greater.
On 12 March, there were 228,043 UC claimants; by 9 April there were 334,822, representing a 46.8 percent leap. (Number of SW universal credit claimants tops 300k since lockdown by William Telford, Business Live, 19 May 2020)
The above-cited figures are from official sources, and so will have already been reheated many times before being served up for public consumption. Yet even such doctored stats as these reveal enough for workers to start drawing their own conclusions about the true depth of the economic and social crisis into which we are plunging – a crisis not born of the coronavirus, but of the anarchic and inherently unstable capitalist system of production.