“A willingness by politicians to say what they think the public want to hear, and a willingness by large parts of the public to believe what they are told by populist politicians, has led to a deterioration in our public discourse”
Justice Secretary David Gauke, 3rd July 2019
In 2010 the public were told that it was possible to cut family’s benefits without causing them harm.
The assertion was that benefits caused dependency and stopped people from working. The assertion was that the world was divided between “skivers and strivers” and that by cutting the support going to low income families we would only hurt the “people with their curtains closed sleeping off a life on benefits” – and perhaps even convert them into “hard-working-families” or virtuous members of “alarm clock Britain”.
Politicians promised that we could spend less money, pay less in taxes, offer the poorest less support and that by doing this we would reduce poverty. The Churches published a report “The Lies We Tell Ourselves” highlighting the untruths and distortions that were needed to make this case and how eager the British public – churchgoers included – were to hear it.
Politicians constructed a picture of a reality that we wanted to live in and told us it was true. The British public was largely happy with that. Indeed, for many the only immediate impact of this constructed reality was a tax cut. For many others – those we tend not to listen to – the impact was appalling.
If you want to know where those untruths and distortions lead you should read the UN Special Rapporteur’s report on UK poverty. It documents the damage and diminished lives that flow from these policies and attitudes. 
David Gawke MP, Work and Pensions Secretary for 7 months in 2017, was, however, not talking about poverty in the UK. He was talking about Brexit and the claims being made in the Conservative Party leadership election. These are claims that a renegotiation is possible before October – which both candidates are offering without providing evidence that it is possible – and claims around the impact of a so-called “no deal Brexit” which they intend to force through should a successful renegotiation not happen.
The Churches have spoken out about the impact of “no deal”. Our concerns are around increased food prices and decreased availability of food for the poorest families. Our concerns are rooted in evidence about the UK supply chain and from data gathered by expert organisations.
We are not clairvoyants– we might be wrong. But just as in 2010, the evidence is pointing clearly in one direction, and sadly the evidence that all will be well has not been forthcoming despite repeated questioning.
Many people may want to believe that “no deal” is fine. Around 40% of the British public has it as their preferred route out of the Brexit impasse. I know there are many politicians who are prepared to tell them what they want to hear – but my question is where is the evidence? Both for the short and long term, where is the clear rational evidence that the poorest will not suffer? It will not be conclusive, such evidence rarely is, but it should at least exist and be public and open to scrutiny.
Isaiah wrote “Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands at a distance; for truth stumbles in the public square, and uprightness cannot enter” (Isaiah 59:14, NRSV). I think that the word ‘stumble’ is important – it does not need to be a lie to lead us astray, just a disregard for the whole truth. Perhaps it is an emphasis on the benefits of a policy without paying any attention to its costs.
For example, with Universal Credit, the amount paid to people varies each month, dependent upon earnings and childcare costs which may fluctuate or be in different cycles. You will have heard it said this “ensures that work always pays”. However you won’t have heard it said that this also means no-one knows what their total income is going to be from month to month, making budgeting impossible.
Better government comes when all aspects of the truth are acknowledged and we are open to hearing truths that are not comfortable. Unfortunately, it appears that today’s populist strain of politics advantages those who hold only to those truths that suit them. I would suggest that the nation now needs church members’ unparalleled ability to ask awkward questions. You can do it in a letter or email or if you are at hustings over the next few weeks – and ask and ask again!
 While the Government is attacking the author of this report , making charges of political bias and objecting to the language of the report, it is important to recognise that it has not taken issue with a single fact or piece of evidence it contains