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Rising homelessness, poverty overshadow Brexit deadlock in UK elections

With a record number of Britons forced to use food banks and homelessness soaring, for many people in the U.K. rampant poverty, not Brexit, is the main issue in next week’s general election. In the country, homelessness is a growing issue and it accounts for one-fifth of food bank usage. Increasingly, many homeless people are in work yet unable to afford housing. There were 171,000 homeless families and individuals sleeping on the streets, in cars, buses or emergency accommodation, a 2017 study from Crisis U.K. showed.

According to a recent report released by the housing charity Shelter, at least 135,000 children will be homeless and living in temporary accommodation across Britain on Christmas day, marking the highest number in 12 years.

Based on the report, a child loses their home every eight minutes, which makes 183 children per day. It estimates that 1,647 children will become homeless until the general election takes place on Dec. 12, and more than 4,000 by Dec. 25. London has the highest concentration of homeless youngsters, up 33% since 2014.

As polls approach next Thursday, Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn have both vowed to address glaring inequality. But more than a decade after the global financial crisis that sparked a vicious worldwide recession, many cities, towns and villages across Britain have yet to recover from harsh austerity.

Austerity-driven changes to the welfare system have hit the poorest the hardest over the last decade, campaigners argue. Those concerns were amplified a year ago when the U.N. accused the British government of being in a “state of denial” about a growing rich-poor divide. Since the financial crisis, the government implemented across-the-board cuts and spending freezes.

There were also attempts to restructure the Universal Credit welfare payments system to encourage people to work. The program is deeply unpopular because claimants must wait five weeks for their first payment, which can push the poorest into more debt and poverty, food bank volunteers say.

With a week to go until the Dec. 12 vote which will decide the fate of Brexit and the world’s fifth-largest economy, the Conservatives lead the opposition Labour Party in opinion polls but it remains unclear whether they are far enough ahead to form a majority government. Setting out their plans for the first 100 days of government, the Conservatives pledged to ratify Britain’s EU exit, introduce new domestic law on issues such as health, justice and education, and set out tax cuts in a budget.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives have increased their lead over the Labour Party slightly over the last week to 12 points, a survey by Kantar showed Tuesday ahead of the election. The poll put support for the Conservatives at 44%, up 1 percentage point from a week earlier, while Labour was unchanged at 32%. The pro-European Union Liberal Democrats were up 1 point at 15%, while the Brexit Party was down 1 point at 2%. Kantar surveyed 1,096 people online between Nov. 28 and Dec. 2.

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