Anti-poverty activists have expressed astonishment at Chancellor George Osborne's claim that massive public spending cuts will create a "more just society".
Attacking 'deficit deniers' in his recent defence of coalition government policies - which analysts say will hit the poorest hardest through a combination of low wages, unemployment, benefit reductions and increased costs - Mr Osborne, who is a millionaire, claimed that "we are all in this together".
He said that income distribution - which has widened significantly in recent years - is not the only measure of fairness, stressing opportunity over actual outcomes.
But Martin Narey, chief executive of the children's charity Barnado's, said on BBC TV's 'Newsnight' programme yesterday that the government had to tackle the jobs and wages crisis if it was serious about attacking poverty. He described the current minimum wage as "shameful".
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has also warned that the growing income and wealth gap in Britain makes it more and more difficult for those at the bottom to lever themselves up, rendering talk of opportunity without redistribution illusory.
Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the TUC, suggested that the Chancellor "has a different definition of fairness to the rest of us".
He declared: "Mr Osborne's spending cuts are hitting the most vulnerable, his one big tax rise was VAT – the unfairest tax of all – and his economic policies are bearing down on the young, trapped between unemployment and an education sector with not enough places."
"Meanwhile those in banks and finance who caused the recession are back collecting their bonuses and celebrating their biggest windfall, their escape from being asked to make a proper tax contribution to clearing up the mess they made," said Mr Barber.
The Green Party has also attacked the fundamental logic of the cuts, which the Chancellor says are about ensuring that debts are not handed from one generation to the next, calling them "destructive and unnecessary."
Cuts “are not an economic inevitability but an ideological choice”, says party leader Dr Caroline Lucas, the new MP for Brighton Pavilion.
Politicians from the main parties have been “sharpening their axes to slash public spending, forcing those on lower incomes, who depend on public services the most, to pay the highest price for the recent excesses of the bankers," she declared after the budget.
“There is a choice," said the Green leader. "We should ask those best able to pay to foot the bill through fairer taxation... and [tackle the economic crisis] through a basic shift towards a low carbon economy through investment in renewable technologies."
Meanwhile, Church Action on Poverty (http://www.church-poverty.org.uk/ ) is reminding supporters that there are still three weeks in which to apply for one of its Tackling Poverty Awards.
The awards, for which nominations end on 27 August 2010, will identify and celebrate projects that are providing meaningful and effective support to people of working age living in poverty in the UK.
Mr Osborne is heir to the Osborne baronetcy of Ballentaylor in County Tipperary.
Also on Ekklesia: We are not 'all in this together', by Jill Segger - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/12859