The government has neglected to tackle “obscene” levels of destitution, Gordon Brown has said.
He argued Conservative ministers have “systematically shredded” the social security system over the last decade.
The former prime minister, who left office in 2010, has said Britain is experiencing a hidden poverty “epidemic”, with some of the worst-affected households going without food, heating and everyday basics.
Brown’s comments come as he published a review of UK hardship on behalf of his Multibank project — a network of local charities developed out of the Office of Gordon and Sarah Brown.
The research suggests that almost four million people were now living below the so-called safety net.
Speaking to The Guardian newspaper, he said: “In years to come, I believe people will be asking how it was that government walked by on the other side when thousands of children were suffering abject deprivation, and failed to support them in their hours of need”.
He also described the poverty he had witnessed in his home town of Kirkcaldy, saying: “In 2010, we were helping 100 children at Christmas [through charity schemes]. Last Christmas, it was 1,800”.
Britain is “haunted by poverty we thought had been consigned to history”, he added.
Urging the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, to use his March budget to address the suffering of families, he said: “In an advanced economy, understanding these privations shouldn’t be a question of ideology but a question of decency”.
Brown, who served as chancellor under Tony Blair from 1997-2007, called on Hunt to extend the government’s £900 million cost of living crisis household support fund.
He said: “The welfare state has been systematically shredded over the last decade. Instead of being supported in hard times, the consequence is that as many as four million of our fellow British citizens, many actually in work, are now trapped in life below the safety net.
“This life means being unable to afford basics such as clothing, toiletries, laundry and bedding.
“It means having to cut back on essentials such as food and heating because of cuts to benefits. For 700,000 children, it means having to share a bed. For nearly half a million, it means sleeping on the floor.
“Far from getting better, the poverty crisis we’ve seen over the winter is now turning into a public health and hygiene emergency with families unable even to keep their children clean.”
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