Wyre Forest Labour’s Stephen Brown reflects on the reasons why the UN felt the need to send a Rapporteur to investigate UK poverty.
This week, Professor Philip Alston, of the United Nations, filed a report for them on poverty in the UK. The UN does not do reports on country’s that do not have significant problems. That should be of concern to us in itself.
His Report started with
“The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy, it contains many areas of immense wealth, its capital is a leading centre of global finance, its entrepreneurs are innovative and agile, and despite the current political turmoil, it has a system of government that rightly remains the envy of much of the world. It thus seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation.”
Just reflect on that statement of what we’ve become, and the massive contrast in wealth for a moment, it’s somewhat of a contradiction and indictment of where the years of austerity since the crash have got us to. It’s a contradiction and indictment brought about purely by the austerity policies of our Tory Govt.
Sadly, with the mess they are making of Brexit, it’s a contradiction that’s likely to get much worse for the poorest, especially in Wyre Forest, with large numbers of jobs here dependent on EU exports, especially in the auto industry. Losing those jobs will take money out of the local economy and prices will go up affecting our cost of living as the pound goes down and inflation goes up. Unlike the wild claims and machinations of the Brexit extremists who promise jam tomorrow, a no deal scenario will be a disaster for the District. The Theresa May ‘Brexit deal’ will not deliver on Brexiteer promises of “exact same benefits”, and the Remainers are equally disturbed by its ramifications for our economy. Her deal will not make it through the House Of Commons, and it’s hard to see how Theresa May will survive, let alone the Tories.
Wyre Forest needs to prepare for a General Election and reflect on how we got into this mess and who’s to blame. The blame lies firmly and squarely at the Tories door, and our MP Mark Garnier, the invisible man, has played his own large part in this. Add the right wing media like the Daily Mail, The Sun, Daily Express et al, who have spent 30 years bashing the EU, lying, demonising foreigners, and scapegoating them for problems actually made in Westminster. The EU isn’t perfect, but then neither is our own system, but it’s better than where we are heading under the Tories.
As a Remainer, I helped campaign to stay in the EU, but believe some elements of its systems are deeply flawed, like its inability for our elected MEPs to create legislation which is undemocratic, it’s state aid rules which frustrate Govt assistance to industry, and its competition rules which enable privatisation. That said, its record on worker rights, human rights, and the environment are commendable. It’s free trade and free movement are essential components that have helped make us the 5th richest country in the world and help retain our place in the global order post World War 2 and Empire – something that is now under serious threat. The irony is that some think our inevitable isolation will restore us to our pre-war global status. This is a foolhardy world view. The world is shrinking and international cooperation is more important that ever. We risk falling behind in technology, medicines, research, and all for an ideology 50 years out of date.
Immigration, in the main, has been a good thing, just take a look at who’s working in your NHS helping you next time you need medical help. Our social care relies on immigration too, as does agriculture, something very important to the Worcestershire economy. Yes, people have legitimate concerns, and that needs addressing, but an analysis of the facts will reveal that it is chronic UK Govt underfunding of services, lack of planning and action in in housing, schools, and other infrastructure that has lead to issues. That, and decades of right wing and Tory attacks on trade union rights, and more latterly austerity, resulting in an erosion of union’s workplace influence to improve wages and terms and conditions that has lead to stagnating wages and worker inability to reach their aspiration of their own home, and improving conditions. I believe this was the root of the issue and it manifested itself in the only way it could in the referendum, as people sought a voice to be heard. And they made themselves heard. That is why Labour is anti-austerity and intent on rebuilding our country. I’ve spent my life in the trade union movement and seen this situation evolve into a crisis. Often feeling like a lone voice shouting about it, campaigning and arguing for radical change. I don’t blame anyone for voting Leave but I do believe it should be the catalyst for radical change in the way our country is governed and importantly where our main priorities should lie – in our communities.
Yes, the EU needs reform, like all institutions, including our own systems of governance. We should have rid ourselves of the House Of Lords years age and we should have proportional representation but we don’t, yet. I also do not buy into the notion we’ve not been sovereign whilst in the EU. If we were not sovereign we wouldn’t have had the referendum. Just this week, arch clown and Brexiteer, Boris Johnson, admitted that May’s Brexit deal would end 1,000 years of Parliamentary control and hand it to Brussels. Odd that, given he said in the Referendum debate we didn’t have that control and were going to take it back. The lies have been endless. Everyone has been conned in this and there is no shame in realising that. Remaining in the EU and reforming to remove the shackles of neo-liberal privatisation and competition rules would have been the best option in my view.
Turning back to the core issue of the UN report, poverty. Since 2010, we have seen the poorest hit the hardest by the ideological choice of Tory austerity, and making the poorest pay for the excesses of the rich and the Bankers. Yet, since the crash in 2008, the wealthiest have seen no such austerity. Their wealth has shot up by over £500bn helped along with £80bn of tax cuts, whilst the poorest are £3,000 per year worse off in real terms. The poor of the UK and Wyre Forest are paying to subsidise the rich. No wonder the UN Report said “14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials. The widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40%. For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.”
A “”disgrace” says the UN of poverty in Britain today!
One of the Professor’s most damming comments was this though “But through it all, one actor has stubbornly resisted seeing the situation for what it is. The Government has remained determinedly in a state of denial. Even while devolved authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland are frantically trying to devise ways to ‘mitigate’, or in other words counteract, at least the worst features of the Government’s benefits policy, Ministers insisted to me that all is well and running according to plan.”
Basically, he’s saying Govt policy is causing misery and the Tories are in “denial.”
The Rowntree Foundation found in 2016 that 20% of our population were living in poverty, and we’ve seen the Trussell Trust say 60% of those in poverty have someone working in the household and so coining the phrase “in-work poverty”. That’s a phrase which means no matter how hard you work, your wages are so low you can’t meet your bills. Work, and despite what the Tories say, is not the best way out of poverty in 2018 it seems. Tory policy has ensured that. Keeping you poor keeps the rich, rich. That is the Tory agenda. It’s their reason for being, always has been, you just need to see through the media lies that protect them.
The impact of Universal Credit, which has ravaged 3.2 million people leaving them £3bn worse off, has seen Foodbank use escalate from a few thousand parcels a year in 2010 to over a million last year. Indeed, our own Foodbank in Wyre Forest is experiencing a huge rise in demand this year alone, with appeals for donations to meet the growing need. Many foodbank’s in the UK now say it’s “unsustainable”. Is this a situation in 2018, we, the people of Wyre Forest, should be tolerating?
Even schools have not been exempt, with 1 in 5 parents donating money for essential teaching equipment whilst 1 in 10 say they’ve even had to pay for toilet rolls for the school. Yes, toilet rolls.
Housing is in crisis too. Wyre Forest needs a minimum 3,500 new affordable homes for social rent, yet all the Tories offer is half that over the next decade, if indeed they are affordable at all, whilst trying to create a commuter belt of an expensive 4,500 homes for Birmingham, that will do little for the local economy, or long term jobs. The local Tories are more interested in investing in wealthy areas like Solihull than the District that they and we actually live in.
This is what 8 years of Tory Government has brought us. It’s end can’t come soon enough for many of us. The country cannot afford to continue with the Tories or austerity, it’s literally killing people. To date 120,000 deaths have been linked to austerity. This is not a price worth paying so that the rich, the few, can feel comfortable in their beds and remain ignorant of and to the daily reality for the many. Tory austerity is not at an end, this has been an ideological choice, and even a cursory study of modern monetary theory will reveal it for the lie it is. It’s why Theresa May ‘magically’ found the £1bn for the DUP to prop up her heartless Govt, and despite her claiming there’s “no magic money tree”. Well there is, they’ve shipped it to the Cayman Islands in tax dodging schemes and the Banks create new money every day. It’s how they operate. The days of Banks using your savings to fund loans, or finance infrastructure projects, or to buy plant equipment, are long gone in this digital age. Taxation has become a way to control the flow of money in the economy to keep it in check; money creation comes first, taxation second. People should stop believing Tory lies. The UK economy is not like your credit card, or household budget. You don’t have the means to create money, and so create wealth and investment, only the Banks do, including the Bank of England, including through Govt bonds to fund much needed infrastructure the country is desperate to have. So long as this Tory lie perpetuates, the rich will get richer and the poor poorer.
Wyre Forest may well get the choice soon enough to kick the Tories out. I hope you take it. Britain needs change, it needs a Government for the many not the few, and it needs a new relationship with the EU and the rest of the world based on shared values and respect, not this endless divisive destructive language of conflict, demonising foreigners, and turning everything into a war to invoke the images of the 1940’s. We are not at war with Europe, and the war ended over 70 years ago. Our children, our youth, our future, deserve better than this and deserve chances, choice, and opportunity. That is why Labour will, and has to fix things, for the many.
The Tories don’t, can’t, and won’t offer any rebuilding or hope. They’ll just offer you more of the same that lead the UN’s Professor Alston to say “British compassion (talking about Govt policy) for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach.” That’s the country the world now sees the UK as.
You can change that. Support Labour.
The full UN Report is here: