A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Labour & Tories clueless on poverty issue

The Office for National Statistics said the broadest measure of unemployment fell by 7,000 to 2.458 million, the first quarterly decline since May 2008, leaving the jobless rate at 7.8%. The narrower measure of people claiming unemployment benefits dropped by more than expected in December, falling by 15,200 to 1.61 million, the biggest drop since early 2007. This rapid rise is a facade in itslef because it doesn't include number of people in the labour force who are neither working nor looking for work, nudging the total to 8 million; this is the most since records began. The rise was largely driven by an increase of 81,000 in the number of students not looking for work. Full-time employment fell by 113,000 to 21.2 million, while part-time employment did not rise fast enough to compensate, increasing by 99,000 to 7.7 million. As has been the pattern for months, the figures are being driven by women finding part-time jobs while men, predominantly, are losing full-time ones. Better news came for the under-24 age group who saw a drop in joblessness of 16,000 - now it's 927,000.

Other figures showed the number of people out of work for more than a year jumped 29,000 on the quarter to 631,000, the highest level since late 1997, as companies continue to shed jobs in the teeth of the UK's worst recession since 1921. Today the power company E.ON announced the closure of a call centre in Essex with the loss of 600 jobs, while last week Bosch said it was closing its car parts factory near Cardiff, losing 900 workers. Unemployment continues to hit regions of Britain differently. The jobless rate rose again in the north-east, to 9.8%, closely followed by the West Midlands on 9.6%. By contrast, the east and south-east had the lowest rates of any region, at 6.3% and 6.2% respectively. The ONS also reported that wage growth slowed to the lowest on record at just 1.1% year-on-year, excluding volatile bonus payments in the three months to November. For November alone, private sector pay showed no growth at all from a year earlier. This may seem like good news for our Labour government, but it's not enought to attract disillusioned voters back by the May 6th elections.

Labour has been harping on about bridging the inequality gap, especially between the rich and poor. A third of children are living in poverty - despite claims they would eradicate child poverty by 2011. The total number of poor pensioners is now 2.8million. The head of a Government-owned firm set up to eliminate world poverty has been criticised after earning almost £1million in a year. Richard Laing, the chief executive of the former Commonwealth Development Corporation now known as CDC. More than 300,000 pensioners face falling into poverty every year whilst Labour and Tories spout hot air and empty promises to address the issue of poverty in Britain; undoubtedly whilst taking backhanders from big business bankers. Nearly a million households in the countryside are trapped in poverty, a government adviser has warned. They live below the official poverty line while the houses around them are snapped up by wealthy second home owners from the cities, Gordon Brown's rural advocate said. Labour is correct to say it has brought down the number of poverty-stricken families since it came to power, although it has not achieved as much as it hoped. Official figures show the number of children in poverty has fallen from 4.4million in 1997 to 3.8million now, a reduction of 600,000.

The Tories are no better, keeping the rich comfortable at the expense of those struggling to scrape together enough cash for survival. A new study shows the Tory married couples’ tax break would deny 120,000 children the chance to escape poverty. One-parent family charity Gingerbread and the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies say diverting the money the Tories plan to Child Tax Credits instead would lift 130,000 children out of poverty as opposed to the 10,000 affected by the married couples’ plan. If the money the Tories have earmarked for the unfair tax break were shifted to the Working Tax Credit, 100,000 children would benefit not just 10,000. Not intent on dividing working class families in their home, Tory spending cuts would put millions of public sector jobs at risk as well as tens of thousands in the private sector. The cover up at yesterday's Prime Minister's Questions wasn't the unpublished Doncaster social services report raised by David Cameron but the Tory leader's failure to raise the issue that will dominate the election campaign: the economy.

An issue the Conservatives thought was a banker a few months ago suddenly looks a weak spot. Cameron didn't dare raise it today after an extraordinary 7,000 dip in unemployment. He was mauled the previous couple of Wednesdays over "messed up" married couple tax breaks and an elitist inheritance handout to the wealthiest few. And I wonder if Cameron will risk going on the economy at next week's session when 24 hours earlier Britain is expected to be declared out of recession. We're little more than 100 days from a General Election - if May 6 is Decision Day - and the Cons are suffering more than poll nerves. Tory MPs whisper they fear the party's draft programme is weak. The economy is no longer a Tory Ace in the pack. Cameron prospered as a one man band when he was new and shiny but he's a little battered these days and, crucially, Gordon Brown seems to be getting his act together. Where is the Shadow Cabinet? Shakespeare was still writing tragedies when Invisible Tory George Osborne last had the confidence to hold a press conference. Brown used a past Ken Clarke "social engineering" dismissal of married couple tax allowances to cause Cameron blush a second consecutive Wednesday. The balance of power has shifted on Wednesday. I suspect it's now Cameron who doesn't relish the confrontations. Labour tribalists sounded foolish mocking Nick Clegg's questions about why state-owned RBS is bankrolling Kraft's takeover of Cadbury. Many Labour MPs silently agreed with the Lib Dem leader. If today had been an election TV debate, Clegg would've won the public vote on this one. Tory school reforms that would stop graduates with poor degrees becoming teachers were exposed as a meaningless gimmick. Figures showed just one in 30 new staff left uni with a third, down from one in 25 a decade ago. And new teachers with top firsts increased from one in 20 to one in 12. More than half now get 2:1s, the Schools Training and Development Agency said. Cameron's plans would also stop his maths Tsar Carol Vorderman from teaching with a third.
Now the elitist Tory toff leader is pleading that money doesn't bring up children. Would he know the plight of struggling parents with hardly two coins to rub together? Are you kidding? Eton-boy Cam will never know what it's like to be underpriveliged because he was born with a silver spoon in his gob. In astonishing remarks, the multimillionaire Tory party leader said "warmth" was more important than wealth to making sure children were happy, healthy and did well at school. He said when parents were "competent and committed", financial circumstances made no "significant" difference to prospects. "What matters most to a child's life chances is not the wealth of their upbringing but the warmth of their parenting." How condescending is it that this mega-rich toad can take the moral high ground about money being unimportant when raising a child? And despite Tory plans to cut £200million a year from Sure Start - vital help to struggling families - Mr Cameron said parents should spend more time with children and support them at school. He said: "Research shows responsible parenting is more likely to occur in wealthier households, but children in poor households raised with that style of parenting do just as well.
Parents need policies not platitudes - how dare the Tories think they can get away with attempting to make the poorest think that money is no object in their lives. He has refused to protect funding for schools. He would cut £200million each year from Sure Start and take support away for families on modest and middle incomes. Poverty is a key factor in making the job for parents more difficult; any idiot with half a brain should know this by the time they become parents. The best thing Mr Cameron can do to safeguard all children is to put money in the pockets of the poorest families who need it most Parents need money to buy shoes and clothes for their children. Food isn't free either and toys and trips have to be paid for too. And we all know it costs a small fortune to keep a house warm during the winter. So David Cameron's astonishing statement that money doesn't matter when bringing up kids shows just how out of touch he is. The multi-millionaire Conservative Party leader may be so loaded that he doesn't have to worry about money. But millions of parents are forced to count the pennies every single day. Yes, the affection of caring mums and dads is absolutely vital and there's an old saying that money can't buy you love. But Mr Cameron gives the impression of having no idea whatsoever about the realities of life in Britain. His arrogant lecture should serve as a political warning because the Conservatives see the incomes of low and middle earners as a target for spending cuts. Mr Cameron and his family may not rely on the minimum wage, child benefit, state pension or tax credits - but many people do. It's easy for the wealthy Tory leader to be complacent but voters should remember his ludicrous opinions.
In a 1999 speech Tony Blair declared, “Our historic aim will be for ours to be the first generation to end child poverty forever, and it will take a generation. It is a 20 year mission, but I believe it can be done.”  To a standing ovation and with tears in the eyes of his supporters, Blair said, “The child born in the run down estate should have the same chance to be healthy and well educated as the child born in the leafy suburbs.” Why then, despite all the rhetoric and good intention, was the government forced to admit last week that it was failing in its pledge to end child poverty? Its own figures showed that child poverty had increased for the first time in six years while overall poverty had risen for the first time under this government. The number of children living in poverty increased by 100,000 to a total of 3.8 million. In a country as wealthy as ours it is a scandal that the number of children still growing up in poverty has increased – poverty which blights their life chances, poverty which for many is simply overwhelming. The effects of poverty are devastating and far reaching. Children from low income families are more likely to live in a poor environment, in poor quality housing and in greater proximity to crime and drugs.
Low income has an affect on educational achievements which in turn can lead to a cycle of disadvantage into adult life. Poverty and deprivation limits choice which in turn affects self esteem, confidence, and health. So what is the government’s solution to tackling child poverty? Gordon Brown stated “The key to the future is how many people you can get into work. That’s the bigger contribution to tackling child poverty.” Welfare reform minister Jim Murphy said the government must encourage the unemployed to think, “Work first, benefits second.” Getting people back into work and off benefits has become the mantra of the Blair government. Lone parents are now obliged to take part in work focused interviews every six months. The government also plans to force lone parents to “actively seek work” once their youngest child reaches the age of 12. Those claiming incapacity benefit have also been targeted, with Blair stating that everyone is expected to “fulfil their responsibilities” to work if able to do so. Incapacity benefit claimants have to undergo medicals as often as every 12 months to assess their capability for work; if the medical defines someone as fit for work their benefits are stopped immediately.
The idea that there exists real choice for people to work their way out of poverty is simply not true and is an insult to families forced to live on benefits. People do not choose to live in poverty, but are often trapped by low pay, working patterns that are too inflexible to match parenting responsibilities, disability, illness or discrimination. For others work has proved to be a precarious and ineffective route out of poverty. Over half of poor children – 54 percent – have a parent in work. Britain has one of the highest employment rates in Europe, yet one of the worst child poverty rates. Access to better jobs can help reduce child poverty, but today’s figures for children in working families suggest that simply resorting to getting more parents into work is not good enough. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that in order to halve child poverty by 2010 the government needs to make an annual investment of £4.3 billion. It needs to ensure that benefit safety nets are set above poverty levels and investment goes into providing better jobs, training and education. In addition it needs to reverse spending cuts in the civil service to ensure that the delivery of benefits is not affected by job cuts and limited services. While New Labour talks about its great desire to end child poverty it spent £76 billion on replacing Trident nuclear missile system. Brown and Cameron's priorities lie with big business, privatisation and war. The reality for 3.8 million children living in poverty in Britain today is that neither New Labour or Conservatives offer any hope for the future.

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