Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

CLARION COMMENT: Let’s all attack the poor!

In Editorial on September 6, 2013 at 12:15 pm

If it wasn’t clear already, it certainly is now. It’s the poorest sections of society, those out of work, who are to pay during our financial crisis. Their benefits are to be capped, and they are to labelled as “workshy” if they fail to find work.

Sadly, this labelling seems to have struck a chord with far too many people. The notion that all those surviving on benefits are not even seriously looking for work seems to have become generally accepted by those “men and women in the street” who are stopped and interviewed by TV news reporters.

In fact such policies are mean-spirited, callous – and unproductive. And what makes their implementation even more depressing is the way in which the two Eds, Balls and Miliband, seem to have accepted their validity.

The consequences, of course, will be that families already struggling on the breadline will be driven even deeper into poverty. Many may lose their homes. In a whole range of ways, their lives will be even more impoverished than they are now. How this fits in with the idea of a “one nation” Britain (let alone the claim that “we’re all in this together”) is difficult to comprehend.

In many areas the jobs simply aren’t there to be had. The figures may be massaged by the growth in poorly paid part time jobs (often at rates below the statutory minimum wage), plus that latest iniquity, the “zero hours contract”. This last example is when a job seeker has to take on a job in which no regular hours are guaranteed but he/she has to be ready and able to take on work if and when called to do so.

As Lisa Nandy writes in Tribune, the exploitation of zero hours contracts “removes people’s control over their own lives leaving them at the beck and call of employers, unable to seek other work and trapped in insecure employment”.

“ACTIVELY SEEKING WORK”:

Cameron and Osborne claim that such capping is necessary to ensure that those out of work don’t get more money than those with jobs. The inference is that those who exist on benefits are living a life of Riley at the taxpayers’ expense. They need to join the ranks of those “actively seeking work” – or suffer the consequences.

 

Of course those who’ve faced unemployment will know the bitter reality of life on the dole (as it used to be called). It’s not an experience we’d wish on anybody. And if there are families to support, it’s the children who will suffer.

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it does result in more people leaving the dole queues and getting jobs. What sort of employment are we talking about? Yet more low-pay, part-time or irregular work. And that will have an impact on those already in work who may well see their own income suffering as a result. It will merely exacerbate the situation.

The fact is that those on benefit aren’t paid too much. They never have been. The reality is that in far too many cases those who are classified as employed are paid too little. They have to survive on wages that are often insufficient for their needs and those of their families. This is the scandal that we need to tackle. It’s bad for those who are paid a pittance for the work they do, and it’s bad for our society as a whole.

The call should be for a living wage for all. Those employers who refuse to pay it should be penalised. Wage rates should be forced up, not down.

But, of course, we don’t live in a fair (let alone a compassionate) society. It just doesn’t fit with the approach of the nastiest Tory regime since… well, since that of Thatcher. And the mean spirited approach by the Government’s supporters is going even further. It now seems to be a case of “blue sky thinking” when it comes to nastiness.

Now, in a new report from a group of Tory MPs, there are calls for teenage mothers to lose their right to council homes or housing benefit. There are also a whole raft of other policies to penalise young mums and those labelled as feckless. Such as fining parents of kids who play truant (the fines to be deducted from child benefit payments). And the report has been welcomed by David Cameron.

NEEDED: A CHALLENGE:

If this is the face of caring, compassionate Conservatism, we want none of it. And it’s high time that a concerted challenge is mounted against those who go along with such nonsense.

But where is the Labour Party in all this? Why aren’t the Labour ranks rising to denounce the impact of Tory policies on those least able to fight back? If, day after day, the Opposition was prepared to move on to the offensive on poverty and the impact of Tory policies, then it may well succeed in changing the agenda, and forcing Cameron, Osborne and Ian Duncan Smith on to the defensive.

As it is, we are left to wonder whether the inability to stand up and fight for those who can’t fight for themselves is influenced by the notion that there are few votes to be gained from campaigning on behalf of the poor. After all, those in this (growing) sector of our fractured society are the least likely to vote in any election. They are effectively disenfranchised.

We hope we’re wrong on this point. But it should be an issue that MPs should be prepared to return to time after time, until the point is hammered home. Tory policies create poverty, and misery for those effected by it.

And an anti-poverty programme should be high on the agenda of any party that really cares.

Forest of Dean & Wye Valley CLARION Editorial Committee

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