Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

EDITORIAL: Poverty Knocks

In A.Graham, Editorial on March 9, 2016 at 1:15 pm

Clarion Comment: What’s all this about a “living wage”?

“The poor are always with us” is one of those platitudes that was once popular amongst those who had plenty of money. Nowadays, of course, they don’t bother. Far too many have swept the whole topic of poverty under the carpet. And far too many of them are in the present Government.

But there are means to, at least, ameliorate the impact of income differentials on families and allow them to lead a more acceptable life. First, we need to ensure that all those in work are paid a decent wage. And second, to maintain an adequate welfare system to look after all those in society – regardless of age, income or social position.

WORK AND WELFARE:

Britain’s welfare state was, when it was first implemented following the Beveridge Report, a great social leveller. Not only did it provide comprehensive health care but also ensured homes for all and relatively full employment. Of course it didn’t happen overnight. And neither was it perfect. But when we see the callous way in which it’s been dismantled we can also see how fundamentally necessary it all was. Today it no longer provides even a sufficient safety net.

The second point is of course to try to ensure that all families receive at least an adequate income, and prevent them being prey to the vagaries of a capitalist market place. It was to deal with this point that Gordon Brown (under a Labour Government) first introduced the “minimum wage”.

Since then, of course, the notion that the minimum wage comes anywhere near meeting basic requirements has been torn to shreds. Work patterns have changed (usually for the worse), the welfare state no longer provides the kind of succour it once did – and poverty has risen steadily, in tandem with the increase in wealth enjoyed by those at the top.

TALKING OF A LIVING WAGE:

That’s why politicians have been bringing up a new concept of a living wage. One that would take families beyond that of the basic minimum wage.   At the beginning of November, a new group calling itself the People’s Movement was launched to campaign for a real living wage. It was a response to George Osborne’s announcement that he was to introduce a new “national living wage”. But this isn’t due to come into force until next April

For many campaigners the levels he announced simply weren’t considered enough. There are claims that it’s merely the existing “minimum wage” dressed up in new clothing. Not only that but his new “living wage” doesn’t stretch to those under the age of 25, and it will also depend on how the Low Pay Commission estimates “what the market can bear” (the Observer, 1st November).

One can appreciate that many campaigners feel that this just isn’t good enough. Some would go further and suggest that it’s all smoke and mirrors. In reality this Tory Government isn’t interested in dealing with the problem of starvation wages – where an increasing number of working people are paid less than the living wage being promoted by the People’s Movement (23 per cent at the last count). The Government is more concerned with maintaining profit levels for the rich whilst massaging figures on pay.

As for the People’s Movement, it is a commendable campaign. But it would seem to rely on trying to persuade employers to “do the decent thing” and pay their workforce appropriate wage rates. Admittedly, as a pressure group, its role is limited – but in the present climate, is this sufficient?

UNEMPLOYMENT:

Meanwhile unemployment rates are also massaged to present the kind of statistics the Government wants. From our viewpoint they remain disturbingly high, but according to Government figures they’re falling – which should be good news if we could take them at face value.

However, such broad statistics don’t take into account part-time work (particularly those on zero hours contracts), or those who’ve been forced off the unemployment register by harsh, bullying conditions or the negativity of those who now work at Job Centres throughout the country. There are many who are prevented from taking up jobs because the infrastructure that would allow them to do so just isn’t there. Others simply drop below the radar and are no longer part of the Government’s statistics.

LOW WAGE ECONOMY:

Maintaining a low wage, poverty-fuelled economy is not good for society. It does none of us any good. But that is what the present Tory Government is doing. Whilst it remains in power we will continue to see people forced to sleep on the streets. Food Banks will stay in business, as a necessary (but hardly adequate) prop for those who no longer have the means to feed themselves.

Is that really what we want?

ENDNOTES: Testing Times for Jeremy

It’s been a challenging couple of months for Jeremy Corbyn. Not only has the Tory press (led, naturally, by the Mail and the Murdoch minions) been stepping up its attacks on the Labour leader but also there’s been the rising surge of public expressed dissent from certain Labour MPs, plaintively calling for a “change in direction”.

Considering this scenario, it’s not surprising that Labour slipped somewhat in the opinion polls. Indeed, everything considered, Labour’s by-election victory in Michael Meacher’s old constituency in Oldham came as a morale booster for all of us.

The poison that’s been coming from the right-wing press is to be expected (though surely it went too far when a commentator on Sky News referred to Corbyn as “Jihadi Jez!), though its corrosive influence should not be under-estimated. The atmosphere created by the horrifying ISIS attacks in Paris has been bound to have an impact, and here, Jeremy’s position was grossly misrepresented. To give an example, unless we believe in a policy of lynch law, surely it’s better, where possible, to arrest terrorists and try them in a court of law rather than just gunning them down?

But what’s even more dispiriting are the activities of those in the ranks of the Labour Party who have chosen to attack him – and to hint that the Party needs a change of leadership. With friends like these, where do we think we’re going? Whatever happened to that old Socialist slogan, “Solidarity forever”?

Of course events in Paris plus the ongoing refugee crisis in the Middle East had tended to overshadow those domestic policies where Labour should have been able to hit the Government hard, as it did with Osborne’s budget attack on tax relief for the low paid. We also need to go on the offensive against the continuing privatisation of what’s left of the public sector, and the treatment by Jeremy Hunt of junior doctors within the NHS, not to mention the disintegration of the Health Service as a whole – to give a couple of examples. But there have been a host of examples where Corbyn’s leadership has been frustrated by the antics of right-wing Labour MPs whose notions of solidarity seemed sadly lacking. They seem more concerned with infighting than facing up to the real enemy.

What’s necessary within the Parliamentary Labour Party is unity – unity in the face of a vicious, uncaring Tory government that has no scruples when it comes to deepening the divisions in our society. “New Labour” is dead in the water. It has been for some time. Now’s the time to give Corbyn the Party’s backing, to fight the real enemy – the Cameron/Osborne Government.

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