The Labour Party Conference is in full swing in Brighton, and the speeches, promises and plans made during the 4 day event will define Labour and their success or failure in the next general election.
So, what do we need from government?
There are several issues that need to be at the forefront of any manifesto (if we are to begin to resolve some of the deep-seated problems affecting people at the moment), and they include:
Raising Living Standards
Rising food and energy prices combined with pay cuts and freezes, have forced many to struggle from month to month – also creating a pay day loan boom-time. Families are around £1500 a year worse off since the coalition came to power. For those on the minimum wage, any rises have remained below inflation, meaning the rise actually feels like a pay-cut.
The rise in zero hour contracts, part-time or under-employment and temporary work has meant that job security is suffering, and employers have at times, taken advantage of jobseekers’ desperation to find work by putting staff on less stable contracts that can leave employees without sick or holiday pay or regular and reliable amounts of income.
Whilst the government have been celebrating some recovery in the economy, the TUC have reported that 77% of new job creation since 2010 has been for wages of less than £7.95 an hour.
“Just over one in five net new employee jobs created since June 2010 have been in the highly paid computer programming, consultancy and related services industries, where the average hourly wage is £18.40. In the middle paid industries, which account for nearly three quarters of the UK workforce and where the average is between £7.95 and £17.40 per hour, there has been no net job creation since June 2010.”
This means that the recovery is largely a low pay recovery so far. This could be limiting for career prospects, salary increases and progression, as the pressure and opportunities of the ‘recovery’ are keeping wages low.
More housing and cheaper rent
We need to build more houses. This policy needs to be at the heart of any manifesto worth considering. The current government’s failure to invest in enough new housing – which would not only allow the housing benefit spend to reduce with increased control over rent and social housing stock, but would also create jobs and stimulate growth – can only mean they are satisfied with the increases in house prices, which are becoming ever further out of reach for most people who are on stifled wages and reduced incomes.
The current rate of building has been increased, but is still not enough to cater for the 250,000 extra homes we need each year. The ‘bedroom tax,’ which was supposedly meant to free up larger houses to help the 2 million on social housing waiting lists, has only pushed people into debt and further poverty, as the lack of one and two bedroom accommodation means that those who need or are willing to move, have no where to go.
Rising rent prices have also made it almost impossible for people to save – forcing them to be stuck in rented accommodation, whilst wealthy investors buy up more property and raise rent prices. The cycle needs to be broken, and rent caps could play a role. The rent cap may be radical, but the inflation of rent prices is more destructive and is currently allowing private landlords to maintain ‘Generation Rent’ in a position where there is no other option.
Change in attitude towards welfare and greater support for those in need
The government rhetoric of ‘scroungers’ and ‘skivers’ has been forced down the throats of the voting public thanks to the equally divisive media, who are more than happy to repeat the vitriole and place the blame and anger of a banker’s crisis on society’s most vulnerable.
We need to stop this. The rhetoric has played a part in the increase of disability hate crime, it has fractured our society and it has forced those in most need to feel like they cannot ask for help. Poverty porn has become a new genre of TV entertainment, divides between communitites have been pushed deeper, immigrants have been villified with the government’s own campaigns harking back to time of racist slurs. Fit-to-work tests have humiliated the sick and disabled and caused a climate of fear and sanctions have rocketed, being used unsparingly to leave people without enough money to live.
The policies of the coalition government towards welfare and benefits has been one focused on punishment and suspicion, putting care and support further down the list. Now we need policy that will support people, and play an effective role in giving people independence and better opportunities to work with flexibility.
So what have Labour promised so far?
During the Labour Conference so far, policy promises have included:
– Building 400,000 houses
– Strengthening the minimum wage
– Extra help with childcare (free childcare for 3-4 year-olds increased from 15 hours per week to 25 hours)
– Scrapping the ‘bedroom tax’
– Sacking ATOS
– Increasing the offence of disability hate crime
– A Universal Credit Rescue Committee
The conference continues today, so there is more to come. Of course, there are many reasons to be cynical about policies (as Ellen Clifford said, “It was New Labour that introduced ATOS to this country. That’s something disabled people aren’t going to forget for a long time”). However, these policies are a huge step in the right direction, and it is good to see that Labour has taken bold steps against the coalition government and right wing press, in favour of helping those struggling the most.
But there is work yet to do. Labour need to promise to remove the damaging policies within the system, and not just the face of them. Many will be glad to see the back of ATOS, but the new testing and support systems should ensure that the sick and disabled are not put though such neglectful experiences again. Scrapping the ‘bedroom tax’ is wonderful news, but those now in debt because of it, need to have that struck off.
It seems that Labour have begun to listen, but to ensure we leave these dark days behind us under a Labour government or any other, campaigners, voters and those affected need to keep shouting, to ensure the new policies and attitudes carry these voices through to the agenda, and are not blighted by the shadows of the current ones.
by Kam Sandhu – @KamBass