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Theresa May addressed Tory Party conference in 2016 with the promise: “The Government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the rich and powerful, but by the interests of ordinary, working class people.”
But this promise was always a con. And we were reminded of this last week with the publication of the Social Mobility Commission’s State of the Nation Report. It’s gloomy reading.
According to them, Britain is a country riddled by inequality and in “the grip of a self-reinforcing spiral of ever-growing division.” This is a damning conclusion, especially from people who are by no means radical. Such is their frustration with the Government that all four members of the Commission have walked out in protest at the lack of progress towards a fairer Britain.
Less than two days later there is more evidence of the miserable state that Britain now finds itself in, this time in the form of the Joseph Rowntree’s UK Poverty report for 2017. It does not make for good reading.
To cite just a few of the report’s findings: in the last few years, poverty among children and pensioners has risen, with a staggering 30% of children and 16% of pensioners now living in poverty. One in eight workers live in poverty and 47% of working-age adults on low incomes spend more than a third of their income on housing. I could go on.
Faced with these statistics and stories of the hardships faced by old and young alike, it feels like we are returning to the type of society described by Charles Dickens over 150 years ago. It is a tale of two countries, one for the few, full of opportunity, and another for the many, where your hard work goes unrewarded and life is a struggle.
Driving this sorry state of affairs, the report notes, are a number of factors. The growth in employment is not reducing poverty; support for low-income families is falling, and rents keep rising, sucking away a higher percentage of income.
It’s clear that the progress made under the last Labour government has been undone, and that the Conservatives are squarely to blame. They have normalised poverty by prioritising policies that benefit unscrupulous landlords and zero-hour employers, and by undermining social security.
In 21st century Britain, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, we are led by a Party that will do anything to make big business happy, even if it means that the rest of us suffer. And with their ‘race-to-the bottom’ approach to Brexit, the stakes have never been higher.
A radical solution is desperately needed, and with its manifesto, For the Many Not the Few, Labour is starting to provide one. In the 2017 General Election, millions showed their support for the direction that we want to take the country, and as opinion polls indicate, more and more people are getting behind us.
With plans to build a million homes, introduce rent controls, keep the winter fuel allowance, reverse cuts to Sure Start and children’s centres, and expand free school meals, Labour will attack poverty at its very root. This will be a politics that goes beyond token gestures or concessions to one group or another here and there. It will be a politics of wholesale transformation that takes everybody with it.