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LAST night I was delighted to speak at the launch of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity nationwide launch of the Britain is Broken campaign. This is all about showing the truth behind the Tories’ claim that “austerity has ended.” It clearly isn’t over for millions of people who desperately need it to be.
The campaign will tour the country, including the areas of the country worst hit by this government, in order to uncover the reality of what eight years of the Conservatives’ political choice of austerity has done to our communities.
In my own advice sessions for constituents, I regularly see the harrowing effects of Conservative austerity. In a recent advice session, a woman showed me the fresh scar on her wrist from when she’d tried to commit suicide as her life fell apart due to having her benefits reduced and not being able to cope any more. She also showed me the agreement from a heartless loans company that was charging her over 500 per cent interest to lend her the money she needed to pay her gas and electric bills.
A man broke down in tears in front of me and his wife as he explained how everything in his life had been fine until he recently had a stroke and had to stop the job he’d done for decades. To make things worse, and the reason he came to see me, was because he’d had his personal independence payments taken off him following a medical capability “assessment” in which it was stated that he could do things that he clearly couldn’t do. He apologised to me for crying in front of me and his wife.
He has nothing to apologise for. Those who should be apologising — and who we need to hold to account now and at the next general election — are the Conservative politicians who have put him in this position.
An asylum-seeker once came to see me and told me he’d come straight to my advice session after trying to set himself on fire outside the Home Office in Leeds because he was frustrated that the immigration system had left him penniless and in limbo.
This is the reality in our country and is why Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell is right to say that he cannot forgive the Conservative government for the human misery it has caused.
These constituency experiences are replicated up and down the country as is clear from the evidence of the shameful Tory record that continues to mount.
Shelter has highlighted that this Christmas Day, over 300,000 people will wake up homeless. That’s the equivalent to the population of the city of Newcastle. It is utterly preventable by a government with different priorities.
The United Nations Poverty Envoy’s report into poverty in the UK should be the epitaph on the political tombstone of this disgraceful Conservative government. The UN report states that the government has inflicted “great misery” on people in the UK with “punitive, mean-spirited and often callous” austerity policies which are driven by a political desire to undertake social re-engineering rather than economic necessity. It states that despite the UK being the world’s fifth largest economy, levels of child poverty are “not just a disgrace but a social calamity and an economic disaster.”
Millions continue to live on poverty wages unable to properly provide for their families. In fact, I recently uncovered the shocking fact that the Ministry of Justice itself continues to employ nearly 3,000 workers at less than the real living wage. That’s in addition to the outsourced cleaners and security staff in the Ministry who have been striking for a wage that is enough to live on. The Tories should stop treating workers like dirt and pay them all a proper living wage.
Austerity has wreaked havoc on working class communities in all their diversity. The already excluded have played the greatest price, with women for example bearing over 80 per cent of the austerity burden. Our communities and public services have paid a heavy price for the Tories’ political choice of cuts and privatisation. It has to stop. With a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn and with John McDonnell as Chancellor and Diane Abbott as Home Secretary, it will stop.
Over the coming weeks Labour hopes to force a general election over the Tories’ calamitous handling of the Brexit. But any general election will not just be about the basis of a new deal with Europe but a new deal for the overwhelming majority of people in the country suffering under the Tories.
A general election will be a debate on the need for a real living wage of at least £10 an hour by 2020, on why we need an energy price cap and on scrapping the public sector pay cap for the entire public sector.
It will be a vote on the disastrous universal credit roll-out and the need to scrap tuition fees.
It will be an opportunity to endorse Labour’s vision for a huge programme of house building. A chance to vote to rebuild Britain with Labour’s plans to invest in infrastructure across every region and nation of the UK in order to create the high-wage, high-productivity jobs that our communities need and deserve.
As a member of Jeremy’s shadow cabinet, I believe it’s vital that Labour politicians in Parliament work with social movements outside Parliament to defeat austerity, get rid of the Tories and get a Labour government that will run things for, and with, the many, not the few.
It’s vital politicians in Parliament stand shoulder to shoulder with trade unions, women’s rights campaigns, migrants’ groups, tenants’ associations, black and minority ethnic community organisations, disability rights campaigns and LGBT support networks who are defending those most under attack from Tory austerity. It’s only by working together with millions in this way that we can truly change things.
The People’s Assembly Against Austerity Britain Is Broken campaign is an important part of that. I wish it every success as it tours Britain. It’s a campaign that every Morning Star reader should support.
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