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A MAJOR theme of the forthcoming Communist Party congress will be how best to regenerate our town, village and city centres. It’s a topic, which brings together all working-class communities in England, Scotland and Wales.
Unlike the major Establishment parties, the CP is armed with a clear understanding of the endemic social and economic decline that so many of our communities are enduring, and we are well placed to offer meaningful solutions.
As ordinary working people, we live through the effects every single day, and have stood alongside many other working people on the picket lines to defend what remains of our living standards and public services.
Let’s consider two of the acute crises we face: the so-called “cost of living” (or rather, the cost of profits) crisis, and the increasingly desperate national health crisis.
Firstly, the soaring cost of living has already caused enormous hardship to millions of households across the country.
In 2022 Ofgem announced an eye-watering 54 per cent rise in energy costs, while oil and gas companies recorded billions in profits. Nothing has been done to ameliorate things for anyone, except of course the profiteers themselves.
The costs of food, housing and petrol — and much else besides — have skyrocketed.
Meanwhile wages, already stagnating for over four decades, have fallen further and further behind inflation. Our essential public services have been cut to the bone.
Secondly, the NHS is undergoing a prolonged assault, hollowed out before our eyes, and has been privatised in all but name.
In England, the dental care sector is in a truly critical state. I help to co-ordinate the locally focused public campaign group, Toothless In England, set up to give a voice to the millions of people struggling to secure basic dental care.
It is increasingly difficult — essentially impossible — to find a local dental practice accepting NHS patients. Gripped already by the squeeze on their ability to pay for groceries let alone expensive dental treatment, I have experienced some shocking real-life reports from people being forced into performing self-extractions.
One girl in Manchester lost her two front teeth due to an otherwise entirely treatable gum problem.
Dentists, who, like the rest of us, have increasingly costly bills to pay, have been practically forced out of providing NHS care, thanks to nearly two decades of chronic government (of both red and blue hues) underfunding and lack of support.
Here in Manchester, 2,000 dentists left the profession between 2020-22 alone; 2.5 million courses of treatment were lost in 2020, including 800,000 for children.
We literally cannot afford to continue living this way. Alongside this decline in quality of life, and fall in wages, the provision of services from medical and dental centres, libraries, nurseries and day centres and urban planning which favours giant retailers and out of town developments, has had a major impact on our high streets.
Many have been filleted, with the exodus of post offices and banks, redirection of bus services making the high street less relevant to everyday working-class community life. And although some of this trend was inevitable with the rise of the internet, there has been a failure to seize empty properties and direct it to social use.
Capitalism is experiencing a dire crisis not just in Britain but across the Western world, and mainstream policy-makers — in hock as they are to the mega-corporations and the billionaire profiteers — are clueless about what to do about it.
As ever, it is the poorest who are asked — or rather forced — to pay the heaviest price. Here, council tax rises unchecked as a form of secondary tax while services are outsourced and reduced.
Radical changes are needed right across the economic and political landscape, including true public ownership of our energy sector, investing in affordable, renewable and low-carbon energy; and help is urgently needed from millions of people at serious risk of destitution. So, why not public ownership in our high streets?
Communists will continue to campaign for the universally popular policy of a fully funded and comprehensive health service that is fit for purpose, including dental, eye and hearing services. But we are also arguing these should be provided in local centres at the heart of communities and easy to travel to and from.
The creation of jobs, too, must be at the heart of rebuilding our communities. Over a fifth of workers in Greater Manchester are not even earning the living wage, a statistic replicated and in many cases worse in regions across the country. Communists campaign for a full, meaningful living wage, and employment rights for workers from day one.
A result of the decline in communities is the exodus of young people who move in search of work or to university but they do not return because of lack of opportunity to practise locally in their communities, the new skills they acquire.
Young people need support in education and training: the means to acquire skills and quality jobs. Government and local authorities must prioritise long-term plans to eradicate poverty, beginning by working and co-operating with communities, health professionals, schools and social workers.
These reasonably modest proposals for regeneration are just the beginning; urgent steps are needed now in order to meet the immediate, most critical challenges we face every day.
Communists campaign for the abolition of the council tax and its replacement with a new wealth tax based on property, wealth and ability to pay.
Our congress will discuss not just this revolution in local government financing, but how Scottish and Welsh parliaments — along with new regional assemblies for England — can strengthen their capability through greater tax-raising powers over land use and direct intervention in local economies.
This includes a popular strategy for rebuilding our high streets as centres of community. Seizing abandoned major retail space and public ownership of local transport services are among the proposals to be debated along with how councils contribute their power to the struggle to deal with the impact of climate change.
There is an enormous disconnect between our communities and the politics of Westminster, the decision-makers in Whitehall — not to mention the corporate boardrooms, where decisions affect our day-to-day living just as much.
Capitalism is in a death-spiral of its own making, one that only co-ordinated, planned, scientific socialism can adequately mitigate and replace.
As communists, we understand that the solutions are obvious, and long overdue: jobs, services and socialism. We will be contesting local elections near you with such policies so you will have the opportunity to campaign alongside us. Get in touch and get involved.
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