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Only Labour can tackle the inequality that shames our nation

A Labour government led by Corbyn will understand grotesque inequality as endemic of a rotten system that needs to be overhauled, says RICHARD BURGON MP

WHILE looking at the newspapers recently, two stories on the brutal economic reality faced by so many in our society appeared in what may be considered to be unlikely places.

The front page of the Daily Express last Tuesday had the headline “Fury as energy bills soar again,” going on to explain that “Millions of families face a ‘devastating’ energy bill hike as critics warned the price cap is fuelling debt and misery.” 

The piece went on to discuss “one of the biggest price rises in a decade” and reported that “charities warned millions will have ‘no choice but to suffer in cold and dangerous homes’ while the Big Six energy firms continue to rake in huge profits.” 

In the same week, the sports section of the i featured the headline “Premier League clubs accused of ‘increasing poverty’ by refusing to pay real living wage.” 

The article details the “claims clubs are adding to poverty in their communities” by refusing to pay the real living wage, with “almost half of employees working at sports clubs and facilities” being paid below the real living wage, “while top-flight players have seen a 2,000 per cent increase in wages in the past two decades, from an average of £2,700 per week in 1997 to £57,514 per week in 2019.”

The fact that both articles could have appeared in the Morning Star is testimony to the fact that the problem of falling real wages is a reality recognised — and experienced — by more and more people, regardless of their usual political persuasion.

And more and more people are becoming aware of — and rightly angry at — the grotesque inequality in our society and the reality of a rotten system rigged in favour of powerful economic interests and the super-rich and privileged few.

The statistics back up the representative nature of the problems that are brought to me to my advice sessions for constituents.

It is a sign that the system is broken when real wages are still lower than they were in 2010. In fact, Britain is the only major economy where an economic growth since the crisis hasn’t led to better wages.

And under the Conservatives, there is no end in sight. Last year the Office for Budget Responsibility warned that “earnings growth over the next five years is expected to remain subdued.”

Despite the boasts and the high-flown rhetoric, the truth is that the Tories have presided over the slowest recovery since the 1920s. Last year, our economy grew at the lowest rate of all the G7 major economies and was the slowest since 2012. Yet the Tories repeatedly crow about economic success. But for whom?

The reality is that we are seeing what Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has described as “a perfect storm of low pay, insecurity and working poverty” which is causing terrible stress for millions of families across the country.

Theresa May told Conservative Party Conference — and the country — that “austerity is over.” But that will be just another broken Tory promise as austerity is set to be permanent under the Conservatives.

It is always important to remember that austerity was never an economic necessity in the first place, but a political choice — and a political choice to which they are seemingly wedded for an eternity. 

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that the Tory government could still have tens of billions of tax and spending cuts up their sleeve.

Aneurin Bevan once said “socialism is the language of priorities.” This government’s moral and political priorities are perfectly illustrated by the different way in which they deal with those at the top as compared to those who are less well off.

Those at the very top have been given huge tax breaks while the Tories’ so-called “national living wage” won’t reach £9 an hour by 2020 as the Tories promised and workers on the “national living wage” will be £850 worse off by 2020.

It is simply unacceptable that there are a record number of people in working households in poverty. Last month I joined Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell and shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey in support of workers at the Justice and Business Ministries demanding an end to “poverty wages” for outsourced staff.

It makes me angry to think that the office of Secretary of State for Justice David Gauke is being cleaned, perhaps while he is in there, by people being a wage that falls way below what is needed to live on. 

That is not just unjust — it is actually immoral. The fact they won’t guarantee basic conditions for the people they work with each day is another sign of the contempt with which the Tories treats working people.

A Labour government with Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister and John McDonnell as chancellor of the exchequer would turn the tables and govern not in the interest of a privileged elite but in the interest of the many.

As a starter, Labour would introduce a real living wage of at least £10 an hour by 2020 and would introduce an energy price cap. That would go some way to correcting the injustices as exposed by the Daily Express front page and the i sports section to which I’ve referred.

We would also scrap the public-sector pay cap for the entire public sector and would pause and fix the roll-out of universal credit that is causing unnecessary hardship for so many in one of the world’s richest countries.

A Labour government led by Corbyn will understand grotesque inequality as endemic of a rotten system that needs to be overhauled. 

That’s why we will reverse planned tax giveaways for the super-rich like the planned corporation tax cuts and the capital gains tax reductions and we will tackle tax avoidance not just in word, but in deeds too.

Crucially, to tackle the deep regional inequalities that the Thatcher era made much worse, we will bring forward investment in infrastructure across Britain so that there are the high-wage, high-skilled jobs that can help secure people a better future.

And because debt is a blight in our society, we will introduce further controls on high-interest, short-term lending in order to end the unscrupulous heartlessly exploiting the financial vulnerability and desperation of others. 

Controls on rents and a large-scale housebuilding programme will further help people who all too often find that their wage doesn’t get through the month.

We will also scrap tuition fees to help free our young people from the often life-long shackles of needless debt.

Whatever spin the Tories try to put on it, the cold harsh reality is that under this government working people are worse off. 

We’ve got a government that’s simply out of touch and knows little of — and cares even less about — the day-to-day realities of people in communities across our country. 

Theresa May, Michael Gove, Sajid Javid, Amber Rudd, Boris Johnson and their followers in Parliament don’t have a plan to improve the lives of ordinary people. And it’s no surprise, as it’s not what gets them out bed in the morning. Their political motivations are quite different.   

In contrast, Labour in government will fulfil our historic mission of not only rebuilding Britain but setting about achieving a fundamental and irreversible shift in wealth, power and control in favour of working people.

Richard Burgon is shadow justice secretary and Labour MP for Leeds East.

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