Sunday, 1 March 2015

The Dehumanisation of our Welfare State

I want to point out one fact: The Welfare State, just like the NHS belongs to us all. It was set up by a socialist Attlee government to protect citizens in times of great need. It is OUR welfare state. A rock solid tangible acknowledgement that the Britain we live in protects its most vulnerable citizens in their time of need. As socialists it is our biggest achievement alongside the NHS. In times of crisis it says to me "Turn to your country. We will look after and protect you through this hard time".  To  disabled citizens, many with lifelong disabilities, the Welfare State has without question stepped in and declared " As a compassionate,caring, civilised country, the state will  protect you financially from poverty. Full stop."

Right up until Thatcher's regime the Welfare Stare was never questioned regarding its role. It existed to protect vulnerable citizens unreservedly. Then the right wing Thatcher government set about undermining and  prepared to dismantle the welfare state as we knew it. Three consecutive years of freezing child benefit and targeting women and children was eventually thrown out by John Major when he took over from Thatcher, but the damage had already been done; thousands of children thrown into poverty. But Thatcher was just the start. How proud she must be of Duncan-Smith and Cameron for daring to do what she couldn't, as public opinion back in the 80's would not have tolerated it. How times change.

The toxic elements of a ruling class Tory cabinet and front bench, stuffed full of individuals who think they have a divine right to rule the country, coupled with a march of right wing media people, both on TV and in newspapers, has produced a hatred of anyone who has to claim any benefit from the Welfare State. It started off with the complete dehumanisation of the unemployed. Unemployment for the vast majority of people is a temporary predicament. Who the hell wants to live on £71 a week by choice? Yet that is exactly what Iain Duncan-Smith and the DWP have pushed into the media and into working class lives. Osborne jumped in with the 'hard working people going to work every morning while they see other neighbours curtains drawn'. By 2011 this Coalition had made unemployment shameful. Something that had to be hidden at all costs when in conversation. Within a year of coming to power, we were seeing TV programmes like 'Saints and Scroungers' on the BBC. The Daily Mail has weekly articles on unemployed people, many with large families as their centrepiece, praying on people who have no idea they are being ridiculed and scapegoated: the offer of a quick shot at 'X factor style' notoriety of celebrity, soon to fade with the next days salacious headlines.

Being unemployed however is not good enough for the ConDems. There has to be an element of 'sport' in it for our over priveleged Eton boys. Benefit sanctions have been brought in. We are sold the lie thousands of unemployed people can't be bothered even going to the Job Centre so its worthwhile giving them a kick by stopping their benefit altogether. However, its not quite so simple is it? Here in my rural area of N Wales some 'local' job centres are 10+ miles away. So the staff at Job Centres are told to sanction claimants for being 5 minutes late. To hell with the fact the buses and trains are ultra expensive when on benefit anyway, but when they are late too, your whole existence can depend on it! Funerals of close relatives are sanctioned too because you can't be in two places at once and the 'icing on the cake sanction' is when you get a job interview on the same day as signing on. Often a choice has to be made; job interview or survival. But if you attend the job centre, you get sanctioned for not attending the job interview! Unite Community branches throughout the UK are demonstrating against these sanctions in a National Day of Action on 19 March at job centres everywhere. I am leading the NE Wales Unite Community demonstration in Wrexham, and I urge you all to find out locally what is happening in your area on 19 March so we can highlight this scandalous abuse of power by the DWP. More info on the Unite Community website;Unite Community v Benefit Sanctions

Hellbent on demonising not just the unemployed in people's eyes, the ConDems and the media barons then decided to turn their sights on the disabled. Disability hate crimes in 2013-2014 rocketed accounting for 4% of all hate crime. Much of this can be attributed to both the right wing newspapers highlighting the tiny 0.7% of disability living allowance fraud, but conveniently overlooking the 99.3% of genuine disability claimants. There have been suicides by disabled people directly attributable to stoppages of benefit and having nothing left to live on since 2010.

What kind of government hounds its disabled citizens to the point where the only way out is to take your own life? The dehumanisation of the disabled is being felt acutely as Cameron steps up his attack on this section of society. New announcements include a promise to end disability benefit for the obese and people with an addiction. No announcement on any help or support however, to deal with either affliction. The Tory way of course; sink or try to swim with no lifejacket on. The disabled are judged to be the flotsam of society and not worth helping as the spin doctors have us way down on the list of electoral priorities. The rest of society have been sold the lie again on TV mostly that the disabled are 'scroungers' and 'putting it on' and not worthy of being treated with dignity by our government. The only disabled people Cameron seems to favour are Paralympians. If only all disabled people could aspire so high, he says.

But isn't it up to us working class people to say enough is enough? There have always been a tiny percentage of people trying to game the system. But we have been sucked into this Tory mantra of believing the majority of benefit claimants are unworthy of our support. This simply is not the case.Now we are left with whole sections of our society, villified, verbally and physically abused, and met with disgust at being unemployed or disabled.

Hold this thought. If we devalue, dehumanise our once proud Welfare State, what will happen when misfortune comes yours or your families way? You are one accident, one redundancy, one factory shut down away from perhaps having to claim a state benefit. Don't you want a compassionate government to be there and help you out in your hour of need? I do!

So support your Unite Community National Day of Action v Benefit Sanctions on 19 March and shout from the rooftops enough is enough! And secondly ensure you vote in a Labour government in May. The alternative is a Tory or even a Con-Kip coalition that will destroy the welfare state for good. Don't let that be the legacy you leave your children and grandchildren. I personally will fight until my last breath to preserve our Welfare State. Make sure you do too.






Saturday, 28 February 2015

International Womens Day - From Wales

International Women's Day 2015 is a celebration of strong, inspiring, talented and downright hardy Welsh women here in Wales! There is a warrior-like spirit among the female bretheren of Wales, that has produced singers, actors, doctors, writers, musicians, but also ordinary working class women - miners wives, carers, community leaders who are the real backbone of our great nation.

Whilst many newspapers will be full of the celebrity women who adorn their covers weekly on IWD, here in Wales we will celebrate the working class women who keep this country running; the real heroes doing the jobs no one else wants to do; caring for disabled relatives, nursing elderly people through dementia, those working in mundane zero hours contract jobs to make ends meet.

On top of the mundane jobs that the Con-Dem government take for granted, Welsh women are very active and vocal in their communities. Fighting to save local community facilities, volunteering at sports clubs, running foodbanks, school breakfast clubs. This is where you will find inspirational, intelligent, highly articulate women. Leaders of their communities. This is why I am very proud to live, work and write in Wales, and hopefully one day be honoured to represent us all in Parliament.

I wish women everywhere, but especially in Wales, a celebration of IWD, and an outward roar of  fiery praise from our own Welsh dragon, at the greatness achieved daily by all Welsh women.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Wales and EMA - A Land of opportunity for our Young.

For the record, let's put this straight from the start. From the Welsh side of the Offa's Dyke we are  redrawing the education line. In plain language I serve notice on Cameron and his side kick Stephen Crabb, the "so called Secretary of State for Wales" the Welsh side of the Offa's Dyke path is the difference between educational opportunity for ALL young people regardless of income as opposed to  those who are able to afford it in England. In Wales we have Education Maintenance Alllowance at £30 per week but step over the border into Tory imposed England, and many are not able to access further education if they are poor. Cameron with Gove in charge pulled the rug under poor sixth formers and abolished EMA without a thought in England. With his Eton education Cameron was certainly taught all the prerequisites of today's Tory politician: empty stone hearted automatons, whose core belief is their divine right to rule.

Not so here in Wales. After a blistering performance by both Owen Smith, Shadow Welsh Secretary and Carwyn Jones, First Minister of Wales at Welsh Labour Conference last week, we are fortunate in having 2 leaders with a clear vision of  protecting the poorest in our society and providing opportunities to escape poverty. The best way to tackle poverty is through education  and the decision to retain EMA in Wales is helping record numbers of 16-18 year olds access further education and become the skilled workforce of Wales in the future. Nearly 30,000 Welsh teenagers are being helped with the weekly £30 which is a lifeline for books, expensive bus and train travel, often in rural areas and college lunches. This important lifeline makes huge differences in our communities and eases the burden for poor and working poor parents too. I shudder to think of the sheer scale of the waste of talent currently going on in England due to the abolition of EMA by the Nasty Party. But then empathy is not a quality you find among Tory MPs in general.

Why am I so passionate about EMA in Wales? My own son has access to it. He is nearly 17 and doing A Levels. His sixth form cannot afford to supply pupils with the course books he needs for the 4 subjects he is studying so he has to buy them all himself. English Literature and History for example have an extensive reading list. It is a sheer relief as parents that the £30 EMA is used to cover the course text books and he is able to study independently at home as a result and not just on loan books at the school library. This September our youngest son will join him in sixth form. We will have 2 sons doing A Levels. In England we would certainly have to consider whether we were able to support both sons further education. As Working poor parents, there are no further belts to tighten or cuts to be made. Would a decision to support one son and not the other have to be made? That's the kind of  issue facing many parents in England I am sure. In Wales opportunity and talent are embraced and nurtured under a socialist government. Children from poorer backgrounds can blend into their sixth forms and embark on school educational trips knowing that EMA is there supporting them.

 My sons sixth form also insists that although 2 hours voluntary work a week is optimal, it positively discourages any evening or weekend employment as the A level courses require 20-25 hours a week of study outside school. The EMA £30 support means my son is not juggling work and study and  worrying whether he can fit it all in. Instead he commits to volunteering with Childline and the NSPCC 2 hours a week which is providing him with valuable workplace experience. The sixth form is a level playing field for all, and ensures everyone is able to participate and take an active role in their studies regardless of income.

Abolishing EMA in England was not only a grave error of judgement from this abominable coalition government, but a direct attack on the poorest children in our society. And before the LibDems moan I most definitely point the finger at them! The LibDems had the power to halt the worse excesses of Toryism. They blatantly voted with their Tory masters to pull up the ladder of opportunity from children of the poor. Not only EMA but university tuition fees will be the shameful legacy of Nick Cleggs time as party leader.  They deserve the misery of electoral annihilation in May as a result.

The Tory War on Wales is unprecedented. Never has there been a Prime Minister and  Welsh Secretary hell bent on the destruction of a sovereign country within the UK. Like the right wing media, it's a fact that those who are shouting and protesting the loudest about Wales obviously have something they fear. Cameron fears Welsh success stories. Whether that is EMA, Free Prescriptions, Jobs Growth Wales or our early years Flying Start scheme, he broods within Westminster, with his out of touch extreme right wing spin doctors who are so London-centric they couldn't plot Wales on a map!

It's time to shut up Dave! There's a reason this side of the Offa's Dyke is loyally socialist. We want to live in a land of opportunity for all, not just for millionaires. We want to be led by leaders of integrity and vision like Owen Smith and Carwyn Jones. We want to live in an inspired powerhouse of Wales and Welsh success stories. We urge the people of England to boot you and your rancid party out  of No.10 in May and replace you with a Labour government.  Hope, compassion and empathy need to be returned to the UK and nothing less than Tory long term political wilderness will suffice!



Thursday, 22 January 2015

Wales to scrap Thatcherite Right to Buy Scheme

Socialist Wales has taken the decision that should Labour win the Assembly Elections in 2016 it  will look to abolish the Thatcherite policy of the Right to Buy Council House scheme. There have already been the expected "nanny state" accusations from the Tories and  Mark Isherwood the Shadow Housing Minster in Wales accusing Labour of being "anti aspiration".

Before we all get carried away on the sea of  laments going out regarding this somewhat controversial move by Welsh Labour, let's stop and assess the current social housing situation in Wales, which in all likelihood is not much different to the rest of the UK. Thatcher's landscape of 1980 Britain when the Right to Buy your council home was first introduced is highly different from today's  landscape.  Thatcher preyed on working class vanity and aspiration.  "You too can be a home owner like the ruling class" she said. And we fell for it. I remember as a teenager in 1980, it became a standing joke when walking through council estates to spot the right to buy house. The new owners always made altering the exterior of the house a priority with a new porch or stone cladding so it did not look like the standard council house any longer. "We're now better than you" was  meant and only whispered in corners. In 1980 Britain, a decent union negotiated wage meant a mortgage was affordable at a time when there was only 1 full time wage coming into the house. If a couple both worked then the council home was bought, transformed, extended and there was still room for a weeks holiday in Spain.

So while the working class bought and aspired to home ownership, and councils sold off their properties often with discounts of up to 60% of the market value, social house building declined dramatically. When  Thatcher came to power in 1979 we built 150,000 new council houses every year. By 1991 this was down to 1500. While huge swathes of social housing was bought up, there was nothing built to replace them and so waiting lists have become longer and longer, and the working class forced into the hands of the private buy-to-let landlord.

Labour's housing minister Lesley Griffiths AM, says "now we have to protect social housing stock for people who really need it". Hence the decision to look at abolishing Right to Buy in Wales in 2016. Since Thatcher's time in office, Wales has seen a 45% decline in its council housing  stock. More than 130,000 houses in Wales have been sold under the scheme and virtually none built to replace them. Wales is already implementing a decrease in the maximum discount allowed for buying from £16k down to £8k.

But while those who bought under the scheme and those who will rush to buy before 2016 will defend Right to Buy, let's look at the terrible consequences of a policy where houses were sold but none were built to replace them.

The consequences are happening now and are painful for those involved. London has been a ripe peach of a target for private buy-let Landlords. Vast numbers of former council homes are now in the hands of greedy opportunistic landlords with sky high rents that are now completely unaffordable to ordinary working class people. Indeed, an article I read this week showed a one bed boxroom in a shared house with shared kitchen and shared bathroom at a staggering £1k a month rent in London against a 6 bed detached house in Redcar for rent at the same amount! The Tory imposed benefits cap has seen people moved from London to Hull as housing benefit and low paid work simply are not enough to live in London anymore.

Buy to let landlords attend property auctions of reposessed council homes throughout the UK and have no problem buying up ex council homes and renting them out at huge profits to people who are then back in the social housing queue with their local councils. A vicious circle and one we need to stop.

Cameron and co are always telling us of the cost of the welfare bill. But the costs of the welfare bill
include huge housing benefit costs, where working poor people cannot afford the rent on zero hours contracts and are forced to apply for Housing Benefit which then lines the pockets of the greedy landlords who are imposing the rocketing rents. Add on the pernicious Bedroom Tax fixated on social housing tenants where there is a race to downsize to 1 or 2 bedroomed properties and local councils simply cannot meat the demand. Indeed in my own county there is a 10 year waiting list for 3/4 bedroomed homes for larger families.

Aspiration is a word used by government and by the ruling classes to con the working class into thinking there is something wrong in living in social housing and working in a factory or shop and that we should want more. We bought that word "aspiration" hook, line and sinker and still do today to an even greater extent than we did in 1979 with our celebrity -inspired aspiration.

Due to our housing landscape becoming something out of  an Orwellian novel, where owning a house by the working class is a distant memory and our young people even unable to afford the rent on a
property, is it not wise and prudent to follow Wales' bold stance and say enough is enough? The Welsh budget is handed over from Westminster. It is limited to the fact it cannot build anymore social housing, but it does have the right to protect the levels of social housing we have right now.

Making extortionate amounts of money from working class people desperate to put a roof over their heads is everyday Tory mantra. It's what they do best. Selling us the dream of becoming just like them is where we have let ourselves down.

I am both proud and lucky to live in a socialist Wales who will be calling time on the Right to Buy scheme. Yes I have aspiration! I aspire to see all working class people  housed in decent homes at affordable rents with enough money left over for a decent way of life. Not too much to ask.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Our NHS - Weaponise it! Fight for it! Vote for it!

Cameron constantly accuses Ed Miliband of ' weaponising' the NHS as a hot topic of debate leading up to the General Election in May. So out of touch is the PM and his sidekicks from what the electorate feel, they actually think that Miliband and Labour will be offended by the term 'weaponising' and the public will react by seeing the Tory viewpoint.

It doesn't matter whether you are middle class or working class - the NHS is beloved by a cross section of the public, so beloved we even had the NHS featured in the opening of the Olympic Games ceremony in London in 2012.

Our NHS always suffers when it is in Tory hands and this time around has suffered intolerably at the hands of the ConDems. Ed Miliband is right to weaponise it. He is right to follow in Nye Bevans footsteps for as Nye said 'the NHS will only last as long as their are folk left with the faith to fight for it'. To me weaponising the topic of free healthcare for all is just a mild start! The ConDems promised no top down re-organisation of the NHS, but have spent millions doing just that, the ConDems promised that there would be more doctors, more nurses more midwives yet staff are crying openly on wards unable to cope with the sheer numbers of patients to staff ratios. Ambulances are queuing up for hours outside hospitals with dangerously ill people in them, all waiting for a bed to become available. Tents have been erected in hospital grounds to treat patients.Cameron points the finger at socialist Wales and our NHS here, yet is the author of austerity and a hugely slashed budget for Wales in Westminster, Jeremy Hunt the Tory Health Secretary admitted himself it took so long to get a GP appointment he brought his own child to A+E to be treated instead! What further evidence is needed to flash up the red light ' The current system is not working' under this abysmal coalition government.

Andy Burnham and Labour have an answer that can be put into practice if Labour win in May. A joined up health care system. If bed blocking is occuring in hospital, most often because elderly patients will not be accepted into nursing homes due to the level of care they require, Labour will unite the NHS to team up with social services and take a whole approach to problems arising. It appears simple, but will require a full scale change to ensure the service is working to its full potential and not being undermined at every level by an NHS working separately from its partners. An holistic approach is terribly needed. Burnham is wholeheartedly committed to it.

Our NHS is free. Something those of us born after 1948, with no recollection of what life was like when you had to pay to see a doctor and pay for medicine, take quite often for granted or as our British 'right'. That is fine when we have a Labour government in power. We are then reassured that the NHS is in safe hands and free at the point of need, whether that be A+E or our GP. But what would happen if come the General Election in May we woke up with a Tory government, or indeed a Con-Kip coalition which is more likely? I've heard it on the doorsteps and whilst phoning the electorate ' I used to vote Tory/Labour but I am voting Ukip in May'. Almost 100% of the time this is due to worries concerning immigration and no other issue. I ask voters to look beyond immigration and ask them what the NHS would be like under Nigel Farage and Ukip. The Ukip manifesto is currently in mayhem as it has not been completed in time, but Farage himself spoke out this week on the Ukip plan for the NHS.

Farage wants to bring in USA style private medical insurance. He said 'State funded Health Service needs to be replaced with a Private Insurance Model.' This will mean the end of our free NHS for all. I'd like to emphasise 'FOR ALL'. This means you could be sat next to an MP, a banker, a Lord as you sit in A+E, where everyones emergencies suddenly become an equaliser in health. The same doctors and nurses in the NHS bandage us all up, regardless of ability to pay or class. This would be erased under Ukip. In America those who have no private insurance and  can't afford it are sent to 'Ghetto hospitals' the like of which we do not want to see darken our shores in the UK.

Ask yourself this: Is your precious vote in May going to be used as a lame protest vote that could ultimately destroy our free medical care - our NHS? Will you kick yourself when you are handing over £10 to see a GP? Will you be in so much distress about where to find the money to pay for your long term health condition like asthma, and think back to that silly wasted protest vote for Ukip?

Nigel Farage and his kind are chancers. Ukip is the 'rice pudding party'. Once you get past the crust of the  laddish charmer on top that is Farage, you have an interior of  mad, sad and bad individuals that Farage is trying desperately to keep in line. Hours after Farage spoke about the need for private health insurance replacing the free NHS service, the Ukip Health spokesperson Louise Bours said Ukip as a party 'reject that idea'. But Ukip is Farage. He alone decides what policies the party commit to and private health insurance is one of them.

As for Cameron and his cronies they are privatising and selling off chunks of the NHS to their mates. The blood service has been privatised and lots more to follow. We have in the Tories privatisation of the NHS by the back door. The Tories like to be seen as cleverer than Ukip and a lot more slippery. They lie to our faces about protecting the NHS then simply go ahead and privatise it anyway.

So as I sit and read the powerful testimony by Harry Smith - a soon to be 92 year old- who grew up when we had no free health system, I can only be moved when he talks about how his sister died from TB as there was no NHS and no free healthcare and his stark warning - 'Don't let my past be your future'.

Our free NHS for all - weaponise it, shout for it, fight for it, vote for it! For our own sake don't let us lose it!

Sunday, 28 December 2014

A Nation Divided in Headlines

We end 2014 as we started it, but with an evermore unequal society. A Britain that is more divided, a Britain where the haves are laughing at the have-nots, a Britain where it does no good to be poor, sick, young or working class.

In the final death throes of 2014, never has this division became more apparent than with recent newspaper headlines. I thought I had woken in a parallel universe when The Times named Nigel Farage as  potentially "Briton of the Year". Seriously. Briton of the Year. I thought maybe Simon Cowell was the chief  panellist and he wanted a Briton that would go on to make him the most money! Nigel Farage- a leader of a racist, bigoted, homophobic, sexist party who feels breast feeding mothers should sit in corners and has numerous parliamentary candidates who try to outdo each other for over the top, outlandish, diabolical comments.

Briton of the Year in my opinion is 91 year old Harry Smith, the NHS fighter who stood up at Labour Conference and told Cameron " Keep your mitts off my NHS" in a barnstorming speech no MP could  match in its passion as he warned us all what it was like prior to the conception of the NHS where his own sister died of TB in 1926. For the Rupert Murdoch owned Times to even contemplate Farage as Briton of the Year when we have Harry or indeed the inspirational Steven Sutton suffering from cancer himself who raised nearly £5m from his hospital bed for teenage cancer sufferers, before dying earlier in May this year. Of course there was the hostage Alan Henning who was beheaded by terrorists who was a volunteer humanitarian aid worker. These are the real true heros and Britons we should be applauding not the "pound shop Enoch Powell" that is Nigel Farage.

And showing up our divisive society further, the Mail showed us pictures of the Royal Family Christmas, complete with photographs of all the ornate Christmas trees in many of the royal palaces and articles on the cost of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridges apartment refurb in Kensington. Costs to the taxpayer are spiralling it seems, yet we are assured the Cambridges are buying all their own carpets and curtains! A collective sigh of relief then....

While the Royals enjoyed their Christmas, news of the utter tragedy of  a couple from Sussex with 2 disabled children made the headlines briefly. The parents had celebrated a Christmas Eve dinner with family and left the children with relatives overnight. The couple were thought to be in deep financial trouble but kept it all to themselves. A neighbour found them on Christmas morning in an apparent suicide double pact.  Without speculating too much, it is obvious their money worries had reached a stage when they felt unable to cope or reach out for help. Caring for 2 disabled children probably had taken an immense toll on them too. People have no idea just how financially crippling it can be if you have a disabled child. Even with both parents, one often has to give up work to become a full time carer. In this very sad case, caring for two disabled children was literally double the burden. Yet this poor couple felt there was no way out of their financial problems and nowhere to turn.

How many times have we seen the headlines in the past few years of  people committing suicide who have been stripped of benefit entitlement through the sanctions regime? People so desperate the only way out is to take their own life to prevent further suffering. The DWP have been urged to come clean on the numbers who have committed suicide where a death has been related to "DWP activity". 60 cases have been looked into and this is only the tip of the iceberg. Sanctions for  sick people claiming Employment and Support Allowance have risen a staggering 470% in 18 months pushing the most vulnerable to the brink. This is our divided society.

Richard Bransons Carribean Island of Mustique playground of the super rich revealed its secrets of guests eating caviar off a beautiful woman's stomach and shooting golf balls at human targets dressed in sumo wrestling suits. The mind boggles.  Lives so removed from the ordinary world, yet our newspapers think we are interested and want to know about the pursuits of the rich and famous. On a slightly lesser scale Farage dresses up in his customary tweed and goes down to the Boxing Day Hunt. Not exactly the pursuit of the leader of the "Peoples Army" eh Nigel?


Meanwhile back in reality my 15 year old son had co-ordinated his schools appeal for donations to the local Independent Foodbank. Independent Foodbanks rely totally on local donations as they are not part of the Trussell Trust network and so don't benefit from being linked to Tesco who do a few store collections every year to aid Foodbanks in the area. The use of Foodbanks will go through the roof when the latest stats are published shortly. Over 1m people have been to a Foodbank in 2014 and that is just to Trussell Trust ones. There are no stats collected from Inde Foodbanks.

A 22 year old councillor from Merseyside co-ordinated and ran Christmas Dinner at St George's Hall in Liverpool on Christmas Day for elderly and lonely people and people who could not afford a Christmas lunch. Thanks to Jake Morrisons Herculean efforts 500 people enjoyed each other's company and a Christmas Dinner that they otherwise would not have had. This is what is going on in the real Britain we live in and not in Rupert Murdochs narrow vision of it.

While the gap between rich and poor gets ever wider under this ConDem government, it will be the duty of the Labour Party should it get elected in May 2015 to reduce the gap. It will be an immense task and certainly won't happen overnight. Cameron and his henchmen have done so much damage to policies affecting this wealth divide, it will take some time to challenge and reduce the gap. But it has to be done. In the meantime ordinary people like us will continue to prop up our Foodbanks so people in our communities can eat.

But we want titles like "Briton of the Year" bestowed on those who truly deserve it. People who
have made a huge contribution to our lives, not stood at the bar pint in one hand and fag in the other, laughing at us. We won't get that from Murdoch and his right wing media cronies. The Harry Smiths, the Steven Suttons will be lauded by the Peoples Paper, your Morning Star. The only paper that fights to pull down the class and wealth divide and expose the real truth to its readers.


Friday, 26 December 2014

2015: The Year we change things

Forgive me while I raise a glass of my £2.49 Tesco bottle of Lambrusco. I am toasting my last Tory Christmas and heralding in  a new year of hope that we have seen the last of this vicious idealogical, power crazed right wing government, aided and abetted by the traitor that is Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems.

Things have to get better for the working class don't they? Things have to improve for us. Going into our fifth year of Tory imposed austerity has given me a real campaigning zeal to ensure we don't face five more years! I have a definite firm belief that only people like me can make change happen. I have listened to all sides of the argument. The apathy for all political parties making people think it's not worth voting, the anger directed at Labour for not  appearing to understand working class lives, the lure of  Ukip and it's  "laddish" leader Nigel Farage, the worry about our ecological future and so a surge in Green party interest.

We are indeed going through a major change in how we do politics and it's no longer a 2 party system. For people struggling on zero hours contracts and agency employed it feels like no one is speaking on your behalf. For a generation of young people priced out of affordable homes with  huge university fee debt hanging round their necks, it appears that no one is bothered from any party. But I have said previously, change has to start with us. People like you and I have to shout for change. And it's no use thinking that no one will listen! It make take a bit of persistence as change is never achieved overnight but it can be done. I've done it myself a few times during 2014. One example was the price of Labour Party conference. I felt at £63 for a pass it was pricing out working class members and carers and the unemployed. I lobbied the General Secretary Iain McNicoll, tweeted him, got other MPs on board and behind me, and received a letter eventually telling me prices for 2015 will now be lowered and budget accomodation booked for delegates. It's a start, but that start was only achieved by shouting, lobbying and asking Labour to look again. Labour listened and acted. That's the power of  the people working.

There will be many previous Labour voters disillusioned by the party. I feel many policies have been clouded that do provide real hope and real change. Perhaps Labour have not been as successful in getting these real policies out there and known about: Free 25 hour a week childcare for all 3-4 year olds, a repeal of the NHS Act that will stop privatisation of our NHS, an end to routine zero hours contracts by employers, an energy price freeze, new technical apprenticeships for young people, public rail being allowed to compete with privatised rail companies for contracts,  and for me and other women, women's issues - pay, caring responsibilities etc being looked at and acted upon. These are the politics of hope. A hope that a vote for Ukip or any other party cannot give.

And there are brilliant Labour candidates out there who are offering something different if elected. There are men and women from working class backgrounds who want to change the look and direction of the party so that it represents us more. From Lee Sheriff in Carlisle, Lisa Forbes in Peterborough, Lara Norris in Great Yarmouth to Chaz Singh in Plymouth there are working class candidates determined to swell the Labour MP ranks to join the other great MPs and the Trade Union Group of MPs and push for change. The more of them the better that get elected!

But if we preach the politics of apathy to each other and give up trying then we will end up with potentially a Con-Kip coalition government in May 2015. Osborne is promising a further £12billion of welfare cuts. These cuts are not the "easy cuts" done since 2010. These cuts are on working tax credits for working people.There is an idealogical war going on against the poor and the working poor. We live in a land where money is in the hands of priveleged millionaires, where the horror of hundreds of Foodbanks in every town to feed the working classes, is right here and right now. A land where paying less tax is deemed ok while disabled and vulnerable die from benefit sanctions. The late Tony Benn was probably prophetic in his thoughts when he said "There are two ways to control people. First of all frighten people and secondly demoralise them" never more true than with this ConDem government.

Tax credits prop up low paid workers both employed and self employed. From April 2015 Osborne is taking away all working tax credits for any self employed person earning less than £156 per week. This will effect people like us; Hairdressers, handymen, sales reps, Avon and Kleeneze sellers. This is the reality. And Ukip support all the policies the Tories do and more! Ukip want maternity pay taken from women in small businesses. Ukip want workplace rights slashed for employees. Ukip want to take us out of Europe. What will that mean? In my neck of the woods in NE Wales that means thousands of jobs at Airbus gone and closure of a highly skilled factory and its workforce.  It's not all about "sending foreigners home" as Farage likes to spout about. Coming out of Europe means vast unemployment for British workers in our communities who rely on European orders for all kinds of equipment and produce.

Look at all the recent bigots, racists and homophobes Nigel Farage has had to remove from standing for public office. Where was Farage on Boxing Day? Down at the local fox hunt, fag in hand, Barbour jacketed and hunting boots on chatting to his own class. The upper middle classes he is at home with. For on e not pretending to be "one of us"!

Ukip is the "rice pudding" party. Take away its laddish leader and the whole party drowns in a swamp of  nasty ultra right wing  people who have no right in seeking positions in public office to represent us.

For those of us who are union members or even former Labour Party members, our vote in May is just too precious to use for a quick protest. Unless judged wisely we will end up with some kind of  Tory coalition again. None of us surely want that? What we do need is more Labour MPs with the passion, drive and fervour to demand change within the Labour Party and seek to influence future policy.

So my New Years message to all readers of the Morning Star and my articles is -

Hang on in there. I have been disillusioned myself in the past with Labour, but after having met Ed Miliband myself, I know he listens and he does act in response to ordinary people. He does want the change we want too, but his position is a difficult one as he seeks to act as the Labour leader in a time of unprecedented austerity. If Labour win in May it will take a few years to even begin to reverse the hurt caused by the Tories in areas like  our welfare state, our NHS, our education system, our work practices. You will notice I said "OUR". That's because all these things belong to us; ordinary citizens. They are not possessions of  this  Tory government to be sold off  to the highest bidder resulting in poor services for us. We've had Thatchers and Cameron's sell offs and are our vital services - gas, electricity, rail, water any better run? Of course not! We are paying a damned fortune
for all these privately run essentials, so much so our wages can't afford our monthly bills any longer!

So use your vote in May to make it a Happy New Year. A new start. A new launch. A final wave goodbye to Tory imposed austerity for us and tax breaks for millionaires. Let's make 2015 the year  the working class in Britain took charge of our futures, used our vote, had our say and placed our demands on a Labour table.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Working Poor Women: Over the breadline, but under the radar

Working Poor women, those technically who are living an inch over the breadline, are a forgotten army, but one of the most targeted groups by this sexist, anti-women, coalition government. These women (and I am one of them myself) go about their daily lives in a perpetual state of struggle and fight. Many are juggling low paid, part time work with caring duties. Since time began, and we have not moved very far forward in reality, women have been the carers. Whether that involves bringing up children and abandoning careers to take part time work, or giving birth to a disabled child and knowing your own life has changed forever in order to become a full time carer; or having the career then turning into a carer to look after elderly parents whilst juggling a less well paid job to fit it all in, women have had to face up to caring realities that can often choke their own lives.

It often feels since 2010 that Cameron and co have got round the table and discussed budget cuts and then decided they will fall on the working poor woman's shoulders. Take school lunches for example. If a woman takes a part time job and has a few kids, then free school lunches are stopped completely. If like me, who had  four children at school together, this equated to a whopping £2.50-£3 per day per child totalling at its least £10 per day. Hence why you will find many children of working poor parents taking sandwiches or even missing lunch altogether when times are hard.  Likewise the school uniform grant in many areas is reserved for those on income support only. I have often envied poorer families having access to a school uniform grant, especially as our high school has a blazer as part of its uniform. Finding the full costs of uniform in my household used to start in May before the September return to school date. It is the working poor families in this situation who fall through the gap. Once your part time nose lifts over the breadline of poverty, it is soon shoved back down as you become liable for a host of new costs that you didn't have when you were technically too poor.

Many women with caring duties for a disabled child are invisible. The £61.35pw Carers Allowance is a total insult and a stubborn scar on the face of what is supposed to be a compassionate society where the vulnerable and their carers are looked after. No Government feels the need to tackle the injustice of it. Carers are so way down on the target voters list beloved of spin doctors, no party feels a desperate urge to change the plight of carers. Carers exist in this invisible sphere of caring duties that save our social services and NHS millions of pounds every year. I often fantasise of a 1 day carers strike that would bring this country to a grinding halt, but Governments know the bulk of carers are women who would never abandon their caring duties and they rely on this to keep us in our place. Again the working poor carer who feels desperate enough to supplement the £61.35pw with a part time job,is immediately punished by one of the most pernicious rules that states if you earn a penny over £102 per week your entire carers allowance is stopped. How the hell can any government say this is fair?  This rule is deliberately targeted at keeping women "in their place" subdued and in poverty. You can't start a Carers Revolution when you are constantly stressed, juggling caring and work, and wondering where the next meal is coming from! In my case when my autistic son was a baby I yearned to be able to stand for political office and change the narrative, but caring and poverty held me back. Politics and outside interests became flickers of light within me, but they were never extinguished. Paradoxically, this ConDem government have fanned the flames within me, and now my son is older I am able to speak out on behalf of the legions of women who are in this "locked down" position of caring and low paid work. We deserve a voice and it must come from someone who has experienced being a carer for many years. Shouting from the rooftops and screaming for change at every turn, is something I take very seriously.

Freezing child benefit and freezing working tax credits have to be two of the biggest targeted policies towards women in general ,but especially hard on the shoulders of working poor women. This government shows a callous indifference to whether they actually want working class women to vote for them at all! It is this show of disregard by the Bullingdon Boys on the Tory front bench that is punishing the "hardworking families" this government rants on about on a weekly basis. Is there anyone more hard working than a woman with children working on a zero hours contract, agency employed, not knowing how many hours she will work from week to week or what her take home pay will be?! Answer me that  David Cameron! I can think of no one more deserving than  struggling working poor women for whom life may just be a bit easier if child benefit and working tax credits were increased every year as they should be. Thatcher froze child benefit for 3 successive years and was given the boot! I'm no fan of John Major but he recognised just how much damage had been done to women and children by this cruel policy and immediately increased child benefit.  Working tax credits are necessary due to the years employers have been aided and abetted by government to pay poverty wages. Minimum wage has come to mean the wage at which all working class part time workers need to be paid at. This has had a huge impact on women, who may be the sole breadwinner in a family. By freezing working tax credits this rancid government have laughed in the faces of the working poor. Duncan-Smiths policies at the DWP openly imply those on working tax credits simply are not working enough hours and need to work longer and harder to somehow "lift themselves out of poverty wages". A blind eye is turned to employers and an open door to exploit women especially who will keep quiet on zero hours contracts, desperate to hold onto any job.

This government in particular have an appalling attitude to women, the like of which we have never seen before. They rely on us working poor women to be compliant, subservient, fearful and obedient. The fightback starts here. Whose joining me?




Wednesday, 10 December 2014

In the 4th year of austerity The Tories took away...

...Hope.

Forget the 12 days of Christmas, although there are many Lords-a- leaping.. It's the 4th year of icy Tory imposed austerity and Cameron looked around and realised there really isn't much else he can take from the poor except one thing; hope.

Since 2010 Christmas has been a time of wondering what Cameron and his gang of robber barons will take from the poor and working poor at Christmas. We have seen freezing of benefits and working tax credits; sanctions routinely handed out for the wildest of reasons by Job Centre staff, the disabled and chronically sick being denied access to disability benefits; Iain Duncan-Smith decides he now has a medical degree and feels those with Parkinson's disease and lifetime health conditions are capable of work. It really has echoed the 12 days of Christmas  "In the first year of austerity Cameron took away..." Then add on the swingeing cuts inflicted on the poorest in society.

This year however after Osbornes autumn statement, and with a General Election looming next May, the Tories and their tinpot leader took the final thing they could from us.. Hope. Hope that austerity would end soon, hope that zero hours would be a thing of the past, hope that wages would increase enough to pay the bills and allow ordinary people some kind of life. With typical Tory rhetoric we have been told to expect 5 more years of the same austerity medicine, but only for working people and the poor. Millionaires will be exempt from austerity and rake in more tax cuts. A vote for the Tories or indeed their extreme right wing mates Ukip, will see more enforced austerity, charges to see GPs when we're ill, and employers continued promotion of low wages on zero hours contracts.

Hope when you're poor or working poor is what keeps you going. For many of us who lived through Thatcher's Britain, hope was all we had to cling to at times. A hope that she would be deposed, and that the Labour Party would rise from the ashes and look after the working class was uppermost in our minds. I was reminded of this when Gordon Brown announced his departure as an MP recently. While never a fan of Blair, I knew Brown was a man of deep integrity. I felt sure he would change things.Whatever anyone thinks of Labour during the Blair/Brown years, with Iraq being Blairs epitaph,  Gordon Brown looked after the working poor with tax credits and built Sure Start Centres. He brought hope.

Where is that working class hope today? It never fails to amaze me just how much of the Welfare State and support systems have been dismantled with brutal savagery by the ConDems in 4 years. Back in early 2010 most of us wouldn't have known what a zero hours contract was, if you worked for an agency it was because YOU wanted flexible employment that didn't tie you down, part time work meant roughly 16 hours a week, and if you were ill you rang for a doctors appointment and waited 2-3 days maximum. Poorer children going on to sixth form benefitted from the education maintenance allowance payment, tuition fees of £9k p/a were unheard of, and the term "working poor" had not been invented. These are but a few things that are now the norm after 4 years of  ConDem rule. Such was Nick Cleggs embarassment at being part of this unholy alliance he could not bring himself to sit with the front bench during Osbornes recent autumn statement. The electorate know Clegg is guilty as charged and Clegg knows the LibDems face MP wipeout next May, due to his complicity in allowing the worse of Toryism to be voted through the Commons.

With the promise of more than 60% of austerity cuts to come and they will be shouldered yet again by the poor, hope is thin on the ground for the working class. But we shouldn't be our own enemies. Nothing makes me sadder than to hear people saying they will vote Ukip due to immigration. While immigration is a topic that concerns many working class people, we shouldn't take our eyes off why we are blaming the immigrant running the local corner shop, and not the damned bankers who have pinned us to the wall of austerity and have got off Scot-free due to their Tory minders. Ukip is a one-
policy-blame-the-immigrant party. Farage a leader who believes breast feeding mothers should sit in
corners and not be entitled to maternity pay. A third class party treating people as second class citizens. There is no hope there at all for us. Ukip preach the politics of  racism, sexism
and divide and rule. They want to bring back the grammar school. So working class kids will be turfed into the Ukip secondary modern like the old days. Everything in Kipper vision is  a return to 1950s Rule Britania, where the likes of Farage lord it over the working class and we doff our caps and know our place.

The Labour Party are offering hope, but in a bit of a red tape way. Mixed messages gag some great policy ideas. When Ed Miliband throws off the spin doctors, we hear the message of hope, and recently that message has become stronger, but it needs to be clearer. Lucy Powell the new campaign
co-ordinator recognised this immediately. Ed has been engaging with people on social media and answering our burning questions.  To me hope lies within the Labour Party. People moan that the party is too centre left, but listen to the messages being  shouted out by the Trade Union Group of MPs and there will be more of them post May 2015- MPs with working class backgrounds and values. The roar of social injustice by Ian Lavery, the drive of Grahame Morris to get Palestine recognised as a separate state. This is where our hope lies. The more MPs we elect that look like and represent us, the more we can change the face of the party, and put more working class policies on the table.

So while Cameron takes all hope from working class people, our key aim is that the ballot box will take his hope of another 5 years of power away. So use your vote in May 2015. There is nothing more hopeless than a non voter.



Thursday, 27 November 2014

Working Class: Narrowed Horizons

I had a moment of complete and utter clarity as I arrived at a hotel in Cardiff to attend a course recently. As I booked in, I could hear the hustle and bustle of other hotel guests going on around me, the anniversary couple, the pensioners coach outing, the afternoon tea goers. It hit me like an arrow.

These are people enjoying their lives. These are people enjoying a leisure break.  These are people for whom there is more to life than grinding poverty and getting by.

It really was like having a light switched on. The fact is that the less money you have the more your horizons narrow down. For the unemployed and carers, horizons may be as narrow as your own front door. As a Carer myself I know there are days when you don't venture outside, due to caring duties but also due to lack of money. Getting by is an all consuming, draining struggle. I have noticed that even when you explain to people continuously that you can't afford a meal out, you can't afford a trip to the cinema, somehow they don't quite believe it. But for those existing on benefits, and increasingly for those of us who are working poor, horizons are being narrowed like never before.

Somehow you yourself don't feel your horizons being narrowed until you do something completely different like I did, and go on a course to a hotel and see what other people are doing. Or you look at friends and acquaintances on Facebook and see photos of the weekend break,  the football away trip, the birthday party, the big shopping expedition and you feel a pang of envy. You say to yourself "When was the last time I did any of those? I can't remember. But there are people out there with lives doing all these things week after week. I should be doing those things too. It isn't fair." A friend spoke about how she was going to splash out in the January sales after Christmas, and I honestly thought to myself that in 25 years since I had my children, I never had a penny to my name to go sales shopping in January. Every effort has been made to pay the December bills and do what I can for Christmas presents, often heaving a sigh of relief when I had managed both without missing a bill!

But the pangs of envy in me subside and turn to guilt, when I see those sanctioned on benefits, where Christmas will involve an emergency Foodbank parcel, or charity gifts from strangers, or indeed seeking shelter and a roof over their heads on Christmas Day. A child caught up in a domestic abuse situation will wish for nothing more than peace over Christmas time, whose horizon is so narrowed that being at home for 2 weeks is a terrifying prospect. A particularly cold December will see many households turning their heating off and wrapping themselves in quilts and going to bed early in a desperate attempt to keep warm. The most vulnerable, the poorest people in our society have no horizons at all. Everything has been taken from them in a vicious pursuit by this ConDem government where the poorest pay the price for the greed of the robber barons, the robber bankers and the posh boy millionaires governing Britain.

Each day becomes a fight to feed yourself and your family, a fight to keep warm and a fight to "appear" like you are living a normal life. For many trying to appear as if nothing is wrong to relatives and friends is a completely draining experience which takes up as much energy as the fight to feed yourself. You become a master of deception. An illness faked as you can't attend a relatives wedding due to cost, the birthday card with money you posted to a sister but somehow it must have got "lost" in the post, the invitation to a child's party your own child receives, but it has to be turned down because "we are doing something else that day unfortunately" as you see the £ signs mount for a birthday present and party outfit and know it is beyond you.

Horizons shutting down are like lights going off one by one, especially for the working poor. I am not demeaning the poor here, but I am focussing on issues I have heard many working poor discuss with me this year.  The ConDems "Them v Us" campaign has been hugely successful pitting Working Poor v Poor. Many people working either part time or on minimum wage actually experience jealousy when seeing those existing on JSA get their full housing benefit paid. Many working poor
 took out mortgages in better times and are now struggling like hell to keep the roof over their head.
"If only we could get housing benefit to cover part of the mortgage" is what I hear. Others feel resentment they are working and paying rent, while the poor have their full rent paid. Horizons narrow to not being able to move house as you can't get another mortgage or being constantly on the look out for cheaper rented accomodation due to the benefit cap and bedroom tax. Both poor and working poor are experiencing the merry-go-round of annual house moves in many cases, where tenancies are often for 12 months. Sometimes tenancies are terminated after 6 months. The horizon is narrowed to having no stability and moving into one property before being on the look out for another. People feel no need to make a house feel like "home" because it won't be home for any great period of time. The stress to children in particular is great. Often a frequent house move can mean a change of school.

The disabled and carers are probably the most targeted and vulnerable group under this governments pernicious regime. Here, horizons are being narrowed to one day at a time. Huge cuts to services disabled people rely on like public transport ,libraries, leisure facilities and support services are seeing disabled people become more and more isolated. Those living in rural areas are hardest hit. Local councils are starting to cut the unthinkable. My local council is proposing a £25 charge for parents of severely disabled children to access respite care. How low is this? It  beggars belief that whilst rich millionaire pensioners enjoy a winter fuel allowance grant, rich children of multi millionaire parents can get a free school lunch age 5-6, disabled children's parents will be charged to
access respite care that is so desperately needed to ease the strain; not just for parents but also the NHS.

So while Cameron and his cronies attend a circus of Christmas drinks and dinner parties, spare a thought for those who wake each morning in dread of the day ahead, where fear, stress and strain are their daily diet, and getting beyond their front door an immense task. This government are guilty of not just narrowing working class horizons, but shutting down working class lives.