Saturday, 28 December 2013

2013: The relentless rise of the Working Poor

Even a year ago the phrase "Working Poor" was not widely used. There have always been  historically low paid workers, both employed and self employed, such as hospital porters, cleaners, sales reps and unskilled factory workers. While home ownership and a foreign holiday every year may have alluded this group in the main, the common bond we all share is that work used to pay more than being unemployed. Work meant bills were paid and there was enough money for the odd meal out, a night in the pub, a basic weeks holiday for the family,  household items replaced when broken or new items needed and perhaps  a few pounds a week squirrelled away in a Christmas savings club. In fact the very people lauded by John Major and the Tories back in the early 1990s as people doing their best to get by. Then we were "low paid workers" Now we are the army that is rising relentlessly under this Coalition : the Working Poor.

What does it mean to be "Working Poor"? Different people will have different views. For some it will mean that after paying bills there is virtually nothing left over each month anymore. Others will inform you that being working poor means you can no longer afford treats for the children and the latest trainers, clothes like their classmates, no extra curricular activities like cinema visits. At the foot of the scale some working poor will tell you of their visits to Foodbanks as after paying bills there is no money left for food. This is exasperated if you have children as the working poor are not entitled to free school meals. Nick Clegg is bringing in universal free school meals for reception class children. All very well that millionaires children get free school meals when older working poor children get nothing..

Being working poor makes you feel resentful. Despite being a socialist  I am given to human frailties and sometimes I feel resentful of the unemployed. I know the Government are tricking me into feeling like this. It's the old maxim of setting us against each other in our struggles. Who is more worthy of help Poor v Working Poor, Old v Young, Sick v Disabled, British v Immigrant. I get it and have had it rammed down my throat for nearly 4 years of the coalition. I admit that when I am frantically trying to pay the mortgage, utility and transport bills, feed the family and pay for school lunches I have envied the unemployed who have had their rent paid and free school lunches. But then I immediately think of the Bedroom Tax on the shoulders of the council tenants and the desperation of those poor forced to visit Foodbanks and my politics of envy disintegrates. We are all worthy of Government support in austere times equally. My task is to make sure that message is heard loud and clear.

2013 and indeed the outlook for 2014 is fearful. Whereas now a new carpet for the lounge is needed, the bathroom needs redecorating, our garden wall collapsed in the recent storms and needs rebuilding and the outside paintwork of the house needs re-doing - none of which we can afford,- how long until the bills cannot be covered on our low pay, our food bill has to be cut to the bone, and  a holiday is a thing of the past? Like a gerbil going faster and faster, round and round on its toy wheel, so we, the working poor are trying harder to stand still. The language being spewed from the mouth of the DWP is that of more sanctions, more hardship, more rules; firstly for the unemployed and then it will be the turn of the working poor. While John Major and a few backbench Tories and the  BrightBlue thinktank urge Cameron to give out more positive messages and support the working poor, Iain Duncan-Smith and the DWP seem set on a collision course to demonise the low paid. Under Universal Credit the mantra seems to be "If you are low paid, you must get a better job or take on another job" to increase your income. If self employed like my household, if you do not earn £11k per year you will be given a few months to increase your earnings. If you do not, you will be stripped of self employment, switched to JSA and forced to seek employment. Working is not enough. You must gain employment that lifts you entirely out of the tax credit system and thus out of being working poor. This is the fairyland Duncan-Smith exists in. The idea that there are jobs available for all low paid workers to take them out of being low paid is farcical to anyone who has a brain, just the same as saying there are enough jobs for all the unemployed. Only IDS believes this mantra.

So what can the Working Poor look forward to in 2014? Relatively little. Once the DWP under the stewardship of IDS have made the lives of the unemployed unbearable and Foodbank use a complete norm for anyone on benefit, it will be our turn next. The message will be that we should be doing more work for more money. Ed Miliband has stated that if Labour gain power in 2015 he will set up a  board to look in detail at how Universal Credit will be implemented. We can only hope that demonising the working poor is not on the agenda and the draconian methods employed by Duncan-Smith will be scrapped. Then the low paid either continue to be supported in the form of tax credits or better still Miliband is successful in bringing in a Living Wage for those both employed and self employed.

This army is getting bigger daily and feeling more ostracised by this Government than ever before. I know of Tory voting low paid workers who really believed the mantra of "hard working people doing the right thing". They believed they were in that club of  "strivers" - cleaning streets during hours David Cameron was asleep behind closed curtains. Now they feel desperate, unable to pay bills and feed families and have some kind of life other than low paid soulless work many people would not do. Many of them have to care for sick or disabled family members on top of their low paid work too. Thankfully many of them have seen the light and won't be voting Tory in 2015. But they need to know there is a socialist Labour Party who will protect them. Let's have some firm policies on the
working poor, not promises of a board of people to look at how Universal Credit will be implemented and how the working poor will be dealt with post 2015.

I will be telling the Labour Party what I expect from them to gain my vote. It's not a given. My vote is too precious for that. I hope the rest of the Working Poor Army will do the same.